After many years of struggling with a severe speech impediment, Matador dad and longtime booster Jerry Tyree wants to honor the memory of the man who helped him keep his career — and those who saw past his affliction — by opening a stuttering clinic at California State University, Northridge.
Born in South Dakota on an American Indian reservation, his parents divorced when Tyree was young, which left him bouncing between schools in multiple states — South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia and California — and constantly having to make new friends. This only added to his difficulty living with a severe stutter as a child, he said. He tried a lot of different speech therapy techniques, but to no avail. With no real way to fully express himself, he would lash out to avoid the teasing, which meant frequent trips to the principal’s office.
In the 1950s, when Tyree was 15, he moved to Los Angeles; when he was 17, he decided to join the U.S. Navy. He was rejected due to his speech impediment, and landed instead in the Army, eventually serving in the Army Corps of Engineers. After a tour of duty during the Korean War, he earned his GED and chose to return to California to continue his education. After enrolling in community college, he eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UC Berkeley, and he met and married his wife, Edith.
Tyree’s first job out of college was with Lockheed Martin, the global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company. Working as a data analyst, he initially dealt with a lot of calculations that didn’t require him to speak much. But when Tyree was transferred to a department that required him to speak with customers and suppliers on behalf of the company, he knew he had to find a solution to his stutter once and for all. Tyree gave speech therapy one last try with Joseph G. Sheehan, founder of Avoidance Reduction Therapy and head of the Sheehan Stuttering Clinic who was widely regarded as one of the best speech pathologists in Southern California.
Avoidance Reduction Therapy aims to reduce the defense mechanisms of the person who stutters, leading to greater self-confidence and ability to speak. The therapy was pioneered by the late Joseph Sheehan, a psychology professor at UCLA, and his wife, Vivian Sheehan, a speech-language pathologist. Sheehan’s techniques worked wonders for Tyree: Six months later, his stutter was all but gone.
Tyree credited much of his career success to Sheehan’s help.
“Had I lost that job at that point, I don’t know what our family would have done because there weren’t a lot of other jobs out there,” Tyree said. “I stayed as an engineer, and there are so many things that came from the experience with Sheehan that affected my life.”
It wasn’t long before a request from upper management at Lockheed Martin came for Tyree to join the Advanced Development Program, more commonly known as Skunk Works. During his time in the group, Tyree helped develop many aerospace staples of U.S. Cold War history, such as the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk Bomber. Tyree retired from Lockheed Martin in 1989 at the age of 55, and his thoughts quickly turned to what legacy he would leave.
He thought about how his story could influence others and wanted to help those who suffered from speech impediments. Tyree eventually discovered the speech clinic at CSUN, part of the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences within the College of Health and Human Development, and decided to donate so that the clinic could emulate Sheehan’s practices. Thanks to Tyree’s generosity, Stuttering Avoidance Reduction Group Therapy is now available at CSUN’s Language, Speech and Hearing Center.
Tyree committed to a $100,000 pledge to initially support the clinic through the Avoidance Reduction Therapy Fund, and a $500,000 planned gift to establish the Avoidance Reduction Therapy Endowment in the Language, Speech and Hearing Center. Planned gifts are gifts that are committed through one’s estate plans, allowing someone to support CSUN at a higher level than they might otherwise during their lifetime.
Tyree’s longtime bond to CSUN was first forged when his son, Larry, who graduated from the university in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, enrolled as an undergraduate in the 1970s. Janice Woolsey, the clinic coordinator, said she knows just how much the creation of the Avoidance Reduction Therapy Endowment through Jerry Tyree’s gift means to him and to the university.
“He has a passion for helping those who stutter to make sure they have access to the same therapy method that made such a tremendous and positive impact on his own life,” Woolsey said. “His passion and contribution, as well as our vision for the future of this clinic based on the pioneering stuttering therapy work of Joseph Sheehan, is the trifecta that will benefit countless people across the spectrum.”
Larry Tyree spoke positively of his father’s involvement with his alma mater.
“[Dad] went through this long story and ended up here at CSUN, which is quite a coincidence because I’m an alumnus from here,” said Larry, who lives in Portland, Ore., and is a manager for Intel. “This is the first time I’ve been on the campus in probably 35 years, and it’s so gratifying to have a connection back to the school and be a part of this.”
Jerry Tyree himself was pleased with his decision to give, and he said he hopes it can contribute to the Tyree legacy at CSUN.
“I’m proud of what has happened,” he said. “I know I’m not going to be around for a lot longer, so hopefully the clinic will be something that continues on. When you get to my age, you realize you’re not going to live to be 120. So, if the time I was here was worthwhile, then it’s good.”
To learn more about making a planned gift to CSUN, visit www.csun.edu/plannedgiving.