Alumni Spotlight: Anthony Iacono ’89 ’91MA
(Pictured, the Iacono family)
By Camille Dolan ’98
“I am where I am because of UCF. And I think there are literally hundreds of thousands of others who would say the same thing.”
Anthony Iacono ’89 ’91MA, the newest president of County College of Morris, a community college in Morris County, New Jersey, said he owes everything to UCF, but he has a special love set aside for community colleges.
“I went to Indian River Community College [now Indian River State College] in Fort Pierce,” Iacono says. “I actually had gotten accepted to Florida State, but was unsure if it was a good choice for me.” He was also a first-generation college student and figured that staying close to his home while going to school would help him save some money.
Iacono also learned how to become a “really great student” at the community college, and he brought those lessons to UCF as an incoming junior.
“My professors at Indian River taught me how to write well,” Iacono says, and they also inculcated an even deeper love of history in him.
“When I got to UCF, it was pure happiness on my part, because I was simply studying history, and it was just a little department at the time. There were maybe a dozen professors, and one of them took notice of me and said, ‘Hey, I need an assistant.’ I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough.” His name was Anthony Cremonese, and he had been a bombardier during the Korean War.
“He had a lot of interesting stories that a young aspiring historian would find appealing,” Iacono says, “But they didn’t have any money in the department to pay me.” So, occasionally, Cremonese would bring in bags of groceries for his assistant, which his roommates thought was the greatest thing in the world. “The joke was that history students will work for food, and I literally did.”
After the first semester, the department’s office manager, Carole Gonzalez told him, “’Young man, we have a work-study program, and we can now afford to pay you for your work.’”
Iacono considered himself to be very lucky.
“It was a unique experience in that I was around faculty all of the time,” Iacono says. “And then, they told me if I stayed for my masters that they would give me a full scholarship, and I could continue working in the department.”
Along the way, Iacono married Deborah Polk, his high-school sweetheart, who also attended UCF — he is quick to add that she is more gifted academically than he is. His history colleagues attended the wedding, and then Iacono got back to studying for his master’s degree. “It’s the best, best thing that could ever have happened,” Iacono says. “Debbie and I continue to love UCF every day. Our lives are different because of it.”
While Tony Iacono was pursuing his master’s degree, his history professors — including Trevor Colbourn — continued to give him lots of time and attention. Department Chair, Richard Crepeau took the time to mentor Iacono, as did Dr. Shirley Lecki and Dr. Paul Wahr.
“The faculty really took me under their wing, and they gave me a lot of experience as they were researching their books,” Iacono says. They also knew that his funding was stretched and asked him if he wanted to housesit when they left during the summer.
Iacono began to see the possibilities of a career in higher education. His professors noticed that he enjoyed teaching and told him that he would need a doctorate if he wanted that path. Dr. Shirley Lecki, his thesis director, suggested that he apply at Mississippi State’s doctoral program, home of historian John Marszalek, renowned for his work in the 19th- century American South and Civil War studies, an area of particular interest for Iacono.
“I was not interested in going to Mississippi,” Iacono says. But after meeting Marszalek, he couldn’t see going anywhere else. “He reminded me a lot of the faculty at UCF: very humble, very focused, and dedicated to his students.”
And while he was at Mississippi State, he got a call from Dr. Kari Frederickson, the editor for the Florida Historical Quarterly, whose editorial offices were housed at UCF. The editor needed someone to write book reviews, or edit papers, so Iacono jumped at the nonpaying gig.
As Iacono was passing through Orlando, he stopped by UCF to meet the editor. Department Chair Richard Crepeau mentioned that they needed someone at UCF to teach 19th-century American history. “Where are you with your dissertation?” Crepeau asked. “It’s in my trunk,” Iacono said.
And even though he still had a few chapters to finish, they offered him a position as an adjunct faculty member, and he was then elevated to a visiting professor line. “I really wanted to stay as a tenured faculty member,” Iacono said. But then, Indian River posted a job that met his needs. He eventually ascended to Vice President of Academic Affairs, a position he held until 2016, when he was offered the position at Morris.
“Working with the talented faculty was an honor and supporting students is always an unparalleled joy. None of this would have happened without UCF.”
What Iacono discovered was that “if you really believe in people, and you build the right systems, and if you show students that you care about them the way that UCF faculty did for me – is that people can accomplish anything.”
In his current role, Iacono said he is amazed every day by not only first-generation students like himself who overcome tremendous obstacles on their way to success, but also by first-generation Americans.
“I really love that population and the opportunity to help individuals who maybe came here not even speaking the language and really helping them acquire those skills and to help them on their educational journey,” Iacono says. “That’s the power of education. You can break cycles of poverty, and you can help people get to where they never dreamed of.”
When Pegasus magazine arrives in the Iacono household, Tony and Debbie are excited to see what other graduates are doing in the world.
“What a profound global influence Knights continue to have,” Iacono says. “UCF just turns out one great class after another, and its impact continues to expand over and over and over again. I am where I am because of UCF. And I think there are literally hundreds of thousands of others who would say the same thing.”