On May 1, the Department of History honored Dr. Sigurd Bryan with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Dr. Bryan graduated from Howard College with a B.A. in History in 1946 and served as a much beloved professor in the Department of Religion. In recognition of his recent award, the staff of the Office of University Historian decided to feature Bryan in our inaugural post.
Born in Barbour County in 1924, Dr. Sigurd Franklin Bryan spent his early years moving from town-to-town in rural areas of Alabama and Florida, living wherever his father found work in the furniture business. During Bryan’s teenage years, the family settled in Dothan, Alabama and joined the Headland Avenue Baptist Church. It was there he made a public confession of faith and felt God’s calling to the ministry. After graduating high school, Bryan moved to Birmingham to attend Howard College (now Samford University) in August 1942. He moved into Renfroe Hall on the old East Lake campus and settled into the first semester as a freshmen, but that routine was interrupted in winter of 1942 when the U.S. Navy chose the Howard campus as one of the sites for its V-12. Suddenly, the semesters became trimesters (to expedite the time to graduation for the Navy men), and Bryan and other residents were expected to find living arrangements off campus. Thanks to the efforts of Major Harwell Davis, Howard’s president, the V-12 program would be the only major disruption that WWII caused for Bryan. In order to keep his ministerial students out of the draft, Davis sent letters to the local draft boards and insisted that the United States would be better served by letting Howard continue their ministerial training. Due at least in part to Davis’s solicitation, Bryan remained at Howard through the war and studied under the watchful eye of William Pratt Dale in the Department of History. He graduated Howard in 1946 with a double-major in History and English and a minor in Religion.
Bryan continued his education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he earned a bachelors and a doctorate in theology. His plans to lead a church were interrupted in 1956 when Major Davis asked Bryan to return to Howard College as a professor in the Department of Religion. He agreed to a one-year contract and planned to become a pastor at the end of his tenure of service. Forty-six years later, in 2002, Bryan retired following an illustrious career. Over the course of Bryan’s tenure, the duties of Samford faculty changed dramatically. In his early days, Bryan’s course load was five classes per semester, including the required Old and New Testament survey. When students were given a choice of taking either the Old or New Testament course, his teaching load was reduced from five to four—each a three-semester-hour course. With the implementation of the “Core Curriculum” in 1997, the course load dropped to three classes—each a four-semester-hour course. For Sigurd Bryan, the old Bible courses he taught for over forty years were replaced with a class entitled “Biblical Perspectives.” He later recalled that the course description was so vague that he continued to teach the class as a chronological Bible survey.
In his forty-six years as a professor, Bryan became an integral part of the Samford story. Beloved by his students, he served as faculty sponsor of the Baptist Student Choir, headed the Samford Sunday ministerial program, and was a recipient of the John H. Buchanan award for excellence in classroom teaching. His commitment to academic excellence and his ability to minister to students’ needs left a lasting impression on the thousands of undergrads who took his courses. Dr. Bryan left a significant mark on Samford’s commitment to Christian education.