University Colleagues Sing the Praises of ‘Mr. Music’
By Andrew Smith
Roger Parolini’s love of music began as it did for many of us: during that first musical production in elementary school.
“In first grade, I was in a school musical where eight of us kids had our faces peeking through holes in a screen – from close to the ground to higher up off the ground – to illustrate the ‘steps’ of the ‘do-re-mi’ musical scale,” the Aurora resident said.
“I was the ‘low do’ because I was so small.”
That small child was embarking on a hobby that would become a lifelong passion, one that would connect the different components of his life.
Music would lead him to earn multiple college degrees, to find his future wife, to touch thousands of lives as a music professor, and to build a 59-year relationship with Aurora University and the Aurora community.
But for Parolini, these accomplishments all began with a gift for singing he inherited from his dad.
“My father grew up in northern Italy, so after a couple of glasses of wine, he’d yodel for us.”
Raised on a farm in Westfield, Mass., during the Great Depression, Parolini continued to sing in school productions, picked up the piano along the way and joined the glee club in high school.
As members of the local Adventist Christian Church, his family hosted a gospel quartet for dinner one Sunday when the singers were on tour from a college founded by the church in Aurora. At the time, the school was called Aurora College.
“I thought it would be fun to travel and sing for the school, too,” Parolini said. “I decided Aurora College was where I wanted to go.”
Parolini’s dream was put on hold for 30 months when, at the age of 18, he joined the Navy Air Corps and become a pilot in 1943.
After the atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945, Parolini left the service and finally made it to Aurora – with the help of the G.I. Bill – to start college.
Although he majored in English, Parolini made sure music was his minor.
After earning his degree and working in the insurance industry for a spell, Parolini came back to the college in 1954 to work for the school, helping to recruit prospective students from around the country as a field representative.
On one occasion, the college asked if he could step in and do some singing for an event.
“I wanted to know who the best accompanist around was, and someone told me there was a recent graduate of the college at a local church named Marilyn Bohy,” Parolini said.
Bohy would become Parolini’s accompanist for more than just one concert: the two were married within a year, and recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary.
While working as a recruiter, Parolini studied in his spare time to get both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.
After earning his degrees, Parolini then became a music instructor and choir director at the college, eventually being named a full associate professor of music.
As choir director, Parolini traveled around the country giving classical music programs with the college’s choirs.
In addition, Parolini directed a church choir, a couple of junior choirs and even a choir at the Caterpillar plant located in Aurora at the time.
“Roger was known as ‘Mr. Music’ not only at the college, but also in the Aurora community for most of his career,” said Joe Dunham, a philosophy professor and longtime colleague of Parolini’s who’s been at the school for 44 years.
“He and his wife would do music programs for civic and church groups all the time.”
After all the choir directing and music teaching, Parolini transitioned to doing alumni relations and fundraising work for the school – by then renamed Aurora University – in the late 1980s.
Although he retired in 1990, Parolini continues to work for the university nine months a year as director of special gifts.
“I didn’t play golf and I had all this time on my hands,” Parolini said. “I’m not one to sit around, and I wanted to stay busy.”
Parolini now travels the country, personally visiting alumni and friends of the university to help build the school’s endowment.
In the role, he was instrumental in obtaining a $3 million donation from a single donor that will go toward construction of a new library on campus in the next few years.
“He’s one of the most respected people at the university, and a delightful person to be around,” Dunham said. “He’s extremely gracious, and remembers things about you and your family.”
In 1999, to honor his 50-year connection to the school, Parolini received an inaugural award the university created in his name: The Roger K. Parolini Lifetime Achievement Award.
The recognition is given to individuals who have given exemplary service to Aurora University or other educational, social or religious institutions or causes.
In addition, the music building on campus was named for him and his wife in 2006.
“Because of his charm, warmth, sense of humor and devotion to the institution, Roger is the person alumni and the Aurora community think of when they think of Aurora University,” Dunham said. “He really is the goodwill ambassador of the school.”
Parolini plans to keep working for the university as long as he can make a contribution.
“I enjoy seeing alumni and hearing about their successes,” Parolini said. “It’s also satisfying to see people have confidence in the university’s future. I like being a part of that.”
Parolini, who still directs a church choir in his spare time, also likes to hear how music changed the lives of his former students, just as it changed his as a kid back in western Massachusetts.
“A student of mine from 35 years ago came up to me the other day,” Parolini said. “He said a piece of music I taught him in choir was still with him after all these years.”
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