Gary Fryer has found a set of brothers among a group of men young enough to be his grandsons at Arkansas Tech University.
Fryer enrolled at Arkansas Tech for the fall 2016 semester at the age of 70 as a graduate of and transfer from the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton.
During orientation activities at Tech, he attended the annual Involvement Fair on the Hindsman Tower lawn. The event connects new Tech students with community entities and campus organizations.
It was there that Fryer met the men of Kappa Sigma Fraternity.
“They had all the booths set up, and I went by the Kappa Sig one,” said Fryer. “I had a badge on saying I was a transfer student, so they could recognize that and know I wasn’t just some old goof ball. They spoke real friendly and so did the other fraternities, but I guess I responded more to (Kappa Sigma).”
There are several reasons why the connection was immediate.
Fryer’s older brother, Jack, joined Kappa Sigma at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville during the 1960s.
Attending fraternity events with his brother while he was still a junior in high school introduced Fryer to the camaraderie and brotherhood of the organization.
Fryer’s younger brother, Robert, as well as his father-in-law, son-in-law and multiple business associates and friends over the years were also members of Kappa Sigma.
And now, more than a half-century after he first developed an affinity for the organization, Fryer is a member of Kappa Sigma at Arkansas Tech.
“I have a bunch of 18 or 19-year old brothers,” said Fryer. “I have a group of young men who aren’t afraid to pat me on the back or hug me around the shoulder. They told me they thought it would be great having me in there because I may have experience and be able to give them advice. I told them I don’t give advice. I’ll share experiences with you, and I’ve been through all the experiences you’re going to go through, so I’d love to do that.”
Those experiences include a previous attempt at college.
A graduate of Little Rock Hall High School, Fryer came to Arkansas Tech in 1964 to play football for head coach Marvin “Shorty” Salmon. He was a letterman as a back-up tackle on the Wonder Boys’ 1964 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship team.
Fryer dropped out of college following the spring 1965 semester and returned to Little Rock to pursue a career in his family’s furniture business.
“I’ve done a little bit of nearly everything in the furniture business that you can do,” said Fryer. “I’ve built it, picked it up, delivered it and sold it. I loved what I was doing for many years. Consumer goods independent representing was a really good business for decades. My father got in it just about the time I came to school. He did quite well and I did too for a good while, but we kind of paradigmed out of that.”
Fryer retired to the hills north of Morrilton, the same area where his father had been raised. With time on his hands and a curious mind, he checked into the educational opportunities available at UACCM.
“I just wanted to see if I could pass a course,” said Fryer.
He did much more than that, earning an associate degree.
“I loved every minute of it, and I was making honor grades,” said Fryer.
The next logical step was the pursuit of a bachelor degree. There were two options equidistant from his home --- Arkansas Tech University and the University of Central Arkansas.
In the end, the green and gold still coursing through his veins more than 50 years after his final game as a Wonder Boy helped him make the decision.
“Conway might be more practical because I do go to Little Rock a lot to see my family,” said Fryer. “But when I played (at Tech), the ASTC Bears, Arkansas State Teachers College, were our death rival. In 2016, I still could not fathom going to the school where the Bears are.”
Fryer noted that, at least in part due to his age, he doesn’t like to think in terms of end goals. He does, however, have some ideas on where his educational journey could lead.
“I’m 70 years old, so taking a breath every few seconds is a pretty good goal,” said Fryer. “I’m kind of a one thing at a time kind of person. As a salesman, I sold concepts and ideas. I had a lot of people tell me I’d be a good teacher. One day at a time and one step at a time, I’m going to get a degree. I think I’d love adjunct teaching on a part-time basis, so I have a possible goal. That would be pretty cool. I could take the place of some guy who retired in his 60s and be some kind of good influence on someone else’s life.”
Perhaps that philosophy of paying it forward is at the center of Fryer’s unlikely path to fraternity membership at the age of 70. Even more significant, and more deeply felt, is the connection that joining Kappa Sigma allows him to maintain with his brother (both in blood and fraternity), Jack. He passed away in 2015.
“There are a lot of times I wish I could tell (Jack) about it,” said Fryer. “I’d like to sit down with him and have a good laugh over it. I haven’t sat around and wished I’d been a Kappa Sig all these years, but when I would see old Kappa Sigs…I was in their social circle, but I wasn’t one of them. Now that I am, it’s kind of fun.”