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Before inventing the three-ring release, a safety device that revolutionized skydiving safety, William “Bill” Booth was a music student at the University of Florida.

A tuba player in the Gator Marching Band, Booth was heavily involved in UF’s School of Music as a fraternity member of both Phi Mu Alpha and Kappa Kappa Psi.

Years later, he still returns to Gainesville for the annual Gator Marching Band alumni reunion.

“The older you get, the more nostalgic you get,” Booth said. “It’s good to come back and hang out with the young people doing what I did 50 years ago.”

At the most recent reunion in November 2018, Booth was awarded one of three inaugural Pride of the Sunshine Awards.

The new recognition, named after the Gator Band’s nickname, was presented to alumni who have made significant contributions to the band.

Other winners were Gator Band Alumni Association President Robin Oegerle of Sarasota, and founder of the association Frank Howes of Lakeland.

Former dean of the UF College of the Arts Lucinda Lavelli and Director of the Gator Marching Band Jay Watkins presented the honors.

“Alumni like Bill Booth are vital to the continued success of our band program at the University of Florida,” said Watkins, who is also an associate professor of music at UF. “His dedication to the band years after his graduation creates a great legacy and demonstrates why he is extremely deserving of this award.”

Booth received the award for his donations to the band program. In 2013, he started a four-year scholarship for a low-brass player in the marching band.

The first recipient, Rachel Stern, graduated with a degree in music education in 2018 and is now a music teacher in Palm Beach County.

More recently, Booth helped complete the first phase of the band’s new practice complex.

For years through the band’s 100-year history, students had no permanent field on which to rehearse. Now, the first phase of the complex, which was completed in October 2018, features a field of artificial turf, lighting, restroom facilities and a covered pavilion for inclement weather.

The field mirrors the band members’ game-day experience with markings that exactly mirror those on the actual football field in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The band practice complex was funded in part by the University Athletic Association, the UF Office of the Provost, and private supporters and alumni like Booth.

His contribution earned him naming rights to the tower that the band directors use for instruction during rehearsals. The tower, which sits on the 50-yard line, is now named the William R. Booth Tower.

“I was really glad when the university saw the value of a new practice facility,” Booth said. “The band is integral to athletic events. Those kids work all game long. They’re never on the bench.”

The second phase of the band practice complex will be completed when funds are available, and will feature an outdoor research and teaching facility with instrument storage space.

“With this new facility, the Gators have joined the other big SEC schools with band practice facilities,” Booth said.

— McKinley is the public-relations specialist at UF College of the Arts. An alumnus of the Gator Band drumline, he enjoys telling the stories of his alma mater and exploring how the arts can be communications tools for change.

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