Hal Brun (Sri Lanka 1969-71) special education leader, 1947-2013
Educator had ‘huge appetite for life’
January 05, 2014|
By Joan Giangrasse Kateshal-brun

While a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sri Lanka, Hal Brun was assigned to teach English to villagers, some of them children with severe disabilities who had been deemed unteachable.

With little formal training, Mr. Brun developed a special education program for teaching these children and put into place a system to help them attend local schools.

“Hal understood that everything begins with an education,” said his partner of 30 years, Jeff Ginsberg. “That this was the starting point to giving these kids their best shot at life.”

Upon his return to the U.S., Mr. Brun launched a long career in education, including several years as the director of special education at New Trier High School in Winnetka.

“He was the kind of leader that inspired others to do their best,” said former colleague Linda Colson, who met Mr. Brun in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “He was a people person, but also a data-driven decision-maker. He was a compassionate individual, but also had a pragmatic approach to tackling problems and addressing complexities inherent to special education.”

Mr. Brun, 66, died of an apparent heart attack Saturday, Dec. 14, in his home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Ginsberg said.

After retiring from New Trier in 2004, Mr. Brun volunteered as a docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. His interests included politics, arts, architecture and travel.

“He had a huge appetite for life,” Ginsburg said. “Whenever we traveled abroad, he’d walk 10 miles a day looking, accessing and absorbing everything around him. He loved big cities and was fascinated with buildings and could never walk past a museum, no matter what was in it.”

Born and raised on Chicago’s North Side, Mr. Brun earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Northeastern Illinois State College in 1969. That same year, he joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Sri Lanka until 1971.

“It was a pivotal time in his life,” Ginsberg said. “He loved working with the kids, the warmth of the people and the natural beauty of the country.”

Upon his return to Chicago, Mr. Brun taught for a year at Lincoln Park High School before enrolling in the Learning Specialist Program at the University of Illinois, where he received a master’s degree in education in 1974.

“He was fun, smart and charismatic. I could tell from the start what a great impact the Peace Corps had had on him,” said Colson, who was in the same program.

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During the 1970s and ’80s, Mr. Brun served as a special education administrator, first with Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton, and later with the East Du Page Special Education District in Villa Park.

“He had a wonderful ability of hiring the best teachers,” said Colson, who in the 1980s worked for District 200 alongside Mr. Brun. “He understood the importance of keeping his staff happy and motivated and feeling respected.”

From 1990 to 1998, Mr. Brun served as director of special services for Evanston-Skokie Special Education District before becoming the director of special education at New Trier.

In his retirement, Mr. Brun delighted in taking walking tours of Chicago and exploring the city with family and friends.

“He was a Chicagophile,” Ginsberg said. “He knew about every major building in the city and when it was erected and by whom. He once told me he could have become an architect, but then life intervened and sent him in a whole other direction.”

Mr. Brun is also survived by a brother, David, and a sister, Barbara.

A memorial service is being planned.