Bernard Brommel, a retired Northeastern Illinois University ( NEIU ) professor, therapist and philanthropist, passed away Sept. 22 at his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, according to an NEIU statement. He was 88.
Brommel taught from 1971-1997 at NEIU's Department of Speech and Performing Artsnow the Department of Communication, Media and Theatrewhere he specialized in family communication. He is survived by his partner of more than 20 years, Carl Ratner, as well as six children.
NEIU officials praised what they called Brommel's "tremendous legacy" of giving to NEIU. He was the first million-dollar donor to the institution; his total donations amounted to about $2.5 million. He had invested his earnings from his family therapy practice.
"His enthusiasm and passion for Northeastern Illinois University shone through in our every interaction," Northeastern President Gloria J. Gibson said in the statement. "Bernie will be missed by me and the Northeastern community, but never forgotten."
"It's impossible to put a value on what Dr. Brommel means to Northeastern," NEIU Foundation Board President John Roskopf said. "He asked others to be generous and he led by example, contributing to endowments and scholarships where they would have the greatest positive impact on the academic experiences and successes of the University's students."
"For decades Dr. Brommel inspired and mentored students and faculty," Department of Communication, Media and Theatre Chair Shayne Pepper said. "He cared deeply about Northeastern and remained connected to us throughout his life. It is comforting to know that his legacy will live on through his written work, the students and faculty who knew him, and the many who will continue to be connected to him through his numerous endowed scholarships and faculty positions. He will always be part of this university."
In a 2008 interview with Windy City Times, published in 2017, Brommel, an Iowa native, spoke about why he didn't come out until middle age, noting that his family had "this rich legacy of Catholicism. We have this legacy of nuns and priests. I certainly didn't come out until after my mother died. I had no experiences. Went through college and frankly didn't even know the meaning, growing up on a farm, of the words 'gay' or 'lesbian.' I figured it out in a college sociology class. I had no experiences until I was 38 or 40 years old. So, in many respects, in our world, I was a late bloomer."
In the early '80s, Brommel became active in the fight against HIV/AIDS, recalling that a fateful trip out west served as inspiration to work on spreading the word about the virus in Chicago.
Brommel said, "A colleague of mine at Northeastern, Randy Majors, God rest his soul, is dead now. He died of AIDS out there in San Francisco. I went out and stayed with him. He said, 'Brommel, you are too stupid and naive. Come out and stay with me, in San Francisco. I will show you what the Department of Health is doing. I'm never coming back to Chicago. I love San Francisco.' I never knew he had AIDS. I knew he took a lot of pills. Anyway, he took me to bars and some clubs."
He tested positive for HIV in 1986, he said. But he stayed motivated to work on behalf of persons with HIV/AIDS: "It comes back to my mother and my sister, who was a nun. I just thought it was something I had to do. I was passionate about it. I gave up my own writing. I didn't write many research articles in those years. I never have written on the gay crisis, though I could. I began to go to conventions on AIDS, but I never came out of the closet. Also, by that time, I was starting a practice. I eventually had a good family practice. I bring in complete jungles of families."
He and Ratner met at a meeting of the Chi-Town Squares dancing club in 1995, and moved in together the following year.
Brommel requested that memorial gifts be placed in the Bernard J. Brommel Endowment for Communication, Media and Theatre. Checks can be made out to the NEIU Foundation with "In memory of Dr. Brommel" in the memo line, and mailed to NEIU Foundation, 5500 North St. Louis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625-4699. For more information, contact the NEIU Office of Development at 773-442-4200.