As you walk into Matt Patry’s office, you notice pictures of his son, Noah, and wife, Lisa, on a filing cabinet and various signed pictures around the office. Or maybe your eyes are drawn to the “Doctor Who Tardis” cookie jar filled with Hershey Kisses on his desk.
What you may not know from his workspace, however, is how deep of a love this Castleton University director of Student Activities has for this school.
Patry attended Castleton after breaking his ankle playing football for Nichols College.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Patry said.
While recovering from his injury, he reassessed his situation. He was the only history major at a primarily business college, so he took his father’s advice and decided to apply to Castleton to continue his education.
Shortly after starting classes here, Patry got involved with the Student Government Association as a senator and worked with orientation. It was through these co-curricular activities that Patry found his passion.
At the end of his four years at Castleton, Patry ran into a dilemma. He didn’t know what to do with his history major and American studies minor. He thought about being a teacher at college level or working for a museum, but he really seemed lost.
It wasn’t until he talked with then Director of Student Activities Victoria Angis that Patry discovered what he wanted to do with is life.
“I wish that I could continue to do what I’m doing now,” Patry said he told Angis.
Angis then looked at him and said, “Why don’t you?”
Patry laughed it off and said he had to grow up and leave at some point. That’s when Angis told him to look into student life because they needed people and Patry had a lot of experience. By doing this, she said he could apply for an internship and potentially go to grad school for free.
So he did.
He attended Plymouth State University for two years. They offered him full tuition, room and a stipend of $1,000 a year.
After graduating with his master’s degree in education: guidance and counseling, Patry moved around the country as a director of student activities. When he moved back to Vermont permanently, he worked briefly at College of Saint Joseph’s as dean of students.
“It got to the point that I couldn’t do the job anymore. It was more than what I had signed up for. So I resigned my position and it was the first time I resigned without having another job in line,” he said.
Luckily for him, a position for an academic counselor opened at Castleton. He thought, why not give it a try, and he would stay in that job for 10 years before getting back into student life.
“It was Victoria and all the experiences I had here as an undergrad that prepared me for this job. So many students don’t understand how important the co-curricular experience it is. Yes your academic education is crucial, but you can only go so far with that,” Patry said.
Patry said he has learned a lot from his experiences at all the different colleges and universities, but he said his parents really helped to shape the man he is today, especially his father.
His dad never really had a lot of money or savings and lived day to day and off the land. But he was a very down to Earth man who believed in the simple things in life. When he was a child, his father would take him fishing and loved to do other outdoor activities.
He always told him life will be difficult, but you can’t stress over it. But nothing would prepare him for the hardest part of his life: losing both of his parents.
When Patry was living in Pennsylvania, his father was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After treatment and three months being cancer free, it came back and he was told he had only six months to live.
The week that his father died was the hardest, especially hearing his strained, raspy breathing while in hospice care.
“When he passed away it was not peaceful, it was very disturbing, because all of the fluids that were in him came out of his mouth when he died. It was pretty hard to see,” he said.
Sadly, however, it was easier than his mother’s passing.
Patry hadn’t known his mother Jean was sick until the day before she died. She ate a doughnut that had a piece of metal in it, which cut her mouth. She developed an infection from it that her weak heart couldn’t handle.
After dinner one night, Patry went back to campus and got a phone call from his brother-in-law saying that she had passed away. Matt never got to see his mother the last week before she passed away because of work.
“It was really hard going through that because there was no closure,” said Patry
Losing his parents was difficult, but soon Patry would be facing a health battle of his own. He was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation the size of a small orange, found after a doctor’s visit for hitting his head.
He tells how six years ago in the winter he kept having a weird cough. He ignored the cough for weeks thinking it might be asthma or allergies. Occasionally he felt a vibration in his chest.
His condition wasn’t discovered, however, until after a town meeting in his town of Tinmouth, while putting way ballet boxes, he hit his head on a low beam in the attic.
The next morning he couldn’t move his neck and went to the doctors. There he mentioned the cough he was having.
He was sent for an x-ray and soon got a phone call from the doctor’s with news that he had an unidentifiable mass in his chest. Of course, he thought it was cancer.
But after running a camera up through him, doctors discovered he had seven-centimeter single-chambered heart that was trying to pump to his real heart. It’s a rare occurrence where a person develops an extra organ in their body from a twin they absorbed in the womb.
Two weeks later, Patry was in the operating room having it removed. It was the largest that had even been removed and medical journals and dissertations have been done on this surgery.
Doctors told him he was a walking time bomb and any impact in the chest could have killed him.
But despite his hardships, Patry still has a positive attitude about life and he went on to talk about the best experience of his life; having his son, Noah.
“You’re whole world changes when you have kid. My son is my world. I love him. I’m very lucky,” said a beaming Patry.
Noah loves to travel and because Matt wasn’t able to travel as a child, he makes sure that he can take Noah to trips all around the world.
After his mother died, she left some money for Matt and his wife, so they decided to take a family vacation believing that’s what she would have wanted. They let Noah pick the vacation and he decided on a Disney cruise, and they had a blast.
Patry has also taken Noah to Ireland and always incorporates education into the trips.
Besides traveling, he and his son spend time together when they can.
“Sometimes we just hang out at work during the summer or see shows on campus,” said Noah.
One of his favorite memories together came after seeing a Red Sox game in Boston. The two came across a dumpster with brick from the old park and took one instead of buying one at the souvenir stand, he said.
As director of Student Activities these days, Patry watches over Student Orientation Staff students, guides the Student Government Association and helps students with their clubs on campus. He said he observes them more than anything else.
Junior Tyler Anderson, an SOS leader and treasurer of SGA, called Patry a very hard worker saying he’d often stay until midnight or later to help out during registration.
“Sometimes he’s very opinionated, but he does it for the right reasons. He’s very passionate about what he wants to see us do and wants us to become successful student leaders. He’s harder on some of us than others because he sees a lot of potential,” Anderson said.
SGA President, Mariah O’Hara talked about how Patry works well with all the students he advises and wants them to be their best.
“Matt is very levelheaded. I have seen him get kind of annoyed with a situation. But no matter what, he stays levelheaded. But if he knows you and knows the level of what you can take, he will push you to that boundary,” O’Hara said.