Who is Cheryl? Unraveling a campus mystery

College relationships can be intense. The people you're closest to during those years can shape you for the rest of your life. One college love story left its mark on the University of Florida campus — a note inscribed into the concrete that's still visible decades later.

It reads: 

Cheryl,

If love could be like trees,

you would be a forest.

There's no signature, just the number '77.

Who wrote it? Why? And are they still with Cheryl?

Emily Cardinali and I — both writers with the University of Florida's Strategic Communications and Marketing office — decided to find out. The podcast Cheryl '77 tracks our progress in unraveling the mystery.

In Episode 1, we asked UF's historian what he could reveal about the inscription.

Episode 1: If love could be like trees

Transcript: 

Just off University Avenue, in the historic part of the University of Florida campus, is a love note carved into the concrete. It’s been around for decades, but nobody seems to know how it got there. It says: Cheryl, If love could be like trees, you would be a forest. There’s no signature, just the year ’77. Who was Cheryl, and who loved her enough to write this message? I’m Alisson Clark, a writer at the University of Florida. My colleague Emily Cardinali and I are going to try to solve the mystery.

From the University of Florida, this is Cheryl ‘77. 

A: We're standing out here in Matherly courtyard in the middle of the winter, but it's a sunny day. It's mid sixties and everybody's out going to class. 

E: Hey, have you seen this before?

That’s Emily. We’re both introverts, so this is hard.

Student: 'Cheryl, if love could be like trees, you'd be a forest.' That's cute. Isn't that sweet? How long ago — '77? 

E: Yeah. So we're trying to figure out who wrote it. 

S: Go Cheryl. 

E: I know.

You’ll see photos of the message turn up sometimes in Instagram posts tagged Matherly Hall, but for the most part, the people we talked to had never noticed it.

To find out more, we turned to an expert on all things UF.

C: My name is Carl Van Ness, I’m the university historian and I work in the George A. Smathers libraries. 

Carl has worked at UF since the early 80s, and his office is just around the corner from the message. 

A: It’s right behind this planter.

Carl: Ah, Ok. 1977. What does it say at the top? I can't read that.

A: Cheryl.  

C: Oh, Cheryl. 'If love could be like trees, you would be a forest. 1977.' How cute. I have no idea what that's about. I'm surprised they let that stay. I've never noticed this before. I've walked through this corridor thousands of times and never looked down to see that. That is strange. We could do some research on it...we do have a date, 1977. We can check the Alligator to see if perhaps somebody noticed it in 1977 wrote an article about it.  

A: That's a good idea. We talked about checking with Facilities. We thought we might check the yearbooks from that period and see if we could get in touch with the Cheryls.

C: [laughs] 

A: It's a very popular name for that period.

C: Yeah it is.

A: I think there's going to be a lot of Cheryls that we may have to touch base with. 

C: Yeah, and you wouldn't, you don't mean don't know the year either. She could have been a freshman, sophomore, whatever. It should be easy to find in the Alligator. 

A: And that's online through the UF Libraries? 

C: ...through the UF library use as part of the University of Florida Digital Collections. 

Carl offered to take us to Smathers Library to see what we could find. We walked around the corner from Matherly and up the stairs to the 1926 Grand Reading Room where they keep the old yearbooks, which ironically were called The Seminole.

The Grand Reading Room is definitely the most Harry Potter place at the University of Florida. It has gorgeous vaulted ceilings with tall arched windows. Old lanterns dangle from wooden ceiling beams and all around are wood panels and shelves full of historic books. Carl told us the earliest yearbook was from 1910. He asked a librarian to bring us the '70s yearbooks.

C: 1977 — oh there is no '77.

Librarian: They didn't publish between 1974 and 1983.

C: There was no yearbook between '73 and '84.

A: '73 and '84 — so there's no hope of getting, if she was a student, there's nothing.

C: No, not from a yearbook. No. I think your Alligator, the Alligator is your best bet. Yeah.

A: [gasp]

E: Why was there no yearbook? 

C: A lack of interest. 

E: So, no...

C: No yearbook. Sorry.

Carl didn’t find any mentions of the note in the Alligator archives, either, so our best leads turned out to be dead ends. But we weren’t done looking for Cheryl.

Next time on Cheryl '77: 

C: Now, you could go through the student directory.

A: Ooooh, good idea. 

C: No, it’s not. How are you going to go through the student directory and look for every Cheryl?

A: Patience. Interns.

C: Remember, there were tens of thousands of students.

E: We’re very hopeful.

A: We won't give up. 

***

Episode 2: All of the Cheryls

We did find the yearbook from the 1972-73 school year, so we took a look at that, but it didn't yield much. We took Carl's advice and moved on to the student directory, even though he thought it was an impossible task. When a historian thinks you're diving too deep into a rabbit hole, it's a bad sign. But Emily and I pressed on. 

