Bob Burris, the teacher and PA announcer whose enthusiasm for Senior High students earned him the moniker "Papa Bronc," died Sunday at 65.
Burris was remembered as an enthusiastic man whose passion for kids transcended the classroom: He led Senior's student council and different spirit groups and was an unflagging supporter of athletics.
“He was the ultimate fan, for whatever our kids did,” said fellow social studies teacher Duane Vanatta.
Burris grew up on the Crow Reservation, attending Lodge Grass High School and then graduating from Eastern Montana College.
Speaking to the Gazette in 2015 about his upcoming retirement, he called taking a job at Senior "the best thing I ever did."
"I fell in love with the place I suppose only after a week or two," he said. "I couldn't believe there could be such a place that would be so great to work in with great people and the kids were great. It was just the right thing."
Burris was unmarried and had no children.
“This was his home," said activities director and former football coach Mark Sulser. "The kids were all his kids.”
Burris began teaching remedial English in 1983. He switched to social studies two years later, and was especially passionate about Montana history.
“He was there forever. Senior was his life. That was his complete focus,” Vanatta said. “The kids liked him. I think he did a great job in the classroom.”
Burris would also lend his voice to in-school events like assemblies.
“He was just the go-to guy,” Sulser said. “He always was on the mic. ... He didn’t know much about wrestling, but he would announce wrestling if someone would feed him the information."
Vanatta recalled his magnetic presence.
“Wherever he went, kids would talk to him," he said.
Burris' room of 32 years, 201, was known as a haunt for returning graduates of Senior looking to visit "Papa Bronc."
He was also known for bursts of spontaneity. He once belted out the school song over the PA following a Senior High touchdown because the band was on a third-quarter break. It became something of a tradition.
“He’d be famous for spur-of-the-moment things,” Sulser said.
Sulser and Vanatta agreed: "He bled orange and black."
When The Gazette wrote about him in 2015, Burris was surprised that his retirement interested the newspaper.
His thoughts on announcing help explain why.
"Larry Morris, who was the activities director, told me not to say too much because it wasn't my show, it was the kids' show," Burris said. "And that's right."