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George W. Bryant

George W. "Prof" Bryant: Professor of Latin and Father of Coe Athletics

George Bryant, the "father of Coe athletics," exerted a powerful influence at Coe from the moment he arrived on campus.  While an excellent student and editor of the Cosmos, Bryant was a star athlete and team captain in four sports: football, tennis, baseball, and track.  Thirty years after his graduation, a 1923 issue of the Cosmos succinctly summarizes Bryant's achievements as an athlete: 

Bryant played end and halfback on the grid squad, caught for the diamond nine, recorded a mark of 1:56 in the half mile run and 4:26 2/5 in the mile, two track records which have stood unmolested for 30 years. When he was graduated, "Prof" also held records in the pole vault, 440-yd. Dash, standing broad jump.  He held, jointly with W.N. Moffett, records in the 50-yard, 100 and 220 yard dash.

In a typical act of self-deprecation, Bryant dismissed the significance of simultaneously holding eight track records, telling a newspaper reporter in 1937 that "in those days a couple of men formed the track team.  It was a case of 'you take half the events and work on them, and I'll take the rest.' " 

After his graduation in 1894, Bryant attended Princeton Theological Seminary, where he played on the seminary's football and baseball teams while earning his Master of Arts degree.   For two years (1895-97) Bryant taught at the Virginia Military Institute and was the college's first football coach.  After becoming an ordained minister in July, 1897, he served for two years as the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  When Coe lured Bryant back to Iowa in the fall of 1899, he was appointed the college's professor of Latin, the athletic director, and the head coach for all the male college teams. 

As the athletic program expanded, Bryant relinquished many of his coaching duties to a new and growing coaching staff.  In 1914, he gave up the athletic directorship, but remained the track coach until 1930.  Bryant was highly respected as a track coach, having coached two world-class sprinters at Coe, Clem Wilson and Eugene Lighter.  During the Wilson and Lighter years (1908-1916), Coe had one of the best small-college track programs in the Midwest.  President McCabe, in his A Coe College Memoir, resurrects a story about Bryant giving a runner some advice just before a race: "I want you to break out in front, and thereafter just continue to improve your position."  In her autobiography Memories of a Bloomer Girl, Mabel Lee, a 1908 Coe grad, remembers that Bryant's influence was not limited to just his coaching.

 His Latin courses were so popular that most students elected at least one course with him so that they might thus be considered a bona fide Coe student. He taught Latin as a living language, firing impromptu questions at us in Latin and accepting replies only in Latin. There was no "pony" in the world that could have helped the slackers at these moments. "Prof" and the whole class would shout in glee at clumsy efforts to construct extemporaneous replies to his questions.

Over and over again, "Prof" is mentioned in the memoirs of Coe alums, including Harris Lamb and William Shirer.  These recollections leave no doubt that Bryant loved his teaching and his students--and the love was reciprocated.  As an instructor, he was astute at finding ways to stay in step with the times, even when teaching Latin.  The December 11, 1924 Cosmos tells of how Bryant, attracted by the current crossword puzzle fad, instructed his students to create puzzles in Latin, thereby improving their vocabulary skills. "Now Latin sharks go around with a far away look in their eyes, muttering Latin phrases in their endeavors to solve the perplexities."

Bryant was involved in virtually every aspect of the college.  He was one of the founders of the Midwest Athletic Conference and served as an officer (usually secretary-treasurer) from its founding in 1921 until his resignation in 1944.  For over 25 years he served as the faculty advisor for all sophomores at Coe.  During the 1930s, he was the college's executive vice-president and the alumni secretary until his retirement in 1941.  Because of his long involvement with the college-as student, professor, coach, administrator, and alumni secretary-Bryant probably knew every alumnus of the college from 1884 until the mid 1940s.

In addition to his remarkable dedication to Coe, George W. Bryant led another life on weekends as a Presbyterian minister.  Prior to his death in 1947, he had preached in over 150 churches in Iowa. For 25 years he preached alternate Sundays at What Cheer and Wheatland, Iowa-missing a total of five Sundays.  He would begin the trips by train on Saturday evening, some times not getting back to Cedar Rapids until 4:00 a.m. Monday morning.  On the Sundays he preached at Wheatland, he also served for several years as the pastor for two congregations in Toronto and Big Rock.  To reach these small towns, which had no scheduled train service on Sundays, he would travel by a hand car which he worked himself over the Milwaukee branch railroad line.

In the 1920s Bryant's daughter Grace was a student at Coe and a member of the Cosmos staff, frequently writing on feminist issues. One piece she wrote was an attempt to describe her father.  Her short essay is a warm tribute to a man whom she obviously loved and respected, but it's not hard to sympathize with her frustration while writing the piece: her father was never in one place long enough so she could do an interview. Coe was built by a number of faculty and administrators who made extraordinary personal sacrifices in time and energy to ensure the survival of the college.  There's no question that no one did more to sustain this institution than the college's great Athlete/Professor/Coach/Administrator/Minister, George W. Bryant.

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