By Dr. Shelly Broder
My mom, known to Oak Park High School grads as Mrs. Broder, was a beloved art teacher. She was a marvelous teacher and a true artist. She taught art history as though she knew the artist, like a story. She taught all media, but towards her later years at Oak Park High, she taught photography. My mom not only inspired many students who became artists and photographers in their own right, but she also took kids under her wing who might have felt marginalized or were having troubles. I believe now that she knew she was doing more than teaching art. She fundamentally respected kids.
Of course, there was more to her life than her students saw in the classroom day-to-day. While a fulltime wife and mother of three (Ron, Shelly and Sid) from the late-1940s, Dorothy taught painting and drawing classes in her suburban home and developed her style of fluid watercolor and charcoal figures. In 1959, Dorothy entered Wayne State University's College of Art. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and teaching certificate in 1966, and her Master of Arts in Education in 1970.
Dorothy retired from teaching in 1989, but continued doing her artwork, spent time with her three grandchildren, and took up Tai Chi at age 64. As she aged, it became difficult for her to live alone. In 2014, we moved my mother into a senior apartment and had the task of cleaning out her house of 38 years, and her collection of things dating back 50 years. Over the decades, Dorothy had produced watercolors of landscapes, portraits, still-lifes and abstracts, as well as charcoal figure drawings in her home studio. Among the items I kept were her more than 200 watercolor paintings and charcoal figure drawings.
My mom passed away on June 19, 2018. Since her death, I have become even more aware of her influence on a generation of Oak Park students. One such story emerged at her funeral. My older brother, Ron, who lives in California, told a story about someone he’d met on the beach the year before. They’d seen each other at this beach before and began talking. They learned they were both from Oak Park. After discovering that the man went to Oak Park High, my brother asked if he knew Mrs. Broder. The man responded with a wave of his hand, shaking his head, “Mrs. Broder saved my life. They were going to kick me out of school and she went to the principal and told him to put me in her class. They did. I learned photography from her, which is what I do for a living today.” The man’s daughter, who was with him. told my brother that her father talks about Mrs. Broder all the time. This is one of many stories, and those are only the ones we know of.
Little by little, I’ve given some of her work to family, close friends and even those she painted or drew whom I recognized. In January, ready to part with my mom’s artwork, I came up with the idea of a swap: Make a donation, pick a piece of art. The donations are to my mom’s beloved Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as the Alzheimer’s Association. For those of you who may be interested in remembering my mom this way, this is the link to the website:
Above all, Dorothy was a devoted and loving mother, friend and teacher. She adored all of her children. Her friends were like family. And she spoke of her years with her students as the best of her life. She is missed now and always, and lives in the hearts of all who knew and loved her.
Rochelle M. Broder, Ph.D., a native Detroiter, is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Royal Oak, Michigan. She is a high school friend of the editor, Andrea Sachs.