The J-Club | J-Club Hall of Honor
By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Writer/Video Producer
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – Had Cyril Paul ’59 been fonder of his work as a police officer, he might never have left the Bahamas in 1955 to enroll at Saint John’s University.
In that case, the Johnnies’ track and field program would have missed out on one of the top sprinters in school history, and so many others would have missed out on a musician and teacher who has spent much of the past 60-plus years as a tireless advocate for education and the arts.
“The first person I ever arrested was a man who was a drunk,” recalls Paul, who grew up and taught in Trinidad and Tobago before he was recruited to join the police force in Nassau in the Bahamas at age 19.
He remained there for several years before leaving in his mid-20s to attend SJU.
“I was doing traffic duty on Bay Street in Nassau during rush hour,” Paul continued. “The assailant was about 150 to 200 yards away riding in my direction and I put my hand up to stop. All the vehicles did, but he kept going. I chased him down and told him he was under arrest. He gave me a shove and down I went. The call went to police headquarters. People saw that and the call went out that an officer was being assaulted. Five or six other officers showed up and ran him down in a police vehicle. They hauled him away to the police station and I felt so sorry for him. That was when I first realized maybe this wasn’t the right job for me.”
Instead, he eventually headed north to an unfamiliar state that would become his home for the next six decades. He’d heard about SJU from Fr. Malachy Murphy, a priest from Saint John’s Abbey then serving in the Bahamas. Paul – who attended a Catholic church where he performed in the choir – often accompanied Murphy when he would perform mass on Saturdays at a leper asylum on an isolated portion of the island.
“I came from a poor country,” said Paul, who is now 92. “My parents were poor, my friends were poor, the government was poor. I felt that going to Saint John’s might help provide me with the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, and to send money home to my Mom and Dad and the rest of my family in Trinidad.
“The weather was very different,” he added with a laugh. “It gets cold in Minnesota! It was so cold during my first winter at Saint John’s that it tore my lips up. Fortunately, a priest there told me about lip balm. That helped me hang in there and ride out that winter. Lip balm and lots of it.”
Riding out the winter got him to the spring where Paul – who had excelled in both track and cricket back in Nassau – immediately established himself as one of the top sprinters on a Johnnie squad coached by John Gagliardi.
“John was cool,” said Paul of Gagliardi, who would remain at SJU through 2012 and become the winningest coach in college football history. “He came from a town in Colorado called Trinidad, and I came from the country (Trinidad and Tobago). So we had a lot of fun conversations about that.”
As a freshman in 1956, Paul joined with twin brothers Kevin ’58 and Keith ’58 Hughes to form the core of a mile relay team that went on to win three-straight MIAC titles. Paul ran the anchor leg. The team went through the 1956 season unbeaten, breaking the school record three times, including at the conference meet.
“Cyril was a great runner, but before he got to Saint John’s he’d never competed using starting blocks before,” said Kevin Hughes, who himself won the conference title in the 440-yard dash as a senior in 1958. “John was still pretty new on campus himself and still learning track. I can remember the first time I saw Cyril; he was in the starting blocks and John was standing behind him reading from a book about how to start a race.
“We didn’t have cell phones back then, but that would have made for a great picture.
“But Cyril was a huge item,” Hughes continued. “He was a great guy and just an outstanding runner. He and Curt Gabrielson from Concordia competed in the 100, the 220 and 440. They always had really close races. Watching those two race was worth the price of admission.”
Paul won both the 100 and 220-yard dash as a sophomore in 1957 – helping SJU capture its first conference team title in 18 years.
His time in the 100 that season (9.9 seconds) was an MIAC record, and his school records in both events would stand until they were broken by Dave Lamm ’68 in the late 1960s.
“None of my family was ever able to jump on a plane and come see me run in person,” Paul remembers. “But I used to mail the trophies I won home to my father in Trinidad. And do you know what he did with them? He used them as a doorstop! I guess they were practical to use like that. I’d come home for a visit and find the arms and heads broken off. All that was left was the bottom part where the weight was.
“But I know they were proud of me.”
