Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

May 2013

Wadley Clinic at NSU Improves Literacy of 89-Year-Old Veteran

For adults, the basic skills of reading were achieved in days so bygone that we may barely remember how it occurred: the long hours of learning the alphabet, sounding out letters, then syllables, then whole words, then the years it took to go from spluttering over "Dick and Jane" to silently absorbing "The Outsiders" or Harry Potter. It is a long educational process.

In a lifetime now spanning 89 years, Cookson resident Ed Bray had not completed the process.

"I never could read very much," he said. "I made myself learn to read cans in stores or recognize signs with pictures or symbols. But I couldn't read the directions on the back of the cans. People ask how I made it – how I held jobs."

Hearing Bray recount his life, it seems improbable that he could hide his disability for so long.

He landed at Normandy on D-Day as a military policeman whose unit was tasked with collecting the dead. Later he was pressed into front-line combat with the 94th Infantry Division as a replacement. He was awarded a Bronze Star "for being in battle" and two Purple Hearts – one for a wounded knee in Normandy and another for a life-threatening wound at Surbourg in the Alsace region of France.

After the war, Bray spent most of his civilian career working at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. He moved to Cookson upon his retirement in 1982.

But Bray conceals nothing now. Dr. Tobi Thompson, director of the Capitola "Cappi" Wadley Center for Reading and Technology at NSU, began tutoring him in October 2012. In late February, he read his first book by himself.

The George Washington biography was written for third-graders, but completing it marked Bray's escape from a maddening maze of dead-end efforts to become literate. He had sought help with his reading skills, but other tutors either quit or declined due to his age, or Bray himself became frustrated.

Thompson, an NSU alumna with 19 years of teaching experience, said frustration is routine for adults with poor reading skills.

After so many disappointments Bray was reluctant, but the death of his wife, Margaret, in 2009 left nobody in the home to help him read. He wanted to do something constructive with his time, and his children were supportive.

The inspirational account of a war veteran determined to overcome illiteracy at age 89 has resonated beyond Tahlequah and Cherokee County. His story appeared on the CBS Evening News segment "On the Road With Steve Hartman" on March 1, and on Tulsa and Oklahoma City TV newscasts. The Huffington Post, MSN and other outlets as distant as Scotland picked up the story.

During his interview with CBS, Bray told viewers "Get in there and learn, baby, now! 'Cause you ain't gonna learn in that pine box." The Wadley Center is printing Bray's advice on T-shirts.

Thompson said the Wadley Center will always require outside financial support to fulfill its mission and asked interested parties to contact Peggy Glenn of the NSU Foundation. Glenn can be reached at 918-458-2143 for information about donating to the center.

"The work of the Wadley Center is particularly worthwhile," Thompson said. "There are few, if any, skills in life that make a greater difference than the ability to read."

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