Mr. Rome: Alumni Speak Out

Ellen Sharp, Crown Writer

Mr. Rome’s teaching style is loved by his current students; the alumni who graduated from Marian also remember his style and have brought it with them throughout their careers and lives. The memory of the Star Trek costume he wears during homecoming week every year, his fantastic birthday celebrations, and the memorable concerts put on every year… his alumni are ready to share their stories of the impact of Mr. Rome.

Mr. Rome has impacted his students in the classroom and has left marks on each alumni’s life outside of Marian. Autumn Chodorowski, Class of ‘08, participated in choir, madrigal choir, and played violin in the pit orchestra all four years of her Marian career. First impressions of a teacher for a freshman can make or break their outlook of the course. For Chodorowski, Mr. Rome was a definite favorite.  “He was such an enthusiastic, encouraging, and amazing teacher. As a freshman coming to Marian, I didn’t know anyone, and his class was the one I felt the most at home and comfortable in, almost immediately. In fact, I met all of my best friends from high school in his beginning choir class that year.” She highly valued teachers, like Mr. Rome, who looked at students as individuals. “He treated the students as people, meaning he took our thoughts and opinions into account when planning what we were going to sing in during concerts or what we would sing at Mass. We could have real conversations. That’s very hard to find in a teacher!” Chodorowski has not forgotten the jokes and memories from the harmony of the music room, “I have so many memories; it’s hard to pick just one! I very distinctly remember the Star Trek costume he would wear. Maybe he still does wear it during homecoming week? He is also the reason I have ever seen any of the Star Trek movies!” And yes, Mr. Rome still wears that costume!  In addition to his costume, she also remembers other fun times in his class and at performances. “All of my time in pit orchestra was some of the most fun I had in high school. At shows, we used to put duct tape on our arms and write “pitbull” for boys and “pit vixen” for girls, and he did it right next to us. We also always had the best snacks during intermissions. He was such an important part of making sure the pit orchestra felt like a real community, and I think because of it, we had more fun than the people on stage.” Chodorowski has taken what Mr. Rome has taught her into her own career. She went to music conservatory for undergraduate and graduate school, and she is now a professional violinist and plays with the New World Symphony in Miami, Florida. “ Mr. Rome had such a great impact on my musical career, maybe not with my actual violin playing, but he was always so supportive in so many ways. As a kid who was overbooked and tried to do a lot of competitions and auditions with my violin, he would let me practice during class in his office or let me leave classes that were having nothing going on to come to his room to practice.” Mr. Rome never singles out a student, but to Chodorowski, he made her feel special. She continues, “He was so encouraging of my musical career path, and I always felt like he was my number one fan, right after my parents.” Mr. Rome wasn’t just a teacher in a classroom for Chodorowski, but he was a supporter outside of the Marian community. “When I was the only one at the school who got into IMEA (Illinois Music Education Association) All-State orchestra, he drove me there himself and made sure I had everything I needed. At the end of the year when they gave out the year’s music awards, he actually MADE, from wood, a shadow box with a patch from the IMEA All-State that he specially ordered. He gave it to me as an award; I still have it, and it’s one of the coolest things I own.” Chodorowski took the support and memories of Mr. Rome and made them into memories she will never forget. She adds, “The thought and time he put into each and every one of his students and their accomplishments made me realize the type of teacher I want to be when I teach violin or other types of music. He also taught me everything I know about singing, which I actually had to use 10 years later when asked to sing in a Steve Reich piece comprised of just percussion, piano and voices. It was amazing how so many things he taught me came back when I had to use the skill again.” Chodorowski has taken every moment, memory and teaching of Mr. Rome and used them as inspiration in the career that she has always known and loved.

Not only has Mr. Rome made impacts on students who have taken their musical careers outside of high school, but he has also impacted students who gave it their all during their high school careers. Megan (Harrison) Schmidt, Class of ‘09, was involved in both band and choir during her Marian years. “My first impression of Mr. Rome was that he was a kind and compassionate teacher who really loved working with his students.  On the first day, he mentioned how much he loved his job and said the phrase, ‘Do a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ He echoed this several times throughout my years with him.  I always thought he was truly the embodiment of that phrase, and I credit him as one of the people who inspired me to be a teacher.” Schmidt not only took Mr. Rome’s love of music from the class, but she also took got his teaching style. His classroom created wonderful memories for Schmidt. “I have so many good memories from my experiences with Mr. Rome that it is hard to choose just one. So I think I’ll say I’ll always remember how much joy he brought to my life in high school because, ultimately, that is the theme of every memory I have of him.” Impacts from a teacher are always special, but, for Schmidt, the impacts were more than she could have ever imagined. Mr. Rome had an immense impact on Schmidt’s musical career. She started as a freshman in the choir because she had been in after school choir in middle school, and she ended up getting to play some of the piano accompaniments for class and the concerts. “My real fascination was with the band though. I always sat with the pep band at games, wishing I could be part of it.  My sophomore year, Mr. Rome needed a bell player and put a set of bells in my lap before a football game one day.  He essentially told me, ‘If you’re going to sit with the band, you might as well play something.’ I said, ‘But I don’t know how to play the bells!’ and he jokingly replied, ‘It’s just like playing the piano, but with sticks!’  Mr. Rome allowed me to play with the pep band and the concert bands in every performance even though I couldn’t fit the class in my schedule until my senior year.” She continued on to play the bells in a college pep band and now plays mallet percussion in the Crystal Lake community band, despite having such a non-traditional background. Schmidt continues,  “Mr. Rome noticed my love for music and my desire to be involved in band, and he found a way for me to cultivate that.  Playing in the band created some of the happiest memories of high school for me, and I have been able to keep my love of music going thanks to his willingness to let me try something new and his constant faith in me.” Schmidt will never forget the memories and impact that Mr. Rome has had on her; she will take them with her throughout life.