As his Paul’s time on campus went on, his circle of interests expanded beyond the track. He formed a Calypso band (the Junkaroos) that played around Central Minnesota and won the 1957 MIAC Talent Contest held in St. Paul as part of Hamline University’s Snow Days festivities.
The band’s start actually came at a performance at the University of Minnesota as part of the state’s Centennial Festival in 1958.
“The Abbot (at Saint John’s) one day came to my study hall and asked me to walk with him outside the building,” Paul recalls. “He was also an English major. On the road leading to and from the campus, he notified me of the Centennial Celebration about to be celebrated at the University of Minnesota.
“The U of M was asking all the colleges in the state to prepare a musical (performance) or a skit – any kind of musical act they could provide of the occasion … The Abbot told me I should put a team together. I hesitated, but he insisted.”
It’s a good thing he did as Paul’s ensemble claimed first prize. That marked the start of a 60-plus-year music career as Cyril Paul and the Calypso Monarchs became fixtures on the entertainment scene in the Twin Cities and beyond with Paul singing and playing his familiar conga drum.
The group has played Reunion Weekend at SJU several times over the years.
“There was a group on campus called the Moonmisters, but they played trombones and clarinets and saxophones,” Paul said. “I just had my conga drum. So I couldn’t play with them. I had to start my own band and people really seemed to like it. I started getting invited around to local high schools, other colleges and places like that to play. I never would have expected something like that to happen. But the kids really seemed to like the music I was playing. It was Calypso music mixed with kind of a Spanish rhumba. And I’ve stuck to that mix through the years since then.”
Paul was also a teacher in the Twin Cities for many years. He later worked as a music resource person in schools and churches.
“Education has always been important to me,” he said.
Which is why he has also worked hard to promote and raise money for the Cyril Paul Scholarship Program for Caribbean students at CSB and SJU. That included biking almost 2,200 miles – from his home in the Twin Cities to California – in his late 70s as a fundraiser in 2008.
“Cyril Paul is an amazing Johnnie,” said Adam Herbst ’99, the executive director of alumni relations at SJU. “Not only was he an accomplished student-athlete here at Saint John’s, but he has stayed active throughout his life – including completing some legendary bicycle rides. He has also shared his great musical talents by singing at the funerals of fellow Johnnies, and also performing with his band at the Reunion Beach Bash on the shores of Lake Sagatagan over the years.”
“Cyril has always been a loyal Johnnie, eager to mentor Black students and young alumni and to perform with his band, the Calypso Monarchs,” added Thom Woodward ’70, the former director of alumni relations at SJU. “He was not only a track standout for the Johnnies, but introduced Calypso music to Central Minnesota in the late 1950s.
“Cyril’s personality and music talent were perfect through the years for CSB/SJU alum events be it on a stage, on the sand at Lake Sagatagan for a reunion or even onboard a Mississippi River sight-seeing cruise for a Twin Cities Chapter event in Minneapolis.”
Paul moved to California to live with his daughter a couple of years ago. But his ties to SJU remain strong and he said he remembers his days in Collegeville fondly.
“I had a great time at Saint John’s,” he said. “I was so filled with joy to be there getting a better education and getting to know so many new people. I really had a lot of fun in those years.”
2022 Hall of Honor Class
The 2022 class of student-athletes, coaches and volunteers will be inducted into the Saint John’s University J-Club Hall of Honor in a ceremony scheduled for Homecoming Saturday – Oct. 1 – in Guild Hall (Old Gym).
The dinner and enshrinement ceremony begins at 5:15 p.m. Registration is $75 per person through Sept. 25 ($100 per person after) and includes dinner and beverages. All proceeds go to the J-Club to support SJU athletics.
To register to attend, click here.
-2022 J-Club Hall of Honor Class: Tim Schmitz ’78
-2022 J-Club Hall of Honor Class: Br. Mark Kelly, OSB
-2022 J-Club Hall of Honor Class: Troy Bigalke ’01
-SJU to Induct 11 into J-Club Hall of Honor Oct. 1
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