The fifth-generation Floridian – and recent inductee into UF’s Academy of Golden Gators – is a passionate advocate for his state and his alma mater. But at heart, he is an explorer.
Double Gator Harvey E. Oyer III (BA ’90, JD ’98) has deep roots in Palm Beach County: as a fifth-generation Floridian, as a real estate attorney and as a tireless advocate for historic preservation.
But within him beats the fearless heart of an adventurer.
The great-grandnephew of one of Florida’ famous barefoot mailmen, Oyer traipsed through the steamy highlands of Papua, New Guinea, to find and document previously uncontacted people for the Explorer’s Club in 2009. Nine years later, he strapped on cross-country skis and braved minus-40-degree temps and frostbite to traverse the North Pole. In November 2022, he and three other explorers completed a 130-mile canoe journey across the Florida Everglades, retracing a historic trip made by explorer and scientist Hugh de Laussat Willoughby in 1897.
March 21, 2023
”I was one of those nerds that actually sat outside my professors’ offices during office hours with a notepad because I wanted to talk to them and learn more. The person I became — it’s largely due to UF.”
— Harvey Oyer III —
Now, as his alma mater explores additional growth opportunities, Oyer has served as a vital liaison and key UF advocate around the state. In gratitude, UF honored Oyer as Volunteer of the Year at the yearly Academy of Golden Gators celebration, held on March 3, 2023, in West Palm Beach.
“I’m deeply appreciative of the award,” Oyer said in a January 2023 interview. “I’m not sure that I deserve it in any way, but I have a great affinity and love for the University of Florida.”
“I didn’t just go to classes; I developed friendships with my professors at UF,” he continued. “I was one of those nerds that actually sat outside my professors’ offices during office hours with a notepad because I wanted to learn more. The person I became — it’s largely due to UF.”
Those Barefoot Mailman Genes
Oyer is as Floridian as the cormorants and anhingas that wade through the Intracoastal Waterway.
More than 150 years ago, his great-great-grandparents, Hannibal and Margretta Pierce, escaped Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871 and arrived in the frontier jungles of South Florida, filing the second homestead in Palm Beach County (then part of Dade County). Their son, Charlie Pierce (1864-1939), led many early expeditions through the Everglades. In 1887, Pierce became one of the state’s legendary barefoot mailmen, carriers on the first U.S. Mail route between Palm Beach and Miami. The roundtrip journey took six days, on foot and by boat, through 136 miles of driftwood-strewn beaches and alligator-infested inlets.
Years later, Oyer would chronicle Pierce’s exploits in a series of children’s books that have become required reading in many Florida classrooms.
Oyer’s father, Harvey Oyer Jr. (BSBA ’50, [1926-2010]), left big shoes for his son to fill. The senior Oyer served in the Army in both World War II and the Korean War and earned a bachelor’s in business administration from UF. Known locally as “Mr. Boynton Beach,” Harvey’s dad served as mayor of Boynton Beach and led many civic and charitable organizations.
Dad also made sure his son — one of three siblings — attended Gator football games in the 1980s.
“I loved doing that,” recalled Oyer. “Of course, we weren’t very good. Those were the pre-Spurrier years, and we had never won an SEC title until Steve Spurrier (BSPE ‘81) got there in 1990. So, I lived through part of the drought and then, later on, I lived through the glory years of Spurrier, the national title and Danny Wuerffel [BSPR ‘96]. So, I was there for the worst of it and the best of it.”
The Gifts of Shedd Hall
Oyer enrolled at UF in fall 1986, but like the byways traversed by the barefoot mailmen, his route to its Honors Program — and eventual recognition as UF’s Outstanding Male Leader, Phi Beta Kappa member and UF Hall of Fame honoree — had its twists and turns.
“I hadn’t done that well in high school academically,” he admitted. “I spent more time going to the beach and surfing.”
Wary of the extracurricular temptations posed to young college men, Oyer’s father refused to buy him a car or allow him to join a fraternity that first year.
“It was terrible,” he remembered. “Every other guy was going through rush and getting to do fun things, and I was stuck in Shedd Hall with no car, no way to get to Crescent Beach.”
“I had nothing better to do than go to class, so I learned study habits, I developed relationships with my professors,” he explained. “By the time I did pledge a fraternity and get a car my sophomore year, I was disciplined. That was one of the many great gifts my father gave me.”
