They’re proud of their start, each on a Panhandle dirt road. Now, this Gator couple – who raised three Gator children, including a student body president – is showing future generations the power of a UF education.
He likes Prince; she’s into gospel. He goes on intuition; she’s a planner. He recharges by watching sports on TV; she unwinds on a yoga mat.
“We’re yin and yang,” said Val Green (BSA ’84) in a recent interview with her husband, Vince Green (BSBA ’84).
“I’d second that,” laughed Vince.
But when it comes to core values, this Gator couple is in perfect alignment.
“Seek God. Work hard. Be kind and be a good person,” said Val. “That’s the Green family motto.”
Married for 38 years and parents to three Gator children, the Greens are living proof that education, hard work and service to others are the foundations of success. From humble beginnings on the Florida Panhandle, Vince and Val rose to become outstanding students at UF and leaders in their careers, Vince as a field sales leader for Allstate’s North Georgia market, Val as director of commercial operations for Merck pharmaceuticals.
May 11, 2022
“He told me, ‘Save more money than you spend.’ I’ve always tried to do that.”
— Vince Green on advice given to him as a teenager by business mogul Charles W. Ireland —
Since 2018, the couple — now retired and living in Jacksonville — have been fostering diversity at UF by supporting deserving students with the Green Family Achievement Scholarship fund, administered by the Association of Black Alumni.
The Green Family Scholarships reward academic excellence and encourage recipients to become active civic leaders.
“We want to instill the importance of volunteering and contributing to society in a meaningful way, whether it’s giving to the campus community or to the Gainesville community,” said Val. “It’s vital to give back, not just financially but also of your time and talents.”
Tobacco and Giant Beets
Vince and Val’s journey began in the Florida Panhandle. Vince’s family lived in Lynn Haven, a beach/military town just north of Panama City. Val grew up 135 miles away in the tiny inland community of Lamont, on a 65-acre working farm that has been in her family for generations. Both grew up, they are proud to say, on dirt roads.
“Our cash crop was tobacco when I was growing up,” said Val. “But we raised everything — animals, vegetables, corn, tomatoes, squash, peas.”
Active in public speaking, talent shows and 4-H, Val took a 20-mile-long bus ride to school each day and fit her duties on the farm around homework and crafting with her mother, Elizabeth, an avid sewer, gardener and cook. In the summers, Val, her two brothers and their parents worked up to 10 hours a day to get the tobacco harvest in.
“A farm is a great place to be from because it teaches you the value of a hard day’s work,” she said.
“It was a good, humble beginning, filled with lots of love and family … and we had a great church, right there in our community,” she added.
Vince acquired his work ethic from his father, George, a truck driver who served in the Army Reserves for 42 years. Nicknamed “Green Acres,” their family home sat on two and a half acres, and while it wasn’t farmland per se, there was enough good soil to raise vegetables out back.
Gifted at sports and horticulture, Vince used his green thumb to grow vegetables for the family’s suppers, lovingly cooked by his mom, Maxie, an educator. In seventh grade, he grew a beet as big as a volleyball, earning a glowing write-up in the local newspaper. The story caught the eye of Lynn Haven’s most celebrated resident, Charles W. Ireland, founder of Vulcan Materials Company and a gardening enthusiast.
The construction-materials magnate was looking for someone to manage the four greenhouses on his 15-acre property, and he figured whoever had cultivated that giant beet could work wonders on his estate.
That is how, at age 12, Vince Green ended up being hired by one of the nation’s most powerful businessmen.
“Yes, I wanted that job,” remembered Vince. “I was tired of doing all that stuff around my house for free!”
In addition to giving Green a steady paycheck, Ireland passed on invaluable advice.
“He said, ‘Save more money than you spend,’” recalled Vince. “I’ve always tried to do that.”
As much as teenaged Vince and Val loved their communities, both dreamed of building futures beyond the Panhandle and understood that college was necessary to open new doors. Each took a unique path to the University of Florida.
Having grown up in the shadow of the NAS Panama City Navy Base, Vince headed to UF on a Navy ROTC scholarship, the second member of his family to go to college. With Charles Ireland’s financial advice echoing in his ears, he trained his sights on a degree in business administration.
A highly organized go-getter who graduated early from high school, Val gravitated to UF because it was “the perfect happy medium” among her acceptance schools, she said: Not too close, like FSU in Tallahassee, not too far, like Boston College in the chilly north. Plus, the first-generation student felt at home on the UF campus since she had attended summer programs through UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
After weighing her options, the level-headed 16-year-old accepted a scholarship from UF/IFAS and started in the summer of 1979, eventually majoring in microbiology and cell science.
“It’s something that I’m very interested and passionate about,” she said. “It was my aspiration to do research on cancer, something significant.”
A Gator Romance
When Vince Green first stepped on campus in the fall of 1980, it was a hopeful time for African American students at UF. The university had been desegregated just 22 years earlier, and since that tumultuous time, minority enrollment had been slowly increasing, with organizations like the Black Student Union and Black fraternities and sororities offering support and community. That year, African American students constituted roughly 6% of UF’s undergraduate population. By 1985, one year after Vince and Val graduated, that number would swell to 11%.
