Making vision a reality

Nonagenarian devotes life to love and learning

Johnny Arenz of Marquette, at left, seems to be having a good time with friends. (Photos courtesy of Johnny and his caregiver, Nick)

MARQUETTE — Born on May 15, 1933, Marquette native John (Johnny) Arenz is just days away from celebrating his 91st birthday.

After graduating high school in 1951, Johnny worked the night shift at the Marquette Veneer plant while earning his teaching certificate from Northern Michigan University.

“I graduated in three and a half years,” said Arenz. “I used to work at the Marquette Veneer plant three nights a week, and I would work until 7 in the morning, go home, take a quick shower, and go to class at Northern.

“I went and saw the president at Northern, and he said I had 124 credits and could graduate the next day, so I took him up on it,” said Arenz. “I graduated, and four days later, I left for the army. It just happened they had a group going. So I had been drafted and given the deferment. I had my two years to do.

Due to a mandatory requirement, Arenz spent two years in Germany as a transcriptionist.

“I befriended someone named Capt.Williams, who asked me if I could type. I showed him how fast I could, and that’s how I got the transcription job,” said Arenz. The odd part was this was the battalion headquarters. There were about 18 of us. I had never belonged to a fraternity in college, but it was like a fraternity. We were all together.”

Following his time in the military, Arenz spent the next 40 years teaching. Arenz shared what drew him to the profession and what it was like in the early days of his career as an educator.

“Well, I grew up with a family of teachers,” said Arenz. I really enjoyed working with young people. Northern Michigan University was pretty much a teacher’s college, so I thought I’d get a degree in teaching.

“I started at Sandy Knoll Elementary School in 1957, and I always had an open-door policy. I was very active with parent groups, and I brought in NMU instructors and presenters like Steve Mariucci and Tom Izzo to visit with the children,” said Arenz.

Arenz met his wife, Aleta, whom he called “Leet, Leet.” Aleta was also an educator who traveled to many of the local schools in the area and taught sports education and gym. The two had one son.

“Aleta started teaching at Parkview Elementary School as a gym teacher and then went around to the kindergarten, first, and second-grade gym classes and taught gym at twelve different schools,” Arenz said. We have one son, whom I love dearly. He’s an attorney, married and lives in Seattle.”

Since the age of five, Arenz has loved playing the piano. He has fond memories of taking lessons as a kid. His love for music and the piano is a passion that Arenz still enjoys today.

“I took piano lessons from a Catholic nun who lived a long way from my house,” Arenz said. “I would walk there every Saturday morning. I had a little briefcase with a handle I would carry my sheet music in. I loved the program.”

For the past two years, Arenz has been a consumer of Superior Alliance for Independent Living, SAIL, a Center for independent living and disability advocacy agency serving all fifteen counties of the Upper Peninsula to help people with disabilities live more independently in all areas of their lives.

With help from his disability advocate Alie Kubichek, Arenz has been working on reading sheet music so he can continue to play the piano.

“When Alie walked in the house to see me, it was like a breath of fresh air. She’s meant a great deal to me and has been very helpful,” said Arenz. “She tried to see what she could do to help me see things better because my biggest problem is my lack of vision. I’m very close to almost reading, but I’m just a hair away, and I can’t quite make out the piano music just yet, but we’re very close to making it happen,” said Arenz.

With each passing year comes great wisdom. Arenz shares the sentiments that have meant the most to him throughout his life.

“My advice is to keep your wits about you, think before you speak, and always tell the truth, said Arenz.” My dad’s motto was always, give to the world the best that you have and I’ve tried to do that the best I can.”


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