By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Moments in Time: Don Sorn
Don Sorn (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Moments in Time

Moments in Time is a weekly series featuring recollections of area residents. To suggest someone to feature in Moments in Time, please contact Mary Jane Grenzow, editor, at

MONROE - When the school offers up a day for students to come dressed as someone they admire, not many children would choose their principal. But one of Don Sorn's elementary school students did - and no one was probably surprised. He was a hands-on, fun administrator who developed strong relationships with his students and stayed active in the community.

Sorn was born in Alabama while his father served in the military, but it wasn't long before the family moved back to its hometown of Freeport. They lived just a couple of blocks away from an orphanage where Sorn's mother worked.

Sorn and his twin brother, Ron, would spend time at the orphanage, where both children and elderly people were cared for. Sorn says that experience made him realize that respect is something you earn, not demand. He says the time spent there helped him later in life.

"I would see kids in a different light," he recalled.

His family spent a lot of time in Monroe. He and his brother participated in gymnastics at Turner Hall and his parents loved polka dancing. They would often frequent Monroe on weekends and, even then, Sorn says he loved the area.

"I thought even at that time that I'd like to live here," he said.

The 1961 Freeport High School graduate says he was an OK student in high school who didn't have a real plan after graduation. He decided to take some general education courses at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, which was where he heard about the Green County Teachers College in Monroe.

He says the college was perfect for him because he was able to work with children immediately. Sorn loved and enjoyed that time, and once he completed his education there, he finished his degree back at UWP.

Sorn landed his first job as a teacher at St. Victor School, but shortly after he and his wife Marcia moved to Winona, Minnesota where he earned his Masters Degree in Administration. The couple then moved to Highland Park, Illinois, where he landed a job as an assistant principal before heading back to St. Vic's to work as the principal there.

"The plan was to always come back to Monroe," he said.

In 1973, Sorn became the Northside Elementary School Principal, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2000.

Sorn loves keeping active and was no behind-the-desk principal. He could be found interacting with students, tossing a football at recess and offering up some astounding incentives for the children. While several schools have reading or "caught-being-good" motivators with a pizza party or a movie, Sorn offered up himself. Over the years, Sorn was made into a human sundae and let students handpaint his vehicle. He has books of photos that chronicle the events - and Sorn is at the forefront with a wide-mouthed grin while students break eggs over his head or shot with milk directly from a cow's udder.

"I was up for anything," he said. "I always have been."

Sorn would spend weekends learning magic tricks from former students so he could put on performances for students and other children in the area.

"If you can get children to want to come to school, you've won the battle," he said. "I always tried to be there for the students."

Sorn recalls some amazing learning experiences inside the classroom, including real-life mini trade courses and grandparents day welcoming in elderly from the nursing homes.

Sorn says it was a different time for schools, when teachers did home visits instead of meet-the-teacher nights, and school years began with a strong relationship with children early on.

He says he saw the results from those things directly at parent/teacher conference time.

"You can only be a principal and do as well as the people around you," Sorn said, noting that he was blessed with wonderful teaching staff and a lot of community support.

Sorn also helped coach at the Park and Recreation Department. He coached football and basketball after school and would referee through the Kiwanis as well.

"A lot of what I did in the community was to help out and support," he said.

Sorn served as the first president of the Child Abuse and Neglect Network of Green County, and served as the president of both the Optimist Club and the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Green County. He was also very involved in Cheese Days. He was the emcee for the milking contest, and worked the cheese curd stand as an Optimist member as well as helped with the parade.

Sorn assisted in helping of the construction of the Swiss ALPS Playground, kept time for track, cross-country and swim meets, and served as a waiter at a restaurant to help raise funds to build the hockey rink in town. He was also a big part of the Christmas Stocking deliveries. During his final years before retirement, he worked with the head of the charter school to develop several programs.

Running for 50 years

It was Sorn's students from the teacher's college who asked him to go along for a run one day back in the early 1960s. In high school, Sorn hadn't participated in either track or cross country, and once even rolled his eyes at running a mile in gym class. But once he started running - he couldn't stop.

He has participated in several local races, but says he never ran with great speed. It was long distance where he found his calling, and for a time, you could see Sorn running to Illinois every day.

His parents were still living in Freeport and Sorn would run the 21 miles to town from Monroe and his father would then give him a ride home.

Today, he still runs 5 miles per day, six days per week and says running is something that's in his blood.

"It makes me feel better," he said. Over the years he participated in a 50-mile race in Chicago and then a 70-mile race in Washington, and has taken on too many marathons to count.

Marcia ran with him for a short time, but mostly Sorn is happy running alone.

Along with running, today Sorn spends his days enjoying time with his three children and six grandchildren. He's involved with the National Historical Cheese making Center and provides video of cheesemakers for the group. He enjoys golf and he and he and his wife have traveled extensively, but lately they enjoy short trips.

Sorn is still getting messy and having fun with kids - now with his grandchildren in his basement where he takes on painting and crafting with them whenever he can.

"Put some fun into everything you do," Sorn advises.