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‘She just really cared about her students’

When high schools began introducing swing choirs almost 50 years ago, Arlyne Nuti was at the movement's cusp with hers, which she called Kolage.
When high schools began introducing swing choirs almost 50 years ago, Arlyne Nuti was at the movement's cusp with hers, which she called Kolage.

JOLIET – When high schools began introducing swing choirs almost 50 years ago, Arlyne Nuti was at the movement’s cusp with hers, which she called Kolage.

Arlyne’s friend and former colleague, Jim Talarico of Shorewood, said Arlyne, vocal teacher for Joliet Township High School District 204, directed swing choirs at all three high schools over the duration of her teaching career.

“Other kids began to see how well that group was received and wanted to be a part of it,” Jim said. “The next thing you knew, kids from the band started to say, ‘How can we get in on this action?’ The next thing you knew, she came armed with an orchestra to accompany them. It was not just the piano. It was drums and horns and guitars And that ramped up the quality of the performances she brought to Northern Illinois. They traveled everywhere.”

Brett Margaron of Florida, a student of Arlyne’s at the former Joliet East High School, said Arlyne took her craft seriously, as one might approach a religious vocation (Arlyne once contemplated becoming a nun) but still made music fun for the students, Brett said.

In fact, one of Arlyne’s favorite musicals at the time was “The Sound of Music,” which her students performed during Brett’s high school years, he said. Brett spoke of the impact Arlyne had on his life, but that wasn’t nearly as important, he said, as her overall impact on others.

“I think the thing that speaks most loudly about Arlyne’s life is the fact that, in death, there are probably thousands of people that are speaking about her influence on their lives,” Brett said. “When Jim posted about her, his Facebook page blew up. And these are students that are now in their 60s. And some are in their 70s and 80s.”

Arlyne grew up on a Wisconsin farm near a pond and dam constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, her sister-in-law Carolyn Nuti said, reading from a prepared statement Arlyne’s brother Wayne Nuti wrote. The pond developed to a depth of 11 feet and Arlyne’s father, Clarence Nuti, bought a boat.

“She loved to go out there and paddle around on that pond,” Carolyn said. “And in the wintertime, she hosted many skating parties.”

When Arlyne was a high school freshman, Clarence took her to vocal lessons about 30 miles from home, Carolyn said. Arlyne became very active in music: chorus, glee club and band.

She was a vocal soloist in a state competition and a trumpet soloist, too, Carolyn added.

Arlyne, whose mother, Lucy,  died from cancer when Arlyne was 17, also loved dancing and “she was very light on her feet.”

“She was a sophomore class president and in dramatics as well,” Carolyn added.

Arlyne majored in music at Alverno College in Wisconsin and earned her master’s degree, also in music, from Marquette University in Wisconsin. She taught music in three high schools for eight years and then at Marquette University for five before moving to Joliet in 1967 to teach at District 204.

But Arlyne always lent her talents to her loved ones by singing at funerals and weddings, including the weddings of relatives and their children, Carolyn said.

“She was very social and pleasant to be around,” Carolyn said. “She was very kind and generous with her time and her expertise. She always encouraged everybody when they came to her with a problem. Our youngest daughter, Lori, is very talented in music and I knew she inspired and encouraged Lori a lot.”

Jim said he first met Arlyne when he came from Laraway School in Joliet to teach English at the former Joliet East High school. A lover of musicals all his life, which bonded him and Arlyne in friendship, Jim said he had stopped to watch rehearsals of “My Fair Lady one day, when Arlyne suddenly turned to him and said, “Why don’t you stage that number?”

Jim was thrilled to help. He became Arlyne’s unofficial assistant, working with her until East closed. At that point, Jim was sent to Joliet West High School and Arlyne to Joliet Central High School. 

Yet if she ran into some trouble, Jim would pop in and help out, he said.

“She was only at Central for a few years before she was transferred to West,” Jim said. “And then we were back in business.”

Tina Jones Stout Colorado said the effects of Arlyne’s training persisted throughout Tina’s life. Tina said she helped pay for college by singing in a rock band, sang in other groups at various times in her life and sang professionally for commercials.

But what mostly impressed Tina was Arlyne’s ability to see past racial boundaries at a time of racial tension. Arlyne focused on each student and his or her musical development. Period.

“Her office door was always open,” Arlyne said. “She just really cared about her students.”

Arlyne was 86 when she died Jan. 23. A memorial service for Arlyne will be held March 3 at St. Clement Church in Lancaster, Wisconsin.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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