Paul, Ralph and Joe

An excerpt from my next book,  Morgantown to San Francisco:

I was not prepared for college level work. The first semester was brutal, I managed to squeeze by with a 2.0 average. Without my genius room-mate Paul Davis, I would not have made it. He could do our math homework in half the time it took me. We were disciplined. Every evening we locked our door and studied for two hours and then took a short break to shoot the bull with our dormitory mates. Paul was the first of two room-mates who, after graduating from WVU, went to MIT.

Ralph Rippey was my second room-mate after Paul Davis. Ralph was a veteran of four years in the Navy. He was going to school on the G.I. Bill of Rights. Every morning, no matter how cold it was, he reached in the shower, turned the cold full blast and stepped in. Ralph walked at a fast pace, I almost had to run to keep up with him.

Ralph’s father was killed in a railroad accident, causing his mother to have to work as a waitress to support her family. He remembered snow on his bed coming through cracks in the walls. Ralph is one of an amazing group of exceptional people I have met over the years—brilliant, talented, compassionate, dedicated to doing what is right all the time.

I told Joe Nay, my roommate after Ralph Rippey graduated, that Democrats force Republicans to be Christians. Joe’s dad was a wildcat gas-well driller and I figure very conservative in his politics, given that Joe sure was.

Joe came in dirty from a night shift at the bureau of mines and was shunned by the other students in an economics class he was required to take as part of engineering requirements. He was shunned, that is, until his 100 on the first test was passed down his aisle.

A couple of years later I visited Joe in Boston, where he was attending MIT. He had a calculus test coming up the next day. Joe started to look at the book to study. I asked his wife if he had studied before that. She said he hadn’t opened the book. The next day, Joe got ninety percent on his first MIT calculus test.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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