“I lived through part of the drought and then, later on, I lived through the glory years of Spurrier and the national titles and Danny Wuerffel.”
— Gators football fan Harvey Oyer III —
Oyer’s academic arc is a long and varied one: after earning a bachelor’s in economics with high honors from UF in 1990, he studied graduate economics in Australia as a Rotary International Scholar and earned a master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Cambridge in 1994. Then he circled back to UF for a juris doctorate in 1998. (A mid-‘90s stint as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps punctuated that journey.)
But looking back, he says that his undergraduate years at UF left the deepest imprint on his character, leading to lifelong friendships and interests. (See sidebar.)
“I had great classes, great professors, who were very creative and thoughtful,” he said. “They went above and beyond to answer my questions in depth and mentor me. Later, in graduate school, I realized how rare that is.”
“My other great experience at UF was my fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, the leadership skills it taught me and the many enduring friendships that resulted,” he added.
Fighting to Preserve History
After graduating from UF law school in 1998, Oyer returned home to South Florida, eventually joining the West Palm Beach office of Shutts & Bowen. He has become one of the region’s top land use and zoning lawyers, leading the approval of many of the county’s largest and most iconic projects.
Along the way, he joined and led a number of South Florida civic and charitable organizations, serving as board chair for the Business Development Board of Palm Beach Country, the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County and the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches. Like his father, he gravitates to projects that spur regional growth while fostering appreciation of Florida’s rich history.
One project he is especially proud of is the fight he led in the 2000s to save the historic Palm Beach County Courthouse from demolition. Built in 1916, the neoclassical building’s beauty was hidden for many years inside a brick wraparound shell.
“It was inside an ugly, 1970s red-brick building,” said Oyer. “Our county commission voted 6 to 1 to tear it down.”
As a volunteer, Oyer spearheaded the seven-year-long campaign to save and renovate the original structure, which was subsequently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building now serves as the county’s history museum.
“I took a lot of heat for that fight, county commissioners telling me to go away,” said Oyer with a note of stubborn satisfaction in his voice. “Now it’s one of the great cultural assets of the community.”
From Cattle Ranching to Book Signings
Married to Christina Oyer and father to three young daughters, Oyer is seeking to balance the multiple strands of his life: scholarship and adventure, preserving history and looking forward.
High-pressure negotiations and intensive civics work are complemented by relaxing trips to his 350-acre cattle ranch in Okeechobee County. He gets a different satisfaction making author visits to schools around the state to discuss his best-selling children’s book series, The Adventures of Charlie Pierce.
Like many of Oyer’s favorite projects, it was born from a desire to help his fellow Floridians.
“There is a mandate from the Florida Legislature to teach Florida history in the fourth grade, but it is largely an unfunded mandate,” Oyer said. “They require the teachers to teach it, but they provide them few resources.”
His five-book series, which brings Florida’s history to life, is used in many public-school districts today.
Looking back over his own life, Oyer credits much of his success, including his breakout career as an author, to lessons learned at his alma mater.
“I was a poor writer, at best, when I arrived on the campus, but several of my professors took the time to use up a whole lot of red pens, marking up my written work, over and over,” he said “That taught me to be a critical thinker, reader and writer. I am forever grateful for it.”
The UF Profs & Leaders Who Left an Indelible Mark
Like many Gators, Oyer has fond memories of the professors and leaders who mentored him as an undergraduate.
UF political scientist and Honors Program director Keith Legg took Oyer under his wing. Historian Michael Gannon (PHD ’62 [1927-2017]) became a good friend. Historian and future provost David Colburn (1942-2019) opened doors for Oyer to participate in UF’s Reubin Askew Institute on Politics and Society.
As student delegate for the CLAS Dean search committee in 1988, Oyer rubbed elbows with presidents Marshall Criser, Bob Bryan (1926-2017) and J Wayne Reitz (1908-1993). Those leaders taught him the meaning of public service, he says.
He was especially touched by the efforts of economist Mark Rush. Rush first proposed the topic of Oyer’s Undergraduate Honors Thesis on stock price dispersion (“tracking changes in stock prices and how they correlate to other changes in the economy,” explains Oyer). He also taught Oyer how to run the complex regression analysis needed to test his theory and graciously gave the young man lead authorship when the paper was later published in an academic journal.
“To be so unselfish as to take his name off the lead and give it to a 22-year-old college senior demonstrates the class and humility that he had,” Oyer said admiringly of his thesis advisor.