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APTOS — A memorial scholarship has been created for Russell Bryant, a decorated WWII veteran who overcame a severe stutter and, during his 23 years as a Cabrillo College instructor, helped shape a vibrant Speech and Communications Department.
Bryant, 94, died last month from heart and renal failure at his home in Penn Valley, a small, rural community in Northern California. He had been on hospice services since August. His family has created a memorial scholarship fund for student veterans at Cabrillo.
It comes at an important time for the College, according to Melinda Silverstein, executive director of the Cabrillo College Foundation, the on-campus organization that manages gifts, donations and scholarships for the college. Cabrillo established a Veterans Center about two years ago and has experienced a 100 percent increase in the number of veterans and their dependents on campus. Today more than 200 students are veterans or their dependents.
“We are making a concerted effort to serve the veteran population better,” Silverstein said.
Ben Meade, a student veteran who works in the campus Veterans Office, said students have been hoping to put together funds for a scholarship at some point. “This is huge,” he said.
“Russ was just an outstanding college instructor and an American hero,” said Jack Turner, a retired communications instructor, dean and interim vice president at Cabrillo. Turner was hired by Bryant in 1971. “We have a very large and successful Communications Department; it really started with Russ. He had a warmth about him that would put students at ease.”
Bryant was one of the first speech instructors hired by Bill Grant who was head of the Humanities Division at the time. His wife of 65 years, Juanita Bryant, later launched the Medical Assistants Program at the college.
“He was first-class in my opinion,” Grant said from his Aptos home. “He had presence. He was forthright, honest-looking with a good face and good eyes and he had a wonderful personality.”
But, Grant said, he was also very serious about his job and students often returned to say how much they’d learned.
Bryant’s passion for teaching was informed largely by his personal challenges as a former stutterer and as a combat veteran.
“It gave him a point of view with the students who might be hesitant or mumbling and it gave them some inspiration,” said Grant who last saw his former colleague in the spring at a reunion of retired faculty. Bryant had driven his wife all the way down from Penn Valley in his old Lincoln.
Students, who often would have preferred root canals to public speaking, were invited to be comfortable in his class, Turner said.
“They not only respected him, there was a general warmth for him,” Turner said. “Russ was a very talented teacher and the heart and soul of the Communications Studies Department. He set the philosophy for a successful program. He had a warmth and empathy and that permeated through the department.”
One of Bryant’s passions was working with youth and he took young people from his church on annual waterskiing trips. At the end of one of these summer trips, he encountered a youth group from a poor congregation in San Jose and he stayed on an extra week to take them waterskiing. It was one of his favorite summer trips ever, said his daughter, Sally Bryant.
“He loved the water,” she said. “The family joke is that Daddy always took the long way home. He always drove home along the water.”
Bryant read at least two newspapers a day, was a fan of the 49ers, the Oakland Athletics and the Cabrillo College baseball team. One year he was awarded a medal of appreciation from the Cabrillo team for his perfect game attendance. As a decorated veteran, he shared his memories openly with others.
“The students gravitated to him, especially the veterans who knew they could share with him,” Sally Bryant said. “I think he wanted people to remember that war is just horrible for people on both sides, that it should be a last option. He loved his country but he didn’t wear his flag on his sleeve. He said ‘Make sure the things you’re fighting for are worthwhile and keep nurturing those qualities.'”
Bryant was also history buff known for occasional dramatic recitations in the hallways. In a deep baritone he could recite Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s last dramatic speech in which he quoted an old barrack’s song: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
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BORN: Sept. 19, 1919
DIED: Oct. 8, 2013
SURVIVORS: Wife, Juanita Bryant; children Sally and Steve Bryant; daughter-in-law Juliann Bryant; grandchildren Rebekah and Nathan Bryant; sister Maxine Evans (Harold); brother Bob Bryant (Joyce) as well as numerous other relatives and friends.
EDUCATION: He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in speech from Long Beach State, now known as CSU, Long Beach and completed additional graduate work in broadcasting at University of Southern California.
CAREER: Worked for Douglas Aircraft Co. before being drafted into the 94th Infantry Division as part of the Third Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Bryant was wounded in combat in Germany and received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for individual valor. He taught briefly at Garden Grove High School in Southern California before being hired in 1964 as one of the first speech instructors at Cabrillo College. He retired in 1987.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Bryant served as the faculty advisor to the Christian Student Club and was an active leader, educator and youth minister for many years at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos.
SERVICES: Private services were held. Burial will be Nov. 26 at Arlington National Cemetery.
CONTRIBUTIONS: Donations may be made to the Cabrillo College Foundation, with a note directing the gift to the Russell Bryant Memorial Endowed Scholarship. Cabrillo College Foundation, 6500 Soquel Drive, Soquel, CA 95003; 831-479-6338;www.cabrillo.edu/associations/foundation