“The atmosphere among Black students was very cohesive at that time,” said Vince. “UF was just getting that influx of Black students, and we created a family on campus.”
Greek life appealed to both newcomers, with Vince joining Phi Beta Sigma and Val, Alpha Kappa Alpha. But college life wasn’t all parties and tailgates for them: Both students worked their way through UF. Vince had a job at the UF Athletic Association and waited tables at the Reitz Union. Val cleaned petri dishes and test tubes in a lab and sorted bones at the Florida Museum.
“I knew for sure that my future depended on my ability to graduate from the University of Florida,” Val said.
It was not until their senior year, in 1983, that the future Mr. and Mrs. Green met; a mutual friend introduced them at a party.
“We just clicked,” said Vince.
The pair dated for less than a year. Val never planned to get married right out of college, she said, but Vince had other ideas, as she subsequently learned from his parents.
“They said, ‘Oh, he kept telling us that you were the person he was going to marry, almost from Day One,’” Val remembered.
“Yep, that’s it. I knew,” said Vince.
Score one for Vince’s intuition: The couple married soon after they graduated from UF in 1984, their long-dreamed-of bachelor’s degrees finally in hand.
Dual Careers in Georgia
Prior to graduation, Val had received a career wake-up call. Never a fan of chemistry class, she nevertheless applied to become a medical researcher and interviewed with several pharmaceutical companies. Their reps broke the news to her.
“They said, ‘Listen, based on your personality and this interview process, we don’t think [research] is going to be a fit for you,’” she remembered. “‘But we’ve got these sales positions that, gosh, we think you’d be perfect for.’”
She had never known anyone who was in pharmaceutical sales. “It was a career path that meant absolutely nothing to me,” she admitted.
But a close sorority sister, who had just taken a job with Merck, encouraged Val to return for the sales interviews – “and the rest is history,” laughed Val.
That history encompasses 34 years of leading Merck sales teams throughout the Southeast, with Val’s determination and skills propelling her up the corporate ladder. The strong work ethic she’d honed on the farm and at UF stood her in good stead as she inspired her teams to peak performance, earning her three Merck President’s Awards. Those who worked with her praise her calm leadership style, her business acumen and her ability to stay cool under pressure.
While Val hitched her star to Merck, Vince — after a two-year stint on a Navy nuclear submarine — parlayed his business degree into a job with Allstate in 1987. He stayed with the company for more than 30 years, opening his own agency in Roswell, Georgia, in 1999, and earning awards for superior customer service and profitability. He later served as a field sales leadership representative, recruiting and developing new agency owners in the southern United States.
In staying loyal to a single employer over their careers, the Greens have embodied a favorite saying of Val’s mother, Elizabeth.
“She used to say all the time, ‘Never start something you’re not willing to continue,’” said Val. “It’s a message about knowing for sure what’s important to you and what you’re able to consistently do.”
Nurturing the Next Generation
Over the years, the Greens have been active in local charities, with Val serving as a board member of the Center for Children & Young Adults, and Vince chairing the Atlanta Cancer Awareness Partnership.
Their greatest joy, however, has been guiding their children, Alisha, Ian and Olivia. Not surprisingly, all three are Gators. Education specialist Alisha Green Wyche works for her county school district in Marietta, Georgia, and 2018-19 UF Student Body President Ian Green is now a senior analyst at Procter & Gamble, in Orlando. Their youngest, Olivia Green, is a second-year student studying economics and is currently president of her sorority.
The Greens say other parents often ask them for advice on how to motivate children and teens to become UF material, especially since the university’s rise to Top 5 status.
“I’d love to tell you that we told our kids, ‘You must do this, you must go here,’ but really, they were self-motivated,” said Val.
Foremost in their minds, the couple says, is fostering appreciation in their children for the advantages they have been given — and the habit of paying it forward.
“Giving is what starts it,” said Vince, “whether it’s your community or your college, or kids who are halfway homeless — find a cause that that makes you say, ‘I need to give back.’”
That same impulse led the Green family to endow a UF scholarship fund in their name through the Association of Black Alumni. Their generosity was motivated by concern over the decline in Black enrollment at the university. By 2020-21, the percentage of African American students at UF had dropped to 6%, the same figure it was when Vince was a freshman.
The Greens are part of ongoing conversations at UF about how to reverse that trend. Val notes that while it is important to build a pipeline from high school to UF for Black students, the problem is more complex than awareness or acceptance rates. Data shows that among Black students who are accepted at UF, a not-insignificant number choose to go to other schools, including historically Black colleges and universities, and institutions that offer enticing scholarship packages with job opportunities after graduation.
“Another consideration is sense of community,” said Val. “Are Black students comfortable coming to the University of Florida? Are they going to find their village and feel like they belong on the campus? If they visit, are they going to see a lot of people who look like them? There are many pieces to this puzzle, and we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and figure this thing out.”
The Greens keep working to make UF more diverse and inclusive, and they encourage their fellow Gators to lend a hand.
“For us, it’s about the notion of lift as you rise,” said Val. “It’s always important to dream big, to never, ever let people limit you — and to lift others once you’ve gotten to that better place.”