BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Brookfield Academy history teacher, Karen Ray, has been named High School Teacher of the Year by the Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

“It’s a big deal,” Ray said. “It’s a really big deal.”

What You Need To Know

  • Brookfield Academy teacher, Karen Ray, has been named High School Teacher of the Year 

  • Ray got the honor from the Wisconsin VFW

  • She has been an educator for 25 years

  • Ray has been interviewing veterans for nearly her entire teaching career

Ray has been teaching at Brookfield Academy for 12 years, but she’s been an educator for 25 years. For nearly all that time, she has been collecting interviews from veterans.

“It started with a trip to France, a family trip to France,” she said. “It happened to be the 50th anniversary of D-Day. “

Ray researched D-Day further and became fascinated with World War II. 

“I researched the D-Day beaches and everything,” she said. “Every time I met a WWII veteran, I’d get their story.”

In 2000, Ray attended the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Milwaukee.  

“I thought how can I remember all of these stories to tell my students,” she said. “That’s when the interview project came to mind, because I said I have to do an official interview form.”

Since then, she has collected letters, pictures and more than 1,500 first-hand accounts.

“Not only can I interview veterans, but then my students can interview veterans,” she said.

Joe Anderer is a member of VFW Post 5716 in New Berlin. He did one tour in Iraq and was in the Army National Guard for 13 years. His daughter, Emily, is also a student of Ray’s.  

Anderer has connected Ray with some of the veterans she has now interviewed.

“At least three or four, but I watched at least a half dozen more get connected on top of that,” he said. “It was really nice to watch that snowball effect take place.”

He said a project like Ray’s is critical to preserving history and honoring those who have served.

“These are the stories that need to come out,” he said. “She’s bringing those stories out, and I think she’s going to do a lovely job.”

Ray said she plans to digitize her findings in the coming years, so these interviews are accessible to future generations. All her materials are currently hand-written. She’s also entering the Wisconsin VFW’s national teacher of the year competition.

“It is a big honor and having been to the convention 24 years ago and having crashed that party back in 2000, I knew what a big deal this was,” she said.