My View

By Don Sorchych | February 10, 2010

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Don SorchychRay Brolley – Educator and friend

One problem with getting old is one by one your friends leave you. Most of my buddies from the Melbourne (Florida) Hunting and fishing club have left and I miss them, although I regale my wife Shari Jo with tales of our adventures.

I am tempted to go to a good medium and see if we can chat.
Maybe I will.

But sadly another has left us and that is Ray Brolley, resident of Ogelsby, Illinois. Ray was not a hunting buddy nor an outdoor type; he was an intellectual.

I recall how frustrated he was with the little town of DePue, Illinois when he returned from WWII service. He wanted to go to LaSalle and Peru, which were several times larger than DePue, but still small towns.

You can tell by his name that he was Irish and he carried the volatility of that birthright proudly. He was quick to anger and even quicker to forgive.

He would vent his frustration for lack of a means to get out of town by stalking the downtown streets and cursing with veins bulging on his neck.

Later, Ray bought a car and had others chauffer him around until he learned to drive.
He finished his education at the University of Illinois and taught at LPO (LaSalle, Peru, Ogelsby) Junior College (later named Illinois Valley Community College). In that capacity and later at St. Bede Academy he became legendary to his students and their parents, teaching English and Literature, in which he was expert.

I know he loved the New Yorker magazine; his favorite was British author Evelyn Waugh and he could quote extensively from Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted.

I often played jokes on Ray and waited for his heated Irish response. The many characters in DePue and his love of literature made for many opportunities.

Once in the 70s a young woman visited a couple affiliated with Harris Semiconductor, where I was Group Executive. When she found out I worked there she asked to see me. She told me Ray often entertained his class with stories of DePue. Apparently, he often mentioned how my vocabulary was criticized by peers in town. I read a lot in those days.

So we went to dinner and then to my house where I thought up a scheme to harass Ray again.

It was in January and when I called his house, his wife referred me to the school where he was teaching a night class. I called the school, reached the switchboard operator and put on my best British accent when I asked for him. The operator said he was teaching in another building and the snow was deep outside.

I explained I was Sir Benjamin Hasting from London and I was offering Mr. Brolley a trip to London to speak on his knowledge of Evelyn Waugh.

She said, “Oh my goodness, Mr. Brolley would never forgive me if I didn’t get him. I will put on my galoshes and coat to contact him.”

Minutes later a breathless Ray came to the phone and I explained my fraudulent mission. He swallowed the whole story and was delighted that the trip and speech was fully paid including a sizable honorarium.

He was so effusive and thankful that his former student broke into wailing tears, hearing her alter ego being fooled.

Feeling the jig was up, I said, “Hey Brolley, you dumb shit, it is me Don Sorchych.”
He didn’t want to believe this incredible opportunity had gone away, and he said, “Sir, Sir what are you saying?”

She cried louder.

Finally it sunk in and a long litany of insults and swearing ensued. It was spectacular and I so wish I had recorded it’s brilliance and originality.

Last year I took my wife Shari Jo to the DePue boat races and we visited Ray at his home. She shares her thoughts:

“I had the pleasure of meeting Ray last summer when were in Illinois for the Annual DePue Boat Races. Don, his sister Jeane and I drove to Ogelsby for a long awaited visit. I was so anxious to meet him after hearing Ray Brolley stories from Don for years.

“Ray was not one to disappoint – truly a Renaissance Man. His eyes and smile both lit up when he saw Don. He ‘held court’ in his living room that day with his wife Therese seated next to him.

“He regaled us with stories, stopping at one point to request that Jeane move from her position off to the side of the room to the center of the room. “I don’t want you to miss a word of this,” he said. So full of himself, but not unjustly.

“I was called up short for being inattentive when I responded to a text message. As if we were in a classroom he asked a question of me to regain my full attention.

“A delightfully bright and engaging man, he had a wonderful way of expressing himself. I could have sat there listening to him all day.”

Following is an excerpt from a letter to the editor in a Central Illinois Valley newspaper:
“The afterlife will never be the same. Ray is there. He has poets to meet, children to embrace, civil-rights heroes to worship ...

“They’ll know he’s there, all those heavenly souls, just as all of us moved by Mr. Brolley here on Earth knew when he was around.

“Not every IVCC student who had Mr. Brolley loved him; that would be impossible. Some didn’t understand his crying in class one moment, followed shortly by his desire to see some crooked politician “boiled in oil.”

”I did. I guess I was on his wavelength. Ray Brolley achieved with me what must be the most satisfying thing that can be said about a teacher: an indelible impression.

“Whatever Ray Brolley was called in his 85 years – likely a lot of things, because he never backed down from a lively discussion – “forgettable” surely was never one of them.

”Ray Brolley didn’t love his grandchildren; he wanted to “eat them alive.” I understood.

”Ray Brolley didn’t like, or even love, literature. He was moved to tears by great works on the 100th reading.

”What was it Jim Valvano said in his famous ESPY speech? “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heckuva day.”

”Ray Brolley did all three every day. They all were full days. Thus, a full life.

”He’s missed, but he lives on. In his sensational family tree, mostly, but also in the daily thoughts of at least one former IVCC Lit student.”

”Bill Liesse,
”Peoria, Illinois”

Ray had a lifelong work in progress, the manuscript for a book about DePue, which he pointed to in a bookcase in his living room. I hope his children or grandchildren publish it.
His remarkable obituary is on page A-2.

Rest in peace, dear friend. You are much loved.