Dateline: January 4, 2007
Burial was December 28 at the James Pinkney Rodgers Bird Sanctuary south of Clarendon. Memorial services are pending.
In addition to being influential in Clarendon, Mrs. SoRelle was a professor emeritus of what is now West Texas A&M University and an Amarillo civic leader. She was listed in the World List of Phoneticians, the Distinguished Scholars of America, and the Outstanding Educators of America.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from West Texas State University and a Ph.D. in phonetics from the University of Denver. Her distinguished teaching career at WTSU lasted from 1962 to 1977. She was awarded recognition as Professor Emeritus for Education and twice selected to give a paper for the Phonetic Society of Japan in that country. In 1977, she received the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation Award.
During her university career, Zell was a member of the Texas Speech Association, the Speech Communication Association of America, the International Society of Phonetic Sciences, the Phonetic Society of Japan, the Linguistic Society of America, the American Dialect Society, the Southern Speech Association, Pi Kappa Delta, Alpha Psi Omega, and Chi Omega. She was selected to the Outstanding Educators of America and the Directory of International Biography. She received a Women’s Forum Award.
Born in Clarendon, Mrs. SoRelle was the daughter of Beulah Clara Simmons and James Pinkney Rodgers. She graduated from Clarendon High School and attended Clarendon College. In the early 1930s, Mrs. SoRelle began her teaching career at the Bairfield one-room schoolhouse on the JA Ranch at the age of 17. She was mentioned in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” when during one year she had only one student and there were only five taxpayers for the school. The schoolhouse was later moved to Texas Tech University’s Ranch Heritage Center. When the school was dedicated there, officials had Zell SoRelle – the school’s last teacher – to come ring the school bell.
In 1937, Zell married Seth Augustus “Jack” SoRelle. They lived in Borger for several years. In 1942, she obtained a pilot’s license, one of the first women in the Texas Panhandle to complete such training. During World War II, she was asked by Jacqueline Cochran to join the Women’s Army Corps but declined due to impending motherhood.
In the 1940s, the SoRelles moved to Amarillo, and Mrs. SoRelle was a member of the Amarillo Symphony Board for more than 20 years. Working with Becky Reeder Arnold and Katherine and Horace Wilson, research was done and plans were made to for the Amarillo Symphony Guild. Continuing civic efforts to support the symphony, Mrs. SoRelle and Mrs. T.J. Wagner, Jr., worked with others to institute the Symphony Ball.
As the musical drama “TEXAS” was conceived, Mrs. SoRelle helped fundraise and was an underwriter for the new endeavor. She served on the musical’s board for a number of years.
Returning to Clarendon with her husband in 1982, Mrs. SoRelle undertook a new project – the restoration of a 1904 Queen Anne Victorian home, known as the S.W. Lowe House.
With the advice of architects and a consultant, Mrs. SoRelle oversaw the meticulous work to refurbish the home and make it look as closely as possible to what it did when it was new, and she obtained historical markers from the State of Texas and the National Register of Historic Places.
Zell loved to share her beautiful home with the public by opening it for Victorian teas and tours and musical and poetry reading programs. She presented stories of her art collections accumulated during her world travels for all ages – from Clarendon College’s Elderhostel groups and civic clubs to high school home economic classes to elementary school students.
In a 2000 interview with the Enterprise, Mrs. SoRelle said she particularly enjoyed school children visiting her home. The kids would bring maps with them. As they toured the house, Zell would show them various mementos from her travels around the world, tells them where they came from, and had the students find the countries on the map.
She usually started with a piece of ivory from Iran which had very small horses painted on it, she recalled.
“I’ll say, ‘Can you see those little tiny, tiny lines there? What do you think that artist used to paint those?’ When I tell them a cat’s whisker, oh, I’ve got them in the palm of my hand,” she said.
Starting with her home, Mrs. SoRelle revitalized the whole idea of the historic mission in Clarendon. Attention grew and spread to the Donley County Courthouse, which has since been the subject of a glorious restoration.
Her dedication was for the whole area, and it involved everything that she had grown up with. She did so much for Clarendon to get people inspired just by being herself, recounting her love of Clarendon, and talking about her own interests. She was responsible for the recognition of two cemeteries – one at Goldston and the other at Jericho.
Since returning to Clarendon, Mrs. SoRelle was a member of the Donley County Historical Commission, Les Beaux Arts Club, and the First United Methodist Church and was a strong supporter of the activities of Clarendon College, the Saints’ Roost Museum, and the Clarendon Chamber of Commerce.
Zell’s last years were spent in close proximity with the outdoors. In 1993, assisted by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the Texas Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Services, and the Donley County Soil and Water Conservation District, she established the James Pinkney Rodgers Bird Sanctuary on 110 acres on the outskirts of Clarendon. This is the only bird sanctuary in the 26-county area of the Texas Panhandle, and it is listed on the Panhandle Plains Wild Life Trail.
She observed, listened, and marveled at the wonder of the natural environment; and she considered the sanctuary to be some of her most important work, noting that the monarch butterfly and several varieties of birds fly right through this area when migrating from Mexico to Ottawa.
“I didn’t think there was anything I could leave [the Panhandle] that would mean more than that shelterbelt,” she said in 2000. “And, of course, birdwatchers are the biggest bunch of travelers that there are. They come from Japan [to the United States].”
Mrs. SoRelle was preceded in death by her husband, Jack, in 2000. She is survived by a daughter, Sara SoRelle.
The family suggests memorials be made to the Amarillo Panhandle Humane Society, the Audubon Society, any no-kill animal shelter, the Amarillo Symphony, or the Texas Heritage Foundation.
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