The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 12, 2014

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Column opens up memories of Doc Bryan

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Sometimes a story leads to another story, which leads to another. Such was the case with my fishing vest column last week. It netted me a stringer full of notes and messages from readers.

Some were fellow anglers. Some knew of Jo Helen Bowyer, the original owner of my vest. And some knew my grandpa, Doc Bryan.

Doc, who lived in Erie, Kan., wasn’t a grandpa who pulled you up on his lap in the easy chair and told you stories of his life. He was a grandpa you followed around as he planted vegetable and fruit gardens, tended his orchards and peacocks and beehives, and loaded up the truck to go feed the fish in his many ponds.

He didn’t do a lot of talking. For years I was certain he didn’t know any of his nine grandkids’ names, because he called everyone “Bud” or “Gal.”

Everything I inherited from him — my love for puttering outdoors, for sinking my hands into the earth at the beginning of each season and harvesting bounty at the end, for tending critters — was inherited through the power of observation.

He died 20 years ago this month, on Kansas Day 1994, cutting short my time of getting to really document his life. But historical accounts have him delivering most of Neosho County in his day, and there is a museum exhibit in St. Paul that replicates his medical practice, complete with little black bag.

Roy Winans, who hailed from Stark, Kan., wrote to say he remembered him well. Grandpa treated the Winanses when they lived in Erie. Four generations of Winanses are buried in Lakeview and East Hill cemeteries, where my grandparents also are buried.

Monica Murnan, who lives in Pittsburg and works at Greenbush, sent me a photo taken at Labette County Medical Center of a “Physicians Wall of Honor,” which includes Grandpa.

One of the farthest notes came from Tulsa, Okla., resident Rocky Naff. He and his wife, a Joplin native who grew up near Shoal Creek, are beginning fly fishers. They subscribe to the online version of the Globe to keep in touch with the area, which is how they came across my column.

Rocky wrote to tell me that my grandpa was a family doctor to the Naffs when they lived in Erie. Rocky’s dad, W.R. Naff, owned and operated an auto parts store there until 1959. The business was just down the block from my grandpa’s practice on Main Street.

My grandpa and the elder Naff, both avid hunters, made trips to Colorado and Wyoming a few times to hunt deer and elk, and the younger Naff recalled Doc Bryan falling on one trip and breaking his leg. The elder Naff helped him back to camp.

As Rocky became a teen, he was busy working at his dad’s business after school and in the summer, and they never made time to do much hunting and fishing. It was only in the last several years that Rocky has had the time, desire and money to do so himself.

His middle name, he told me, is Bryan. His parents chose it in honor of my grandpa, who delivered him.

To those who knew Doc and took time to write, thank you — I am grateful. For you, I have the beginnings of another story to add to this stringer: My little brother Neil, now 40, also followed Grandpa around his acreage.

An interest in medicine pulled Neil to work first as an EMT, then paramedic, then for St. John’s MedFlight. On May 17, he will graduate from the University of Kansas Medical School — Grandpa’s alma mater — and will become the next Doc Bryan.

FOLLOW ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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