”Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”
This is the perfect quote to use when talking about Paul Bryant. That’s what his life has been…one adventure after another with books of stories, to boot!
Paul’s story began in Oklahoma City, where he was born in 1928 and raised until 1945 when he entered what was then Oklahoma A & M as an agriculture student. But after a year, Paul joined the army at the age of 17 (he graduated high school at the age of 16!). World War II had just ended the year prior, and the military was looking for soldiers who could play an instrument in order to establish military bands. As luck would have it, Paul was a trumpet player and was snatched up to enter the Army’s music school at Camp Lee, Virginia, where he first had to complete basic training. After eight weeks of basic training and eight weeks of music school training, he was assigned to the only Army band in New England at Murphy General Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts, and it was there that he had the great honor of studying under John Coffey at the New England Conservatory of Music! “That was quite an unexpected honor,” said Paul. “I never thought I would be studying under someone so well known, and I really developed as a musician.”
After eighteen months in the service, it was back to Oklahoma A & M for a short time and then on to the University of Oklahoma where he earned his BA in Botany. Why the change in schools? Well, there just happened to be a brilliant, wonderful young woman named Genevieve Dale studying Cytology at UO.
She and Paul had actually met their senior year of high school, and as Paul said, “She may have had just a little to do with my decision to transfer schools after the Army.” They were married in 1949 and had two children, Elaine in 1952 and their son Chris in 1956.
For Paul and Genny, life was one adventure after another and they spent many summers “off the grid”. One summer, Paul worked as a Botany instructor in an Audubon summer camp in the Texas hill country. Another year, he worked as a ranger-naturalist in the Platte National Forest in Southern Oklahoma.
“In 1952, I repaired and replaced Forest Service telephone lines and cleared down timber from the trail for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho. To hang the telephone lines back up in the air, I used standing trees; there were no traditional telephone poles. My partner and I would trek out in the woods with two pack animals and a climb pack to get the work done. My partner, however, was afraid of heights, so I got the job of climbing the tress with special spiked shoes and, well, my fingernails! There were lots of nail marks in those trees. And then when the fire season started, Genny and I stayed in a 12 x 12 fire lookout on Mahoney Mountain for six weeks…50 miles from the nearest road with just two bunks, a wood-burning stove, a couple of chairs, and a “fire finder” alidade in the center. It overlooked the middle fork of the Salmon River… just breathtaking.”
In 1956, Paul earned his Masters in English at OU and took a job as editor for the Washington State Institute of Technology at Washington State University in Pullman. After two years, he and the family moved to Illinois where Paul taught for two years and then became the Director of Engineering Publications and editor for the Journal of Engineering Education… all while earning his Ph.D. in English! That took him to Colorado State University in 1964 where he joined the English faculty. After 20 years at CSU, Paul became Professor of English and Dean of the Graduate College at Radford University in Virginia until 1993.
When it was finally time to retire, he and Genny searched the country for the perfect place to settle. After considering New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas, they settled on none other than Fairview. They liked the change of seasons in Western North Carolina and loved the friendly people.
“Within one week of moving to Fairview, we had more interaction with our neighbors who brought goodies and good wishes than we had in the nine years we lived in Virginia,” stated Paul.
In 2006, they made the move to Ardenwoods. They had looked at several retirement communities but found the smaller atmosphere and the ease of getting to know the people at Ardenwoods very inviting. He and Genny have always been very active here, and since her passing, Paul has remained involved through the “Rocking Chair Readers Theater”. This group adapts scripts and poetry that is usually acted into pieces that can be read, using their tone of voice to carry out the message. They usually do two to three performances a year and the next one is coming for Valentine’s Day, so be on the lookout for scheduled performance times.
Ardenwoods is honored and excited to have Paul as part of our community!
FYI: Paul has written three books, all of which are in the Ardenwoods library, available for check out:
Old Men: Short Stories and Sketches
Confessions of a Habitual Administrator: An Academic Survival Manual
H.L. David: a Biography