December grad: Veteran Chris Almryde bids farewell to Student Union

by Joey Besl  |   

I AM UAA Grad: Chris Almryde

I AM UAA: Chris Almryde. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

B.A. History, Class of 2014
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Fun Fact: Hasn't shaved since the day he left the Army

Chris Almryde graduates this December, but even without the class year to remind him, he'll remember 2014 for a long long time. He'll finish college after eight years of effort (six of those years overlapped with his Army enlistment), but he had quite a busy year on the home front as well. His wife had their second baby while they were selling their house during finals week. And that's just April.

His family has been slowly moving all year, and his wife and kids are already in the Lower 48 (he flies out to join them the day after graduation). He's shipped his car and sold his house and will be walking to commencement from the residence halls, where he spent the last two weeks of the semester after moving out of his apartment.

Graduation serves as a very visible bookend to a whirlwind tenure in Anchorage. This Army veteran, AmeriCorps alum and Student Union manager has enjoyed his run at UAA. Now, he's ready for the next chapter of the story to start.

Enlisting and enrolling

Chris-a San Diego native-enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2005 and landed in Alaska after basic training. As a specialist, he worked as a mechanic on military vehicles and spent plenty of time in the motor pool, as he says, "turning wrenches."

When Chris joined the Army, his dad offered some sound advice. "My dad was military too and he said while you're in, take classes-one a semester and just chip away at it," Chris said. "And I did."

An academic counselor on base recommended Troy University's online program, which he dutifully signed up for. He completed a course nearly every semester possible, even while overseas on deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Once I got stationed here I got started right away," he commented, explaining the Army's flexibility and encouragement of higher education. "They promote it. They want you to take classes and it's amazing a lot of people don't."

Chris left the Army in 2012 and returned to Anchorage, where he and his wife had been renting out their home. Now free to relocate anywhere they wished, the native Californians were more than willing to head back North. "We weren't quite done with Alaska," he laughed.

He's been a full-time student at UAA since 2012-including summer semesters-and this month's graduation marks the end of eight years digging away at his degree. But despite his busy course load and young family, he's still played an active role on campus and in the community.

Programming in the Union

Competitiors in the Ladies category at this year's annual Beard & Stache Competition during Winterfest. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)

Competitors in the Ladies category at this year's annual Beard & Stache Competition, organized by Chris during Winterfest. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

For the past three semesters, Chris has been a fixture in the Student Union, where he works as manager. He focuses on facilities, setting up craft shows and career fairs and making sure the building runs smoothly. In addition, he coordinates a few events of his own, like the Beard & Stache competition-an annual celebration of outrageous and enviable facial hair. His success in programming comes largely from his year of service with AmeriCorps.

After returning to Anchorage, Chris's church set him up with Hope Worldwide as an AmeriCorps volunteer. During his nine-month assignment, he completed 900 hours of service with after-school programs in Anchorage and as a fundraiser for Gateway to the Arctic — an agriculture-based summer camp near Talkeetna for underprivileged youth.

"I did a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, requesting money, getting donations for the silent auction," he said, adding that his volunteer experience absolutely aided his programs at the Student Union. "Because I did that for so long, I got pretty used to asking for stuff. A lot of people have that problem-they don't want to send out letters to everybody, but it doesn't hurt to ask."

He's brought his strong experience in programming to UAA. On wintry Mondays he works late to set out snacks, fire up the projector and host viewing parties for Monday Night Football. He also helmed this year's Beard & Stache Competition-clearly, a near and dear event for the mighty-bearded individual. "I still haven't seen my face since I got out [of the Army]," he laughed. His current beard, though, is not his best work. "My wife got tired of it after a year and a half-and the baby had a death grip on it-so I had to chop it down pretty low," he admits.

His work on programming and facilities has certainly been noticed around the Union. "He is fantastic," exclaimed Dana Sample, Student Union operations coordinator.

Moustachioed spectators overlook the Beard & Stache Competition in the Student Union. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)

Moustachioed spectators overlook the Beard & Stache Competition in the Student Union. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

"From the first day we hired him, he was going above and beyond and learned things so quickly," she continued. "It was nice to have a more nontraditional student working for us, who has been in the military and has the ability to connect with other students."

His Beard & Stache competition won the department's Program of the Year award in May, but it wasn't his only recent accolade. He also earned the UAA Seawolf Community Service award last fall. Although finished with AmeriCorps, Chris continues to volunteer with his church, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and Covenant House, among many other fixtures in Anchorage.

"He's just got a lot going on but he handles it all really well," Dana added.

Winding down his time in Alaska

"A lot going on" is a bit of an understatement.

Twenty-four hours after walking at graduation, Chris will be flying south out of Anchorage. A year ago, he and his wife decided to move closer to her family in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "Me and my wife both had big families and we always went to our grandparents' houses, and we kind of want that for our kids now," he said. "It's hard to explain to our son why we only get to see family once a year."

Once the Almrydes made their big decision, they began planning ahead, but perhaps were too proactive.

"We were worried if we didn't put it on the market we'd have to try and sell the house while we were down in Texas, so we put it on the market in March and it sold the first day. It was like a bidding war," he said. With a month to move, a newborn baby and finals around the corner, Chris started consolidating their lives. Over the summer, they moved into an apartment, drove a car down south and shipped their motorcycle. In October, they flew to San Diego to help a family member recover from a surgical procedure. With several weeks left before graduation, Chris flew back to complete the semester in Alaska, while his wife and kids remained in California.

"My house is so quiet. No kids running around. My wife ran a home daycare so there were always kids," he said of the last few weeks. "It was cool... the first night," he joked.

When Chris left for Thanksgiving, he also delivered his car to the dock, and handed off keys to his apartment. During this final fortnight in Alaska, he's been driving a friend's car and living, of all places, in the UAA residence halls.

"I haven't lived like that in forever," he laughed.

It sounds chaotic, but Chris radiates calm and control. And as much as he's enjoyed UAA, it's understandable he's ready to settle in Texas.

"It's been awesome. I've had a great time," he said of his UAA experience. "I was worried my first semester coming here because I had a vision I was going to be this old guy, and it was not the case. This is a very diverse university. I've enjoyed it. I recommend it to people ... it's well worth it, and it's been fun."

Now it's time for the next chapter. His car waits for him in Seattle, his family in San Diego, and his future home down in Arlington. He starts graduate school in the spring at University of Texas-Arlington, where he plans to earn a master's in secondary education. With a B.A. in history from UAA, Chris's career goal is teaching high school history class, and he's not nervous about getting there.

"I figure graduate school will be nice and smooth," he joked of the year ahead. "I've had my fun year already. I survived it."

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