Joe Shryock, a Renaissance Man

According to the online Britannica, “. . . the gifted men of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts.”
 
Joe Shryock (WSHS, 1959) recently passed away and caused a flurry of remembrances on social media of his well-lived life. A life of faith and service. His obituary appeared in several newspapers, including the March 6, 2024, edition of the Howell County News, and details his numerous accomplishments as a minister, prison chaplain, licensed clinical social worker, devoted husband, and father to five sons. A lifelong learner, Joe earned three master’s degrees and was a college teacher.
 
I have previously mentioned that a regular reader of this column, who is not from Willow Springs, remarked, “There were a lot of bright kids in that little country school,” and Joe is another example. He scored top marks on the Ohio State Psychological Test, an aptitude test given to high school seniors. I assumed he must have been class valedictorian, but was surprised the 1959 Willamizzou did not list either a valedictorian or salutatorian.
 
Susan Smith Shryock (WSHS, 1961), Joe’s wife and high school sweetheart, sent me an email from his classmate Edna Beaty Rothwell. Edna says, “Our senior year it was decided that things would be done differently. Instead of valedictorian or salutatorian, seniors with high grades were chosen to give a short speech on their career choice. I don’t remember what Joe chose, but he did give a speech. Had they left it alone, Joe and I would have been valedictorian and salutatorian.”
 
Concerning the valedictorian omission, Susan said, “I do remember Joe’s mother Nan Shryock being furious about the school decision.” As a member of the PTA, I imagine Nan articulated her displeasure. 
 
With Joe, it was not all about grades. An excellent trumpet player and singer, he participated in band and mixed chorus all four years. He excelled in speech and debate and held numerous leadership positions: band president (two years); student council vice president; student council president; and was a delegate to Boys State. 
 
Of his friend Joe “Shy Rock,” schoolmate John Tandy (WSHS, 1960) says, “I remember him being a smart, friendly, gregarious person, and having a good time with him. Joe was a good public speaker and a good musician.” 
 
About the Shryock name: Everyone I knew, including Joe’s uncle George and brother-in-law, my classmate Richard Smith, pronounced it “Shyrock,” with the “y” before the “r.” I had a law school classmate named Shryock, and it never occurred to me there might be a genealogical connection with Joe. Curiously, it was spelled correctly in the 1959 Willamizzou, but in 1969, his sister Rhea Anne Shryock Matthews’s senior year, it was spelled Shyrock. 
 
Susan told me the evolutionary backstory about the name confusion, and added that after she and Joe moved from Willow, they decided to pronounce it according to the correct spelling, with the “r” before the “y.”
 
I did not know Joe as well as his family and close friends, but I heard high praise about him from my mother before ever meeting him. My stepfather George Rothwell was his uncle. Joe’s mother was George’s sister. I suppose Joe was a “step cousin.”
During the 1958-’59 school year, while I still lived in Montier with my grandparents, Joe’s father, Ray Shryock, had major surgery that required an extended stay in a Springfield hospital. 
 
According to Susan, Joe had been concerned he would not be able to complete his senior year because of his family’s situation. His Uncle George provided a solution. Joe and Rhea Anne, who was in the second-grade, could stay with my mother and him in the interim at their house at the corner of Pine and High Streets. 
 
Joe, of course, was familiar with his uncle, the Navy man and restaurant owner in Willow Springs, and George had given him driving lessons. At the Memorial Weekend alumni picnic a couple years ago, Joe shared his memory of that experience.
 
Knowing something about my stepfather and his driving skills, I anticipated Joe’s experience was not uneventful. My mother, a good driver in her own right, maintained that George’s ability was mediocre. She often said he drove as if he were navigating a ship into a harbor, which I understood it to mean, he required a wide berth – a sufficient distance from other objects to ensure safety. 
 
With Joe riding shotgun, George drove to the Willow Springs airport in his 1950 Buick Roadmaster, equipped with a Dynaflow automatic transmission, for Joe’s introduction to driving a motor vehicle. Of that memorable day, Joe, with a slight smile, said, “After George took me out to the airport, we spent most of the time driving in reverse.” I suppose there is some logic in negotiating the harder aspects of driving first, but for whatever reason, it did not surprise me.
 
Once, while Joe stayed with Mom and George, he had an evening school event that kept him from completing a homework assignment. The next morning, he got up early to study while everyone else was still asleep. He made the mistake of turning on the radio, with the volume loud enough to wake up George. I was not an eyewitness, but it is a pretty safe bet George’s reaction was at an even higher volume. George was the most “creative” cusser I have ever heard, and that morning may have provided a good foundation for Joe’s later position as a prison chaplain.
 
Joe wasn’t as familiar with my mother, since she had only been married to George a couple years. However, the times I saw Joe as an adult, he seldom failed to recall her cooking skills and how well she treated him. When Mom was in Willow Care Nursing Home, he stopped by to see her, and it really brightened her day.
 
Discovering new aspects of people is one of the rewards of writing this column. I found it fascinating that Joe had hiked the entire 78.2-mile Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, which is considered one of the more challenging parts. 
 
His son Aaron says, “What I remember is that we hiked different sections of the Appalachian Trail over different summers, usually hiking for a day or two up to a week. When we went longer, it was part of a ‘trail camp’ with other Christian Church youth groups. Dad always brought up the rear to make sure no kids were left behind. He would go slow and steady, in contrast to the kids who would start out fast and furious and soon lose steam and get discouraged.”
 
Joe demonstrated his talent as an artist and a carpenter (his father was one of the best in town) in various public art displays, including “stained glass” windows made using colored tissue paper, including one while he was a chaplain at the Georgia State Penitentiary.
About the prison project, Susan said, “The warden trusted him enough to let him do that huge window behind bars with the HIV inmates who no one else wanted to be near. Imagine Joe with rubber cement and razor blades saying ‘come guys we can do this.’ With the help of prison inmates and church members, he designed large ‘stained glass’ Christmas windows made of colored tissue paper, which were mounted annually in the Statesboro Regional Library.”
 
From the first church he pastored at the extinct Missouri town of Nagle, just east of Highway 137 in Texas County, to the end of his life, Susan says, “More than any of his accomplishments, his legacy of family was most important.” 
 
In closing, the words of Robert Whittington seem appropriate for Joe: “A man of an angel's wit and singular learning . . . A man for all seasons."  
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