Married bridge instructors spread passion for game

  • Wheaton Park District bridge instructors Ron and Phyllis Fogel with student Torrong Siddhetija, right, who graduated from their program over the summer and wrote a letter to them expressing her appreciation for the lessons.

    Wheaton Park District bridge instructors Ron and Phyllis Fogel with student Torrong Siddhetija, right, who graduated from their program over the summer and wrote a letter to them expressing her appreciation for the lessons. Courtesy of Wheaton Park District

 
By Brett Peto
Wheaton Park District
Posted12/15/2016 12:22 PM

For Wheaton Park District bridge instructors Ron and Phyllis Fogel, a marriage of 33 years and counting started with a hand of cards.

"I met Ron at a bridge club," Phyllis said, "and we started playing together, started dating."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ron took interest when she played the game differently than he was accustomed to.

"She got my attention because every time she came to the table, she'd revoke," he said, referring to an uncommon practice where a player fails to follow suit when they're able.

Since then they've played across the country and around the world, from California, New York and Hawaii to Atlanta, North Dakota, Florida and British Columbia.

"When I was working, I traveled a bit, and instead of sitting at the bar, I'd call the bridge club and they'd always fix you up with a partner," Ron said.

He started teaching the game when a friend moved away.

"She had several (bridge) classes going at the College of DuPage and she asked me to fill in," Ron said. "I did, and I liked it."

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He said he taught 15 years at COD before teaching at Leyden Park District, Willowbrook Evening School and Triton Junior College, as well as teaching private lessons.

When Phyllis retired from a 34-year career in the public school system, she joined her husband in 2013 teaching at the Wheaton Park District.

"You build a sense of community," she said. "When I was with my second-graders, I said, 'We're readers and writers.' Here I say, 'Good morning, bridge players.'"

Former student Torrong Siddhetija of Hinsdale appreciated the Fogels' teaching style.

"They deal all the hands. They have handouts for everybody. Once Ron goes through everything, they have a question-and-answer session to see if you understand what they taught you," she said. "After we've done a work sheet, we start playing the hands."

Homework is simply to play bridge, "even if it's dealing hands at the kitchen table," Ron said.

When Siddhetija started class with the Fogels, she thought it would last six weeks. It's been a year and a half so far, which she credits to their passion for the game.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She was so impressed, she wrote a letter to them that is now professionally framed and displayed in their home.

"You both are fantastic teachers, great storytellers, and our role models in the way you play bridge and in life," she wrote. "Wherever we may go from now in the bridge world, we will always remember that we had Ron and Phyllis as our teachers in this cozy little classroom."

Siddhetija presented the letter on the last day of class as a group effort.

"I asked a bunch of people in the class to read a paragraph or a sentence," Siddhetija said. "About 10 people read it and took turns and it turned out really cute."

Phyllis had tears in her eyes as students stood and read in the Mary Lubko Center's wood-paneled Coach Room that serves as the classroom where Siddhetija learned "the best game ever."

"It makes you think," Phyllis said. "I wanted to have something to do with my friends. At first, we had three people, but I recruited more and more, and now we have eight or nine people, through six class sessions, each six weeks long."

Each session serves 32 students, said Mary Lubko Center Manager Linda Dolan.

"It's safe to say that bridge is by far the most popular game played here," she said. "Everyone loves learning with Ron and Phyllis. They are incredibly talented instructors and their enthusiasm is contagious."

The Fogels wouldn't teach anywhere else.

"This is by far the best place we've taught," Ron said. "Everyone is so helpful. The students are so interesting. I've never had classes like these."

The couple's next class, Intermediate Bridge, will meet 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, through Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Mary Lubko Center, 208 W. Union Ave., Wheaton. To register, visit wheatonparkdistrict.com or call (630) 665-1415.