Alumnus Fred Brugge, Class of 1981, recently visited the University’s campus for the first time in twenty years.
Wandering around the halls of ten Hoor (nearly identical to when he had been a student), he wondered if the students today might sit in the exact chairs he did. They sure look the same, he thought. He wondered if his favorite professor might still teach classes and host dinners for his students.
When Brugge attended the Capstone, the student population numbered 17,000 – under half of what it is today. Paul “Bear” Bryant was well into his coaching career at Alabama, although Brugge did not see a national championship as a student. And, perhaps most importantly, the university’s dorms did not have air conditioning.
Brugge came to Alabama as an unlikely attendee. He did not decide to go to college until his senior year of high school, and had no idea what he would do with a college degree. But, under advice from his coworkers, he came to Alabama to pursue a History degree. While here, Brugge met one of the most significant mentors of his life, Dr. F. Russell Bryant.
Dr. Bryant taught Modern British History at The University of Alabama for thirty years. Brugge remembers him as an entertaining teacher who treated all his students as equals, no matter their social status. Towards the end of the semester, Dr. Bryant would host a dinner for his students, usually a small group, where each student would be given a task based on their current grade in the class.
“If you had a C, you had to bring breadsticks or wine. But if you had a D or an F, you had to make the meal!,” Brugge said. “He would have some pretty elaborate meals.” Brugge always made sure to have an A or B by the time the dinner came around. “He was the greatest teacher… I want to say, coach, in my life,” Brugge said. In fact, Bryant’s legacy at the Capstone recently led one alum to establish an undergraduate scholarship award named in his honor.
After graduating, Brugge declined a job offer at the Smithsonian Institution in favor of a sales job that paid far more. Then, as he says, life happened. He got married, had kids, and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he still lives today.
Regardless, his degree in, and passion for, history have carried him far. He used the research skills he learned to forward his career in sales and today, he continues to research his local history.
“People nowadays downplay the Bachelor of Arts. They think it all needs to be technical, but you still need the ability to go into those classes and learn how to learn. Those professors can teach you to learn how to love what you’re doing,” Brugge says as advice for current undergraduates. “You’re young, you’ve got a lot of career ahead of you. College… just absorb as much as you can.”