Alumni Recall Life-Changing Influence of Professor Bradford Kinney
By Bill Thomas
It was a familiar sight for students and faculty driving to Wilkes University. Crossing the Market Street Bridge, they’d pass Bradford Kinney walking along, a leather briefcase clutched in one hand, making the one-mile trip from home in Kingston, Pa. Though Kinney gave up the walks following open-heart surgery in 2010, the image of him crossing the bridge, briefcase in tow, is a fond memory. It’s not the only thing alumni remember. With Kinney’s retirement in December 2012, graduates from the communication studies professor’s almost 40 years at Wilkes reminisced about how the man with the briefcase influenced their lives.
“Think about the scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where Tom Sawyer gets the people to paint the fence and gets them to really love painting it. Kinney was a little like that,” Donna (O’Toole) Sedor ’85 says with a laugh. “He had a way of encouraging us to do things that went beyond our comfort zones and stretched our capabilities.”
So, too, did Kinney help stretch the capabilities of Wilkes. Before him, there was no Communication Studies Department and no internship program. It’s safe to say that Kinney’s effect on the development of Wilkes was profound. Perhaps more profound, however, was the effect he had on the lives of his students. There is a reason the debate team members called themselves “Kinney’s Kids.”
“I think we caused him more gray hair than his own kids,” Sedor adds.
Now vice president of The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, Sedor credits Kinney with helping lay the groundwork for her future career. Davida Roberts ’80 can relate.
Though she now works as a zoning officer, municipal secretary and building code official for the city of Kingston, Roberts spent several years working as a speech and debate instructor at the University of Central Missouri, Penn State and Luzerne County Community College.. Prior to Kinney’s classes, Roberts was an English major and self-described introvert, with no interest in teaching. Kinney changed all that.
“I remember my first speech for his class was on the history of Valentine’s Day. I got three-quarters of the way through, looked right at him and said ‘I can’t do any more’ and walked right out of the room,” she recalls. “God bless him, he stuck by me. He was very patient and very encouraging. He kept telling me that he knew I could do it. By the end of my junior year, I was a national champion in entertainment speaking.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rob Johansen ’90 was an outgoing theatre major at Wilkes who didn’t need much help with public speaking. Nevertheless, he soon joined the ranks of “Kinney’s Kids.” Now working as an actor in Indianapolis, Ind., he remembers when Kinney was involved with Wilkes’ student-run radio station and his impact.
“I didn’t have my own show but I made a lot of guest appearances playing a bunch of different characters,” he says. “We never really had a written script, it was mostly improv, which is something a lot of actors are scared of. But Dr. Kinney loved it and greatly encouraged me to keep doing it, which fueled my fire. I think that freed me up as an actor.”
Taking more direct inspiration, Alfred Mueller ’93 now chairs the Communication Studies Department at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
“So often, I find myself modeling what I do after what Dr. Kinney did. I don’t think I can underestimate the impact of what I experienced as a student under him on my life. I largely became a college professor because of his influence,” Mueller said, before adding wryly, “I will pay him back for that someday, because I could’ve gone into more lucrative professions.”
Jamie Gwynn ’09 notes that Kinney remained a dynamic presence even well into the 2000s, hopping atop desks in the middle of lectures and using humor to create a comfortable environment. Just as Kinney continued holding onto his trusty leather briefcase, he never stopped bringing his high-energy optimism to class.
For Gwynn, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at the Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, that was Kinney’s most infectious trait.
“It was sort of like watching a show every class. In Dr. Kinney’s class, you’d never see students taking out their phones and texting. He was always so engaging. He was always prepared. That’s what we learned from him, to always give your best no matter what the situation,” Gwynn says.
“He went into every class like it was his final lecture.”
Bill Thomas is a senior communication studies major and arts and entertainment editor of The Beacon.
Highlights From A 40-Year Career
Bradford Kinney, professor of communication studies, devoted his career to teaching speech, debate and rhetoric at Wilkes, both in class and through co-curricular activities such as the debate team. The following are highlights from his 40-year career:
- Between 1973 and 1985, Kinney introduced and taught more than 20 courses in undergraduate speech communications that would go on to form the foundation of the Communication Studies Department. In 1985, Wilkes established the department, which Kinney chaired from 1987-1998.
- Kinney advised every co-curricular activity offered by the Communication Studies Department at some point during his tenure. Under his leadership, the department began hosting the annual Tom Bigler High School Journalism Conference, which continues to attract nearly 200 students to campus each year.
- During Kinney’s 25 years of forensics coaching, Wilkes students won 1,399 awards in intercollegiate competition, including many state and national titles, and were ranked third nationally among all colleges with enrollments under 10,000.
- In 1993, Kinney was named “Coach of the Year” by the Collegiate Forensics Association. In 1995, he was inducted into Pi Kappa Delta’s “Coaches Hall of Fame.” In 2005, Kinney received Phi Kappa Delta’s E.R. Nichols Award for excellence in forenics teaching and outstanding contributions to furtherance of the forensics discipline.
- His significant contributions to Wilkes included leading efforts to establish the University’s co-op education and internship program.
- In 1995, Kinney won the Carpenter Outstanding Teaching Award.
For a slide show of photos from Bradford Kinney’s four decades at Wilkes, go here: Bradford Kinney Slideshow.