Maroon & Gray Society Class of 2024 Rick Bryant ’75

Rick Bryant’s elementary and secondary education was entirely within the State College Area School District. “I went to Radio Park Elementary and Park Forest Junior High when both schools were brand new. When I was in the 8th grade my class was one of those that got to experience split sessions. Westerly Parkway Jr. High students went to the Westerly Parkway school from something like 7:30 am until noon, and Park Forest Junior High students used the same building from something like 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm.–that lasted until about halfway through the school year when Park Forest Junior High, with its very au courant moving walls, finally opened,” he explained.

A self-described “complete nerd,” Rick’s favorite teachers were Marion Bressler, Shirley Derr, and Debbie Lyle. “Marion Bressler taught AP American History–she was an outstanding teacher even though she was apt to call me Jim because she’d had my older brother in class twelve years earlier. Shirley Derr taught AP English and I still have a copy of the vocabulary list from that class in my desk drawer.  Miss Lyle was the Latin teacher when I was a sophomore and junior. She made Latin fun. Who knew that was even possible?” he quipped.

“I also have to give thanks to the band teachers–Henry Loewen, Frank Hege, Rich Victor, and Doran Dreibelbis,” he continued. “Band was a huge part of my high school experience. I was a lousy clarinet player but found my people hanging out in the band room.” 

While Rick is most recognizable for his role with the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, his career followed a winding path. “After State High, I went to the University of Virginia, which I mostly chose because my parents didn’t live in Charlottesville. I majored in architectural history, but instead of pursuing a career in historic preservation or academia, I came back to State College and worked for my father in his insurance agency, Kissinger & Bryant Ins.,” he said. “I did that for almost 20 years until I had my Eureka Moment, admitting to myself that I hated my job and since I wasn’t putting a kid through Harvard (or better yet, dear old UVA) I could do something else, even if I ended up flipping burgers. (The closest I ever came to flipping burgers for a living was working at the Uni-Mart in downtown Port Matilda when I was in high school.)   A few months after getting out of the insurance business, a paid position as Director of Visual Arts opened at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, where I’d been volunteering for 15 years. They hired me, and in a few years, when the executive director decided he was burned out, the Festival’s board did a search and hired me. I was the director of the Festival from 2005 until my retirement in early 2023.” 

Rick shared that he’s proud of the job he and his coworkers did of offering online and alternative programming during the two years when there was no Festival due to the Covid pandemic. “I’m equally proud of how after two years of no festival we were able to pretty much pick up where we left off and bring it back to the streets of downtown State College and the Penn State campus,” he said.

From a personal standpoint, Rick shared, “I’m glad that in the early 1990s during the AIDS epidemic, when someone asked me to step up and help found a local non-profit to tackle the issue, I said yes.  I’m also happy to say that I met three of my best friends in 7th-grade math class. I think that keeping a friend for 50+ years is a bit of an accomplishment.” 

Now enjoying retirement, Rick is looking forward to traveling to Great Britain this summer with his sister Carolyn ’65 “in search of our priceless cultural heritage.” After that, he plans to continue traveling, gardening and reading.

“I’m flattered to be honored by the Maroon and Gray Society…I’m in awe of my fellow inductees’ accomplishments. I think a strong public school system is essential in creating good citizens–an idea that Thomas Jefferson, the founder of my alma mater, had over 200 years ago.  I have every confidence that State High will continue to foster the leaders of tomorrow,” he said.

Rick shared this advice for today’s students: “Stop looking at a screen and embrace the world around you.  As the title character, Mame Dennis, played by Rosalind Russell said in the movie Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

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