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Letter: Remembering John Broza

A legend was born on July 31, 1939 in Rutland, Vermont, and that same legend recently passed away on July 26 on Long Island; John Broza, former English teacher, whose career began at Schreiber High School in 1961 and whose career included department chair for 18 years, will be missed by many. John was a longtime resident of Glen Cove, NY.   

John attended the University of Vermont as an undergraduate and served as a representative to the college and an active interviewer for years to come, thereby assisting numerous Schreiber grads in their admittance to the university. John attended Brown University for his graduate studies, which is a testimony to his brilliance, before being recruited to work in the English Department at Paul D. Schreiber High School.

Upon his return to Schreiber High School from a sabbatical in 1972-73, John acquired notoriety as a Scholar of Shakespeare, teaching a popular elective course focused solely on the Bard. Renowned for his knowledge of the Bard, he gave talks about Shakespeare’s plays in several public libraries, in particular the Port Washington Library. John did justice to his mission of bringing Shakespeare’s life and works to as many people as possible, endeavoring to take groups of high school students to England for 15 years. The public at large recognized his license plate, “Shakespr,” which further evidenced his passion for the Bard. In fact, John instituted “Shakespeare Day,” an annual homage to the Bard at Schreiber High School in 1993. The tradition of Shakespeare Day is alive and well, and John continued to play an active role in it as a performer since his retirement in 2000.

Truly a Renaissance Man, John more than dabbled in other occupations and activities: he taught ESL to adults in the evenings; he prepared countless students for the SAT exams, both as a private tutor and as a summer instructor at a Korean school; he served as yearbook advisor; he emceed a multitude of events and fundraisers at the high school and in Port Washington; and he brought performances of The Commedia Dell’Arte to the students of Schreiber.

Everybody knew his name and his nicknames: “Mustang Johnny” and “Papa John.” One time, John played Taps on a trumpet for a class to encourage the students to raise their quiz scores. John had a way of making people feel good about themselves, making people feel like they could do anything, particularly his students. “Papa John” had many students who would fondly call him that in their minds and hearts; likewise, John referred to his “grand-students” with admiration. He had a mind like a steel trap, recalling stories of his student “progeny” for years. He also had a mind for math, with an ability to compute the odds of countless contests he was able to win over the years.

John was born a Leo, just like Shakespeare’s Juliet. Like a Leo, John was a true lion, embodying and portraying loyalty to all who knew him. Shakespeare’s play, King John, is rumored to be his least read, but this “King” John was among the most well known of Schreiber’s teachers. There is one last role that John fulfilled as the “Voice of the (Schreiber) Vikings,” announcing for various sporting events, such as basketball, football and gymnastics –to name a few. A former Schreiber gymnast from more than 20 years ago affectionately reminisced about the way her name would roll or reverberate off his tongue, and the hug that would follow a meet. John’s own granddaughter, Rachel, recently proclaimed to her grandmother, that without Poppa their house was now “a lonely house” whereas before she called it a “joyful house.” John was extremely proud of his family, whom he loved dearly. He is survived by wife Michaline, Glen Cove, NY; sons David, Rhode Island; Daniel, Virginia; and Michael and wife Lydia, North Carolina, grand-children Nicholas (9) and Rachel (7); sister Patricia Wener, Vermont.

I had the privilege of being in John’s Shakespeare course when I was a Schreiber student, where he ignited my passion for the Bard. John and I maintained a shared appreciation of Shakespeare for years to come, in part by attending performances such as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare during my college years. When I chose to become an English teacher, John welcomed me to the Schreiber English Department as a student teacher to Carol Nesbit. The following semester, he gave me the opportunity to serve as a leave replacement for the now late Marty Hamburger. Furthermore, John championed my desire to serve as a full-fledged English teacher in Schreiber High School. The greatest honor came when he relinquished the Shakespeare elective to me when he retired in 2000. During his retirement, he continued to attend Shakespeare plays with me and the students of the Shakespeare course.

Fittingly and fatefully, I had tickets to see Measure for Measure in Central Park on the night of John’s funeral. All the stars shined down upon the outdoor Delacorte Theater –the brightest of which, I believe, was John’s. I will miss my beloved teacher, mentor and friend, who enriched my life, learning and career. His light will shine forever.

For all who loved and admired John, please know that donations can be made to The John J. Broza Memorial Scholarship; checks should be made out to “Port Washington Public Schools,” with “Donation to The John J. Broza Memorial Scholarship” written on the memo line. As the Port Washington School District requested that contributions be delivered in bulk, the checks should be mailed to The John Broza Memorial Scholarship, c/o Elaine Labrocca, 2 Edi Avenue, Plainview, NY 11803; the district will hold the funds and administer the award based on the criteria designated by the family.

Donna Valenti