It’s almost as if the words spoken to the Tin Man by the Wizard in “The Wizard of Oz” would one day be meant specifically for Alison Bryant, that “a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”
Bryant, the much loved high-school sweetheart and wife of Hall athletic director Eric R. Bryant, mother of their two sons and compassionate teacher at Peru Parkside Middle School, passed away on Saturday in their home in Ladd, ending a courageous nine-year fight against breast cancer.
She was 39 years old.
Her husband understandably had difficulty putting his feelings into words, but did want to express his gratitude for the outpouring of love and support received throughout the length of Ali’s ordeal, right up to the drive-by service held for her at La Salle’s Rotary Park on Tuesday.
“I hope people don’t take for granted the type of community we live in, and I don’t mean just Spring Valley and the Hall High School community,” Eric said. “I’m talking about the whole Illinois Valley with the amount of love and support and help that they’ve provided for us — the benefits, the constant phone calls, text messages and Facebook message — it’s really unreal the type of people that live here. I’m not sure there’s a better community anywhere and still people didn’t even see the half of it.
“For people to still react that way doesn’t surprised me because she was infectious in the way she lived her life. She just loved everybody. Even those who weren’t easy to love, she did because she knew they needed it … It’s been truly, truly wonderful the amount of love that she was able to receive through all of this has been outstanding. We thank and love you all.”
Ali Bryant, the daughter of Bernie and Lynn Victor of Ladd, was a 1999 graduate of Hall High School, where was known as much for her volleyball prowess as her amiable personality. As a junior, she was a defensive specialist on the 1997-98 Lady Red Devils squad that went 34-7 and made the Class 1A Elite Eight. Despite being hospitalized with pneumonia at the time the regionals started, she talked the doctors into releasing her in time to play in the state quarterfinal match at Redbird Arena in Normal.
The following year, she helped lead HHS to another regional title. The club’s record during her two seasons on the varsity was an outstanding 65-14.
“Ali was a great example of what you want the other kids to follow,” said former Hall volleyball coach Laurie Polte. “She was never one of the loud kids, never was any kind of a problem whatsoever. She always did whatever was asked of her, always hustled, going after every ball no matter what … and you could see the qualities she had as a high schooler continued through as she got older, as a mother, as a teacher. She was one of those quiet leaders that people naturally looked up to. She was just a great kid that of course became a great adult.
“I just hope that I can have half of the dignity and grace she showed through it all, and the love she had for everybody … What a loss for the world.”
Ali continued her academic career at North Central College and, while teaching at Somonauk Junior High, studied for her Master Degree at Aurora University along with sisters-in-law Bernadette Bryant Savitch and Carolyn Bryant, and another good friend and fellow teacher at Parkside, Kay Raineri.
It was just before she started teaching at Parkside – her most recent assignment being seventh grade science — that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Ali made the best coffee and we would just sit and talk. I will miss having just one more conversation with her,” said Raineri, her voice choked up with emotion. “When you talked with her, you always felt that you had 100% of her attention, not matter how busy she was or how important those things might be, and it was the same for the students … I learned from her that you need to truly connect with the emotional side first with the kids before the academic, and she did that remarkably well.
“She inspired and amazed us by her words and actions. She was a natural and genuinely lovely individual ... Her spirit was so good and honest and her outlook was so amazing, even when we talk through this last part when she knew, she kept saying, ‘This is my story, this is my chapter and I have to make it the best I can.’ She exemplified what we all need to be as individuals, good to others.”
Being good to others is something Ali not only advocated, but also lived.
Her sister, Lauren Victor Armstrong, like their siblings Emily, Michele and Anthony, has been overwhelmed by the number of people reaching out to her with stories of how Ali touched their lives. For example, how Ali made sure a student who never came to school with a lunch always had something to eat, but without embarrassing him in front of his classmates. And how while on vacation with Lauren, Ali learned their waitress one night was hoping to share a certain experience with her mom, so Ali left an extra generous tip. A year later, Ali got a letter of gratitude and picture of the waitress with her mom, both smiling from ear to ear.
“I had no idea how she did that because we were together the whole time, and you never knew because she was the kind of person who never talked about those things,” Lauren said. “She was just that giving. She’d give you the last dollar out of her pocket, without question. It was just little memories like that that showed it was not just with us, her family. It was with everyone. She had the ability and the energy to make them feel like they were the only person in the room with her.
“She was constantly our guiding North Star through every aspect of life, whether it was — motherhood, how to be the best friends you could be, the best person you could be — but she never lectured you. She just led us by example and asking questions that would help you come to your own conclusions. It always felt like complete acceptance and love without having judgment attached to it.
“That’s the gift that keeps giving, that light from within her that guided us all … It’s only been since Saturday, but you keep feeling her presence even though she’s not here.”
Lauren believes that toward the end, Ali had a goal in mind and despite the pain, held on until she could see her eldest son, Max, graduate from grade school. He did that on Friday. She passed on Saturday.
Her family was her pride and joy, especially her two sons, Max and Luke. When she talked about them, she would “light up,” said Lauren.
“One thing she always told our boys was to be kind, just be kind,” Eric said. “I hope after all of this that there will be an impact, especially with all the things going on in the world right now, that people will make a concerted effort to be kind and love each other, because that was Ali. That was her favorite thing, be kind.”
For more local news, visit News Tribune at https://www.newstrib.com.