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School pays tribute to special volunteer

For three weeks during the summer of 2001, Pennsylvania native Todd Bryant tutored children in reading at West Hills Elementary School.

Bryant, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was killed in action in Iraq on Oct. 31 when the Humvee he was riding in hit a landmine. When he died, he left behind his 23-year-old wife, Jenifer, two parents, an older sister and a living legacy.

In his short tenure as a reading tutor, the 23-year-old made a lasting impact on the school and the students.

On Wednesday afternoon, a small, personal ceremony at West Hills Elementary honored Bryant’s life and opened a new library collection that will be paid for by the newly established Todd J. Bryant Memorial Fund.

The fund was off to a healthy start, said Bremerton School District spokesperson Joan Dingfield. It was kicked off with a $2,500 donation from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, in addition to a $500 check from Bryant’s family and other donations. In all, the fund is starting at about $3,500.

The books purchased with the funds all have a sticker inside the front cover with Bryant’s name to honor his memory and the work he did with the school.

Bryant was on loan to the school from West Point, a U.S. military academy, from which he graduated in 2002 with a commission as an Armor officer in the Army. In the summer break between his junior and senior year, Bryant got involved in West Point’s Service America program, which loans students out to AmeriCorps projects.

Bryant landed in Bremerton as a reading tutor. At the end of his three-week stint, he went home and told his mother he wanted to become a teacher when his commitment to the Army was finished.

As a tutor, Bryant was invaluable because he was able to relate to the children on a personal level, said West Hills Elementary teacher Donna Gears.

“To work on an assignment with a West Point cadet who knows more about video games that you do is amazing,” she said. “Todd the tutor taught well and touched deeply.”

As a West Point cadet, Bryant also left a lasting impression.

He played football, rugby and had a fascination for tanks, said Col. Robert Gordon III of West Point.

“The beautiful thing about Todd was that it wasn’t about him. It was all about making other people laugh,” Gordon said.

Bryant’s father, Larry Bryant, said even though his son died young, he lived a full life.

Larry Bryant shared a family story about Bryant waking up the house on Christmas Day while he was in his freshman year at West Point. Bryant stood outside his older sister’s room — who was two years ahead of Bryant at West Point — and began to announce rather loudly and in full West Point style how many minutes there were until breakfast.

While it was not well received, it was humerous and typical of the things the they younger Bryant would do at home, Larry Bryant said.

“He was full of love, full of laughter and full of life,” Larry Bryant said. “ ... If you have love and laughter, you have a full life and Todd was definitely in that category.”

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