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Branch Brady: Builder of People and Things

Branch Brady

By Suzanne Waring

On a mild fall afternoon in 2023, Coach Branch Brady, 76, watched the Charles M. Russell (CMR) cross-country team prepare to set off for their afternoon run. Brady noted to himself that he’s working with a great bunch of kids, including his granddaughter, Sofi, who is on the team.
Running has figured in Branch Brady’s life since he was a scrawny but ornery kid living with his family in Shelby, Montana, in the early 1960s. In 1964, the Brady family moved to Great Falls, and Branch, who was named after his grandfather, would spend his senior year at Great Falls High School (GFHS). One day early in the school year, Coach Arnie Scott, carrying a uniform, came up to Brady in the hall and said, “Here’s your uniform. You’re going out for cross-country.” Brady showed up for practice, and his orneriness was put to good use, as running during cross-country and track seasons that year turned Brady’s future in the right direction.

Years later, Coach Scott told Brady that he had received a call from the Shelby coach, Jess La Buff who said, “You’ve got a new kid who can run,” The coach asked, “Well, is he any good?” La Buff responded, “Well, he ought to be. He has outrun every sheriff in Toole County.”
That year was the first year for the cross-country sport at GFHS, and Brady was the first to letter in the sport. Brady set the state high-school record in the one mile at 4:15.2. In June, as he was graduating, he ran the two-mile race at the Golden West Invitational Championships in Sacramento, California, with the time of 9:10.2. He became the third-fastest two-mile high school-aged runner in the nation. At that meet, Branch got to know the famous Jim Ryan, who won that race. Brady held the state’s fastest time in the mile race for 35 years, and the state’s fastest time in the two-mile race for 45 years.

These achievements bought him a full-ride scholarship to the University of Wisconsin that paid for tuition, books, room, and board. He went on to do well at running all four and half years of college. He became captain of his team his senior year, graduating in 1970.
Brady came back to Great Falls after graduation. His sister talked him into coaching with her at GFHS that fall while he worked at the smelter. He gradually took over coaching the girls’ cross-country and track teams at CMR, and by 1974 he was working full-time for the school district, teaching physical education. Early on the coaches for the girls’ and boys’ teams were separate. By 1980 Brady was the head coach for both teams. “Our most successful year was 1995 when both the boys and girls teams won the state championships in cross-country, as well as both the girls and boys individual titles,” said Brady.

The Wednesday Night Runners group of adults began in 1975, and Brady soon joined them to eventually become the group’s nurturer and coordinator. “This continues to be a group of like-minded people who enjoy running as an aspect of fitness. We enjoy one another and even had a Super Bowl party this year,” Brady also commented.

During the years he was teaching and coaching, Brady developed an interest in working on his home. It all started one day when he and his family were driving through the Missouri River Canyon. He saw what appeared to be an abandoned log cabin house behind the Missouri River Inn. After looking into it, he was told that the house was not for sale. Several years later, he received word that if the buyer would remove the house from the land, the house could be purchased.

Brady took apart the house, cedar log by cedar log, during the summer of 1977 and moved the logs to an acreage he had purchased just outside Great Falls. The next summer, he put the house back together. “The house has the same configuration on the outside, but we rearranged the rooms on the inside. We still live there today,” Brady said. This experience revealed to Brady that he had a love for working with wood.

At the same time the acreage that Brady had purchased for his home allowed him to have a garden and do extensive landscaping. “My mom had a garden, and I have always enjoyed watching things grow,” said Brady. The family also planted trees, perennial flowers, and bushes. “We now have our cabin in the woods, and I still plant a large garden every year,” Brady said.

As they were landscaping around their home, Brady decided that he wanted water features. He made several, and when friends saw what he had done, he put another feather in his construction cap and built water features for others.

002 Brady was ready to retire from teaching and coaching. He thought he wanted to further develop his construction skills. He found a job working with Wilkinson Construction Company building high-end homes, where he learned most aspects of construction using a variety of materials. “One of the areas that fascinated me was learning to cut, polish, and install granite,” said Brady.

Running and coaching was simply in Brady’s blood, and making time for it along with other interests was an easy decision. He was called back to assist in coaching cross-country and track at CMR in 2013 and continues each season to this day.

As Brady saw his team set off for a run on that fall afternoon, he reflected on his life’s purpose, “By facilitating exercise—often by example, I hope I have helped those I have encountered over the years to stay healthy.” Brady lives by his father’s adage: “If you sit down [and quit], you die.” He often shares this adage with his students and tells them about his dad, who was a hockey player and lived to be just past a hundred years old. “Through running, I’ve always believed I can make a difference in their lives.” Brady said. MSN

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