As a child, he had no ambitions. A lack of motivation led to his poor performance in both elementary and high school. He even dropped out of college.
Gary Guinn: the man who went on to earn his doctorate in British literature and received the award for Teacher of the Year twice during his 35 years of teaching English at John Brown University.
On March 8 and 9, Guinn will play the lead role of Henry Arden in the Sager Creek Performing Arts Center’s production of “In This House.”
Guinn also played a pivotal part in the development of the University.
The University had no drama department when Guinn first began teaching at the campus in 1977. He quickly began a drama workshop that later developed into a drama minor.
Jan Lauderdale, adjunct professor of the Theater Production class, said Guinn remained involved in the program even after handing the class off to other professors.
“He has performed in some of our student productions,” Lauderdale said. “I always love when he’s able to do that because he’s a consummate actor, and the students can learn a lot from him from the way he approaches his roles.”
Guinn’s coworkers said they relied upon him heavily in the past. Last year, nine days before the opening premier of the University’s production of “Into the Woods,” one of the play’s key actors dropped out.
“Dr. Guinn came in and took over the role and did a fabulous job,” Lauderdale said. “That’s just the way he does things.”
Guinn pours all of his effort into whatever task he performs. This dedication translates into his acting.
“He approaches his roles with great seriousness no matter what the role is,” Lauderdale said.
Yet Guinn did not always approach responsibilities with such commitment.
“I got out of high school and wasn’t very disciplined,” Guinn said. “I didn’t do well in school.”
As a young adult, Guinn attended three different universities within a span of two years before dropping out of college and becoming a medical corpsman in the Vietnam War.
While overseas, Guinn considered what he would like do with his future upon returning home.
“I wasn’t one of those kids that said, ‘I’m going to grow up and be this,’” Guinn said. “When I finally decided what I was gonna do, it was really based on a high school teacher that I really admired that got through to all of us dumb football players that weren’t interested. She sparked my curiosity about literature. She made me a reader. When I was in the service, I started thinking that that was what I’d like to do. So, I did.”
Guinn said his past struggles with acquiring the motivation to push through school enabled him to empathize with students in similar situations to his own.
The retired professor said these students have the power to pay him the greatest complement he could ever receive.
“On student evaluations for Masterpieces of Literature, there were times in the evaluations where students would write a comment and say, ‘I never used to like literature until now,’” Guinn said. “I always thought they could never have given me a better complement as a teacher.”
Sophomore Sarah Hubbard first met Guinn on her second day of class as a freshman. Guinn played football in high school and has the broad build of an athlete. Hubbard said his height initially intimidated her.
Guinn soon calmed her fears, however, by making himself available to the class.
“He always talked about how we could come to him if we had any questions,” Hubbard said.
In class, he frequently slipped pictures of his grandchildren into his PowerPoint slides and told stories of adventures he and his wife experienced.
Students said they felt completely at ease in his classes and mentioned his deep voice as one of his most prominent characteristics.
“It’s very calming,” Hubbard said.
Guinn is not all cuddles and hugs, however.
“He liked to rile people up,” Hubbard said. “He really enjoyed playing devil’s advocate and seeing what you thought.”
Guinn retired from the University last year and now spends his days reading, writing, drinking tea and spending time with his wife. He said retirement has been anything but boring.
“Being retired takes every minute of your day,” Guinn said.
While Guinn may enjoy his relaxed lifestyle, past students and fellow professors continue to miss the teacher who played a significant role in shaping the University into the place it is today.