All of the accolades directed recently at the memory of Jean Brockel have been well deserved. She was a remarkable, inspiring, congenial, generous woman who was truly a pillar of the Kenai Peninsula.
I also count myself lucky to have been able to consider her a friend.
When I first met Jean Brockel in the fall of 1964, however, I was not told her first name, and she had a different last name. To me and the other 14 members of my first grade class at Soldotna Elementary School, she introduced herself as “Miss Bardelli.”
Dr. Alan Boraas, of Kenai Peninsula College, once said, “Nobody brought energy to the room like Jean Brockel.” He was right, even when she was Miss Bardelli.
She was a fireball, in the best possible way.
Miss Bardelli was a performer. She wheeled a piano into our classroom. She sang to us and with us. She also taught us. From “Dick and Jane” to science and art, she led us on an energetic journey that school year.
I already loved to read, but Miss Bardelli inspired me to read further. On shelves around the classroom, she set up a series of books for us and challenged us to read “all around the town.” I know it’s nerdy to admit, but I still have the certificate she gave me for completing the challenge. With a black magic marker, she block-printed my accomplishment on a rectangle of parchment paper and affixed to it a large gold star with a piece of purple ribbon.
It was several years before I had another teacher who approached the passion of Miss Bardelli.
When I first heard of “Jean Brockel,” I didn’t know the name. Eventually I figured out the connection, and I kept connecting with Jean throughout my life — through KPC, through my own teaching career and on-again-off-again journalism career, and even through my one attempt at performing on the stage (with Jean as director).
When Tony Lewis and I wrote a book about the 50-year history of KPC, we extensively interviewed Jean and her husband, Clayton Brockel, the founding director of the college.
Jean was integral to the growth of the arts at KPC, as well as the Kenai Performers and the Performing Arts Society. In her basement was a mass of files — newspaper clippings, old playbills, photographs, scripts, etc. — a lifetime in pursuit of, and in support of, the arts.
A dynamic persona and a consummate performer — that was Jean Brockel. And so much more. I can picture her even now, rising up behind the piano and leading 15 first graders in a raucous attempt at harmony.
— Clark Fair