Transcript:

Last time on Cheryl 77...

Carl Van Ness: Now, you could go through the student directory.

A: Ooooh, good idea.

C: No, it’s not. How are you going to go through the student directory and look for every Cheryl?

A: Patience. Interns.

C: Remember, there were tens of thousands of students.

E: We’re very hopeful.

When we started looking for Cheryl, we had two good leads — the Alligator and the yearbook. Both of those turned out to be dead ends. I’m Alisson Clark from the University of Florida. This is Cheryl ’77.

E: So where are we?  

A: So we're back in our office plotting our next move after our false start with the yearbooks. Carl put us onto the student directories, which is great because that lists all the students. Problem is, there's tens of thousands of students in this era and a lot of them are named Cheryl. So we spent over an hour going through those pages, only to find the first 20. And even if we had a robot doing this, all we have from that is their maiden names and where they lived when they were a student. Luckily, there has been a development.  

E: Okay.  

A: So the alumni association has an alumni directory, and if you're a member — here, I'll show you on the computer — on the alumni website, you can go to the alumni directory, and not only does it let you search by first name, which is all we have for Cheryl, but if you do an advanced search, it will let you search by grad year.  

E: Oh, nice. 

A: if we just search all of the years in question, we'll get all of the Cheryls that could be our girl. What I found when I searched that was 79 CherylsSo we've got a pretty good starting point to reach out to these people. 

The spreadsheet of Cheryls showed alumni who had fanned out all over the country, living some pretty interesting lives, with titles like reverend, judge, doctor, designer and  psychologist/astrologer. Asking them to tell a complete stranger about their college love life was a little awkward, but most of them were eager to help. 

A: Hello, may I speak to Cheryl please? 

Cheryl: Speaking. 

A: Hi, this is Alisson Clark from the communications office at the University of Florida. We're working on a story about an interesting note that we found in the concrete outside Matherly hall. Would it be OK if I ask you a couple questions about it?  

C: You can; I’m not sure I know anything about it. 

A: The note says: Cheryl, if love could be like trees, you would be a forest and it’s signed 1977. Do you have any idea who it might be about or for?  

C: No, it was definitely not me. [laughs] I’m sorry I can’t help you any more. 

A: That’s OK, thank you for your time.  

C: You’re welcome. 

A: Take care. 

We kept going down the list. 

C: Yeah, I’m sure it’s not me.  

A: Oh, OK. [laughs] 

C: If it was anything interesting, it would not be me. I don’t know anything about it, sorry.   

We got a lot of disconnected numbers — even a few fax machines. We sent Facebook and LinkedIn messages, texts, and dozens of emails. Then we reached 1976 grad Cheryl Hart. Here’s what she had to say. 

C: Uh, I was married to my husband Bobby then. If Bobby did it — and it's something he would do — you know what, that would be very flattering if it was me, [laughs] but I don't think it's me. I don't think it's me.  

A: Okay. Well, if you find out otherwise, feel free to give me a call back. 

C: Well, he’s standing right here. [to Bobby]: Did you write that and never tell me? 

B: What did I write? 

C: Yeah, what did you write before he decides to claim it?  

A: Good question. So it's in the concrete outside of Matherly, which was the Business Administration building, which is right off of University Avenue. And it says, “Cheryl, if love could be like trees, you would be a forest.”  

C: Aww. 

B: That sounds like something I would write. 

C: Actually, back in the day, that is something he would write. That is something he would write. 

B: I don't recall that. 

C: It's not him. That's a cute story, but I would love to hear the end of the story. That's, that's neat. Thank you for reaching out. Okay. Bye bye. 

We got lots of similar responses: Cheryls saying, ‘it’s not me, but please let me know what you find out.’ Then we got a message from 1977 grad Cheryl Schumacher of Reno, Nevada.  

C: Hello? 

Next time on Cheryl ‘77... 

A: Is there someone who was really into you in 1977 who might have been the creator of this message? 

C: Possibly. Um, yes, possibly. 

***

Episode 3: Love was in the air

We continued our conversation with a Cheryl who had a very intriguing connection to the message at Matherly Hall.

Transcript:

A: Hi, Cheryl. This is Alisson from UF.   

C: Hi!   

That’s Cheryl Schumacher, who graduated from UF in 1977. We called to ask her if she inspired the love note outside of Matherly Hall that reads:        

Cheryl,   

If love could be like trees,   

You would be a forest.

Her major? Forestry.      

Welcome to the final episode of Cheryl ’77, the Valentine’s week podcast from the University of Florida.     

We reached Cheryl at home in Reno, Nevada. After graduation, she moved out West and worked for the Forest Service, got married and had two kids. She’s retired now, which gives her more time for skiing and river rafting.   

