Oxford resident Ralph Brannen was an unmotivated student at Anniston High School during the 1940s. His grades disappointed his mother and probably his father, too, when he asked them to allow him to drop out during his 11th grade and enter the Army.
“Mother signed the paperwork, probably because she didn’t think I was going to get a diploma the way I was going,” Brannen said at the Anniston library recently during an interview.
Now retired, the library is one of his favorite places, along with the golf course and his church, Lakeview Baptist in Oxford. He spent his career teaching American history at both Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville State University.
He enjoyed both jobs so much that, looking back, he wished he had not retired in 1993 when he did. Retirement, though, gave him a chance to travel with his wife, Launa, before she died three years ago.
This teacher’s path to obtaining an education is similar to many. He obtained a GI bill after serving 46 months in the Army Medical Corp from 1948-52. Since he was behind in school, he signed up for Veteran School, an evening program offered at Anniston High. By applying himself, he earned his diploma and finished the first year at JSU simultaneously. He credits key people for what happened next.
He especially enjoyed the history courses taught by Emmett Fields. Later, Fields helped Brannen by signing his registration forms. After graduation in 1955 with a double major in history and English, Fields recommended that Brannen pursue his master’s in history. He then helped him obtain a fellowship, which paid tuition and gave him income. By then, Brannen had married his wife, Launa, who was from Cleburne County.
“Auburn University was good for me,” Brannen said.
Just before he graduated, the principal and superintendent at JHS, Earnest Stone, asked another teacher, Tom Malone, for a recommendation. He recommended Brannen. Stone sent him a telegram and asked him to come for an interview. He offered him a job at JHS where he taught for nine years.
Later, the president of JSU, Houston Cole, asked Fields if he knew anyone who could take a position teaching American history. Cole called Stone and asked him to send Brannen to an interview, which went well. He offered him a job. Again, Brannen accepted at once.
Later, when Theron Montgomery became president, he encouraged instructors to get a doctorate degree. Brannen said he began “chipping away” at the goal, taking courses at Auburn, the University of Alabama, and Vanderbilt University. He finished his degree at Auburn in a new doctorate program there.
He stayed at JSU until 1993 when he retired.
Brannen said he was glad his mother, Maebelle, lived long enough to see him graduate not once but three times. He, too, is happy he pursued degrees in history and accepted jobs in education. He enjoyed his students and fellow teachers so much that he has stayed in touch with many.
“I would make the same decisions if I lived my life over,” Brannen said. “My father, G.T., was a pipe shop worker, and we didn’t have a bad life. We were not affluent, though. The Army and my getting an education was a good path for me.”
For a high school dropout who, at first, had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, Brannen’s mentors shows how important such individuals are to others.
Brannen has two daughters, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. One thing he is proud of is that, several years ago, he created a bibliography about Alabama history and gave copies to the Anniston Library and Auburn University.
“It had just about everything that had ever been published on Alabama,“ Brannen said.
Contact Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org