Teacher Drew Serenity from Poetry, Gardening

Article excerpt

Though their caretaker is gone, daffodils and rhododendrons still bloom in the garden of Robert H. Sykes.

A teacher, poet, decorated war veteran, and father of two from Bethany, W.Va., Mr. Sykes died on Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Peterson Hospital in Wheeling. During his 84 years, he excelled in the extremes of human experience. In the havoc of a Korean battlefield, his courage earned a Bronze Star. In the serenity of his backyard garden, his delicate attention yielded prize-winning roses.

"He was a kind, considerate man, and a good father. He was my husband," said Joanne Fast Sykes. The couple would have celebrated their 58th anniversary in April.

Mr. Sykes joined the Army in August 1947, about three months after he graduated from Wheeling High School. He deployed with the first U.S. troops in the Korean War as a sergeant with the Army Headquarters 1st Cavalry Division.

Mr. Sykes met his wife on a blind date when he returned home a year later, she said. The Army interrupted their budding relationship with an assignment to Maryland, but he continued the courtship by mail. Her fellow student nurses swooned over his letters and poetry, she said.

He left the Army in 1952 to return to Joanne and earned a bachelors degree from West Liberty College. Two masters degrees -- from the universities of Pennsylvania and Kita Kyusha in Japan -- followed. He earned his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh while working as an English professor at Bethany College, where he began his teaching career.

"He was a mentor," said Bob Goin, a former student who went on to be athletic director at Florida State University.

At West Liberty College, where he taught from 1967 until his retirement in 1995 as chairman of the School of Humanities, Mr. Sykes founded the Poetry Lecture Series and raised $375,000 to endow it. It continues today as the Hughes Lecture Series. …