A: I'm here with Emily who's working on this project with me. We thought because you were a forestry major, and the note that we found in the concrete compares Cheryl to a forest, that maybe it could be you.    

C: Well, I, that's flattering.   

A: Is there anybody who was really into you in 1977 who might've been the creator of this message?    

C: Possibly. Um, uh, yes, possibly. But I have never heard that story before.    

A: We could check with that person and see.   

C: Pardon?    

A: If you were comfortable sharing the name of the person who it might be, we could get in touch with them and see if they wanted to 'fess up.   

C: Well, I'm afraid that's not possible now because he has passed.    

A: Oh, goodness. Okay.    

C: Yeah. Yeah. So, um…   

A: I’m sorry about that.    

C: The one person I had in mind, um, I'm, I'm afraid that's not, I can't find out either.  So, um, I think it's kind of still a mystery.        

A: Well, thanks so much for your time and helping us get a little closer to solving this.    

C: Well, thank you for the call and good luck.   

A: Bye.        

C: Bye.   

We thought Cheryl the forester had a pretty unique connection to the message…until we got a call from 1979 grad Cheryl Summers.    

C: I do not remember that ever being done or who would have written that, but the interesting part is I was a forestry major. So that's kind of interesting there's a reference to that.    

A: Wow.    

C: So that's interesting. But I don't know of anybody who would've written it. I'm not familiar with it. I didn’t know anything about it.    

E: I just want to cut in and say when Cheryl Summers said she was a forestry major, my jaw dropped like I was in some sort of cartoon. I think my eyes bugged out of my head when I looked at Alisson and I had to stifle my shock because we were recording, but we both were really surprised to find a second Cheryl the forestry major from the late ‘70s.

We thanked Cheryl the Forester number 2 for her time.      

C: Alright. Well. Good luck on your search.            

We still had a lot of Cheryls from the ‘70s that we hadn’t crossed off our list. But we didn’t know for sure the message was made in the ‘70s. To find out, we turned to Darrell Pons, a superintendent with UF Facilities Services. He’s been at UF for 27 years, and oversees all of the concrete work on campus. He met us at Matherly to tell us what he knew. 

Emily Cardinali records Darrell Pons' interview at the site of the Matherly inscription

Emily Cardinali records an interview with Darrell Pons. Photo by Cindy Spence. 

D: I asked Jimmy Ross, one of my long-term employees about it. He knew exactly where it was at and what it said, ‘cause he's my concrete guy and he's been doing it for 45 years. So the date of '77 is probably correct. I would say that's just spot on.   

A: So is it surprising that it's still here?        

D: Very much so. How come that one little spot was spared? I have no idea, but I'm glad it was. That’s true love, right there. I wish I knew all the history and I wish I knew who they were.       

Darrell did have a little more information about when the inscription was made.        

D: It looks like it was done in the winter time. You can see a leaf mark here, here and there, that was troweled in, so it was probably done sometime about this time of the year. There's a live oak tree here, and live oak leaves are just starting to fall. So that tells me it was done around Valentine's era, you know, about that time of the year. So love was in the air.    

Since Darrell is in charge of keeping the concrete nice around here, we thought we’d give him a chance to say why people shouldn’t write notes like this in wet cement.      

D: We're wanting to be a top 5 university in the country. We really want to be number 1, that's our goal. We want it to be pristine. We want it Disney World here. If we have graffiti everywhere, it's just not proper.   

For this reason and lots of others, messages in concrete usually don’t last — and this one won’t last forever either. Darrell says at some point, maintenance workers will probably have to break up the concrete to repair the utility lines underneath.   

D: If a line breaks and it becomes a safety problem, it'll go away. We'll have memories of it.   

Someone out there already has memories of it — memories of dreaming up the message, writing it in the concrete, and showing it to Cheryl for the first time, maybe on Valentine’s Day 1977. Or maybe the Cheryl who inspired it never knew it was for her. If that’s true, we might have already talked to her. It’s also possible that Cheryl wasn’t a UF student. Or she could have been one of the alumni we weren’t able to reach. Maybe the person who can solve the mystery is listening right now. Like a lot of people we talked to, Darrell hopes they’ll come forward.       

D: If you find them, I would like to know, just for my own curiosity.    

A: They won't get in trouble?   

D: No, no. They're out of the woods. 

If you know something about the Cheryl inscription, send us an email at news@ufl.edu or message us via social media. Thanks for listening. I’m Alisson Clark and this has been Cheryl ’77 from the University of Florida.  

Photo/video by Brianne Lehan and Brian Sandusky/UF Strategic Communications and Marketing

Special thanks to Shannon Alexander, Shirley Lynn, Darrell Pons, Cindy Spence, Carl Van Ness, and all of the Cheryls who answered our messages and calls. 

Alisson Clark and Emily Cardinali/UF News February 11, 2020