Bob Soucek

  • Father’s lessons still ring strong with 10-sport letterman SoucekSoucek Alumni

    Bob Soucek just might be Morton College’s most decorated athlete, earning 10 letters in football, basketball, baseball, golf, soccer and track. Basketball and golf were his games, though. He was the team’s leading scorer when Morton College won the 1943 state junior college basketball tournament. 

    However, he never graduated from Morton College because Soucek “found” another team engaged in a greater battle.

    Soucek was part of that group known today as the “Greatest Generation,” which served the United States in World War II. He left Morton College a month before graduation and just two months after winning the state title in basketball to enlist in the Navy on April 14, 1943, his father’s birthday, for flight training in the V-5 program as a naval aviator in Corpus Christi, Texas.  

    “The guys were leaving one after another,” Soucek recalled. “The women, the Rosie the Riveters, they took over. They made it possible for the men to fight.”

    Close to 60 Morton College students and alumni died in World War II. Soucek looks at a team picture from the ’43 championship season and points to Ed Vosyka, who was killed in a dive-bomb accident along the East Coast.

    By 1943, Morton College’s enrollment dipped from 381 students to 149. In Soucek’s sophomore year of 1942-43, he was one of approximately 140 Morton College students to enter the military. Because of World War II, there were a certain number of austerity measures imposed across the country. Raw materials went toward the war effort. Gas, meat and sugar were among the commodities rationed by the government.

    “During World War II, they made the soles of the gym shoes out of erasers,” Soucek recalled. “People survived. They knew how to help each other.”

    According to Bob Slivovsky’s book on the history of Morton College athletics, “Those Were the Games, My Love,” Ray Sundstrom’s shoes were passed around by members of the track team. 

    “Ray Sundstrom’s shoes should have gotten an ‘M’ (athletic letter) for all the use they received in a normal meet,” wrote Slivovsky about the 1941-42 track season. “Soucek wore them first, then Hutar, back to Soucek, then to Luetzow, back to Soucek, etc.”

    Soucek was born at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn and grew up in Cicero at 1632 South 60th Court. Ralph Capone, the older brother of the infamous Al Capone, lived right around the corner. Soucek’s father, Anton, worked as a draftsman at Western Electric.

     “I was fortunate my dad was my best teacher,” Soucek said. “He said, ‘Don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t cheat.’”

    Perfection also was another lesson Soucek’s father imparted. “In drafting, it’s not close, it’s perfect,” Soucek added. 

    Soucek graduated from Morton High School in 1941. He was a member of the school’s state championship basketball team under the legendary Norm Ziebell, the only coach in Morton High School history to win multiple state titles.

    Soucek then enrolled at Morton College, which was then located on the third floor of the high school of what is today Morton East High School in Cicero.

    “Morton College had a knack for picking the right teachers,” Soucek said. “Every department had its own department head. When I was a student, I read only non-fiction books. The head of the English department told me there a lot of good men and women who write fiction. I read both now.” 

    Ziebell and George Fencl made the greatest impact on Soucek, who went on to a 34-year career as a guidance counselor and basketball coach in the Morton High School District. Ziebell also was Soucek’s golf coach at Morton College. Fencl, who won nine athletic letters at the University of Illinois, was Soucek’s basketball coach at Morton College.

    “Ziebell taught you to play defense with your feet, not your hands,” Soucek said. “Fencl was so well-organized and was an excellent teacher. Everybody on the team would do anything for him. He dressed immaculately and was a teacher’s teacher. Ziebell and Fencl taught me how to coach. I was lucky to have them.”

    When Soucek coached, he rotated team captains and gave everyone a chance to have that designation. It was something he learned from Fencl. 

    “You see what leadership qualities they had when they were the team captain,” Soucek said. “Fencl taught me that.”

    Soucek remembered the 1943 champions as being a “close-knit group.” They were 14-1 overall and 6-0 in winning the NIJC South Division title. Morton College had a distinct home-court advantage with games played on the stage at the Chodl Auditorium. One sideline was a band pit. Spectators sat in theatre-style seats and looked up to the stage.

    “Playing on the stage was worth seven points a game,” Soucek said. “Nobody wanted to be close to that edge. Fencl would instruct a manager to bounce a ball over the ropes into the band pit. Opponents didn’t want to be five feet near there.”

    Soucek donated the scorebook used during the 1942-43 season to Morton College as part of its 75th anniversary. Basketball in the 1940s was a low-scoring affair. The scorebook was a sign of the times with the running score going up to 60. The NCAA scorebook in use today by Morton College’s basketball team allows for a running score of 139 points. 

    Morton College defeating Wright 37-35 in the semifinals and Joliet 43-35 in the championship game. Soucek scored 29 points in the two games. Morton College officials treated the team to a steak dinner and presented the players with medals. 

    After serving in the Navy, Soucek left a licensed commercial airline pilot. His first wife, Dorothy, didn’t want Soucek to fly, so he used the GI Bill to graduate from Northwestern University. Soucek still wears his 1947 Northwestern class ring. He added a master’s in education from Illinois and degrees in counseling and psychology from Washington State.

    Soucek fondly remembers his days at Morton. He felt there was a high-quality faculty because the Morton graduates were willing to return as teachers to “give back to Morton what they got here.” He calls the late Dave Kocourek, who played in seven championship games during nine years in the AFL in the 1960s, as the “best athlete he saw at Morton” and someone capable of “winning a track meet by himself.” He brings up the fact that Morton’s basketball team lost just five games in a three-year span from 1950 to 1952 and were undefeated during the 1950 and 1951 regular seasons. He speaks highly of the many successful graduates produced by Morton.

    Soucek, a Morton College Trustee from 1981 to 1983, sold his home in Berwyn on Riverside Drive shortly following the 2008 death of his second wife, Margaret. He now lives at an independent living center at Bethlehem Woods Retirement Community in La Grange Park. 

    An avid golfer, who worked two U.S. Opens as a marshal and idolized Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, Soucek gave up the game in his late 80s because of arthritis. He’s a regular at Egg Harbor, a breakfast/lunch restaurant in Hinsdale, where Soucek is treated like royalty from the minute he walks in the door. He regularly attends high school basketball games and his apartment is filled with books. Soucek also collects caps and can wear a different one every day for three months. 

    Soucek maintains his weight between 147 and 152 pounds. His goal is to make it to age 99 just like UCLA’s John Wooden.

    “I’ve had the best life and the best career,” said Soucek, who attributes his good health to eating fruits and vegetables. “I’ve been lucky to pick a number of best friends. I’ve always tried to help and not take. I’ve lived a very fruitful life.”

    Update: Bob Soucek passed away January 4, 2016, at the age of 93. At his service of celebration on January 9, 2016, Soucek's "I Promise" was read. It was his approach to life. It stated: I promise to care for planet earth and all living things thereon especially my fellow human beings. To treat all persons everywhere with dignity, respect and friendliness. To use my best efforts to help save what is left of our natural world in its undistributed state and to restore degraded areas. To use as little of our non-renewable resources as possible.
    To contribute to those less fortunate. To help them become self-sufficient and enjoy the benefits of a decent life including clean air and water, adequate food, health care, housing, education and individual rights. I support renewable energy and feel we should move rapidly to contain greenhouse gases.