Among the many wonderful teachers in Lisle, Illinois, Mrs. Leota Prokop was, for those of us fortunate to have her, primus inter pares, first among equals. She taught Junior year English Literature at Lisle Community High School in the 1960s before moving on to Junior College teaching.
She first came to my attention through my dear friend, Mary Carter, LCHS Class of 1964 and a year ahead of me. Mary, who adored Mrs. Prokop and who shared her penchant for tremendous sarcasm and irony, told me at the close of my Sophomore year that she had had Mrs. Prokop and that I should be aware of how serious and strict Mrs. Prokop would be. I remember walking through The Meadows with Paul Havenar, who lived there, discussing this during the Summer of 1963. Mrs. Prokop also lived in The Meadows and we were walking not far from her house. We were to have Mrs. Prokop the next year (1963-64). I, Chief Egomaniac of Lisle, Illinois, distinctly remember telling Paul that I would “not let her push me around.”
I loved every minute of her class and she would wind up being one of the greatest teachers I would ever have. I was putty in her hands. Under her we studied English Literature, reading an abridged version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, which I’ve loved ever since. She absolutely brought Miss Havisham to life. We read in its entirety THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE. She introduced us to the coffeehouse culture of 18th century London, and little did either of us know that Samuel Johnson and his London colleagues, male and female, would become one of the enduring loves of my life.
A couple of anecdotes as to her method. I have a faint memory of her asking the class a relatively obscure question about grammar. I blurted out what I thought was the correct answer, which led to great mockery and merriment from the class. In the midst of my blushing in embarrassment, Mrs. Prokop gently and firmly told us all that I had been correct, which I thought was pretty cool and have obviously never forgotten.
She assigned us an in-class essay to write about “love.” I was too emotionally overwhelmed by the subject and did not turn in any paper. She never mentioned it and did not hold it against me.
On November 22, 1963, the tragic day President Kennedy was assassinated, my class first heard the news in Mr. Bark’s math class, after which we went to Mrs. Prokop’s class. I am sure she made some remarks, but the entire period was essentially left in silence. She sat at her desk in front of the class, mostly staring out the window in tears, an incredibly noble sight.
(That day we were to begin our basketball season, but the game was understandably cancelled. After school Bob Gihle and I went in his car to a parking lot in Downers Grove and sat in shock.)
Mrs. Prokop was exactly what a Master Teacher is and should be, disciplined, loving, demanding, bringing the subject matter to life. She had a marvelous wit and sense of humor. One magnificent teacher. With Gloria Bryen, Anna Claar, Kay Diehl Kimes, Cathy Curtin Kaye, Paul Ande Havenar, Barbara Kubes Rogers, Suzanne Leigh, Rick Paulsen, Robert Gihle Janet Gihle, Roland Jenkins