Tanya (Carran) Rettig, Class of ‘08, took Mr. Rome’s enthusiasm for music and played music at Marquette University and now at her church in North Carolina. She has always thought very highly of Mr. Rome. “My initial impression of Mr. Rome, as I am sure is the impression of many, was amazement of how dedicated to and passionate about his career he was.  Many of us desire that our job be more than the hours for which we make money.  This is really true for Mr. Rome.  He is not faking it.  He loves what he does, the people he works with, and the students whose lives he will forever impact.  You cannot help but succeed in his class because you enjoy yourself, and you want to make Mr. Rome proud.” Rettig had the honor to create memories with Mr. Rome before she entered high school. “ I knew going into high school that Mr. Rome was a very special person. My mother was in his band class during his very first year of teaching at Harrison Elementary School in Wonder Lake.  Having inspired her as well, she always did something to make him feel special on his birthday.  The tradition of making Mr. Rome a yellow cake with chocolate frosting and singing “Happy Birthday” to him has been carried on for many years, even presently, as we still have family in his class this year.  Giving back to Mr. Rome, even if just with a homemade cake, was a small way we could show our appreciation to the man who has inspired us all.” Mr. Rome showed Rettig how the love of music doesn’t have to stop at the end of high school. Rather, it can continue. She took that advice.“ Mr. Rome has, of course, impacted my love for music.  I continued to sing recreationally with Mass choirs at Marquette University, and currently, I am singing with the church that I belong to in North Carolina.  Over time, I have become the youth choir cantor and now have the opportunity to share my love for music through teaching as well.  People often ask where I found my desire to share music with others, and it was truly the wonderful choir teachers who I had in grade school and high school.  Mr. Rome not only fostered my love for music, but he taught me how to be a well-rounded, creative person who gives back to others.” Musical love from Mr. Rome not only showed Rettig passion for music, but it also showed her to be herself and keep doing what she loves.

Rettig’s mother, Janet Carran, Class of ‘83, has had a family full a students who each had Mr. Rome as a teacher. Her two brothers, two daughters and her four nephews all had the honor to experience the wisdom of  Mr. Rome. Carran had the chance to be in Mr. Rome’s first class he ever taught, not at Marian, but at Harrison School. “Mr. Rome was the young, cool guy with a beard!  He was very particular about the band room at Harrison School.  He was always cleaning up and organizing the room.  I also remember that he was writing the score from the movie Rocky.  Every chance he had, he played Gonna Fly Now on his trumpet.” Mr. Rome hasn’t changed; he still is the cool guy with the beard at Marian! Students see him as not only a teacher figure but as a friend who is trustworthy. Carran has memories that she will never forget. “Mr. Rome’s birthday is April 5.  During his first year at Harrison, I made a birthday banner and yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  Mr. Rome’s mom, who we knew he adored, kept that banner.  Once he moved to Marian, I understand that his mom found the banner, and Mr. Rome hung it in the Marian band room.  Both of my daughters attended Marian and sang in the choir.  They continued the tradition of baking cupcakes every year for Mr. Rome on his birthday.” Carran continued, “Mr. Rome encouraged me to branch out and try many different instruments.  I moved from clarinet to bass clarinet, to contrabass clarinet.  I eventually began playing the baritone saxophone.  Also, I credit Mr. Rome for my enjoyment of marching band even though I know that Mr. Rome doesn’t enjoy it himself.  During the summer, the Harrison school band participated in the 4th of July parade.  That influenced my decision to march in the band at Marian once I started there.  At one point, I considered becoming a music teacher.  Eventually, I choose regular education.” Carran has not only taken memories with her, but she will never forget the impact that he has made on her own teaching career.

There are even more memories and impacts Mr. Rome has had than just these four alumni. Mr. Rome has not only impacted his students, but he impacts every person that has the chance to meet him. Through his teaching and his spiritual life, he encourages students to take charge and do something worth doing. Like he said, “Do a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” and Mr. Rome has never worked a day in his life.


Last wishes from these Marian Alumni:

  1. “I think retirement is going to be a transition for Mr. Rome.  He has dedicated so much of his life to sharing his music with others.  I hope that he continues to share his music in another way as he enters into retirement because I think that would be good for him and certainly for those for whom he shares his passion.  I am happy that he will be able to dedicate his time to his other passions for woodworking, his truck, and animals.  Mr. Rome, thank you for all you have given to music community.  I can guarantee your legend will live on far into your retirement.” -Tanya (Carran) Rettig
  2. “Thank you for sharing your love of music with others so that they may love it just as much.  Thank you for always putting 100% faith in each and every one of your students, knowing just how to help them grow.  You have impacted the lives of every person who has had the opportunity to know you, and their lives will be forever better because of it.” -Megan (Harrison) Schmidt
  3. “Thank you SO much for making my high school experience a good one. Your class was a place I could truly be myself, and it was seriously so much fun! Future generations are missing out to not have you as a teacher. Thank you!!” -Autumn Chodorowski
  4. “As a fellow teacher, the first suggestion I would make is…sleep!   No grading, no meetings, no planning!  Also, I would say that Mr. Rome is a born-teacher, so that means that whatever he chooses to do in retirement, there will be a teaching component.  Don’t deny yourself the joy of teaching, even during retirement.  Finally, I would like to say thank you.  Some teachers are impact players.  Mr. Rome was a powerful mentor 43 years ago when I was in his first class.  Many years later, he was the sanctuary for my girls during the hectic and demanding years of high school.  Now he retires during one of my niece’s tenure at Marian.  So, from the Sullivan – Carran families, thank you.  Words cannot express our gratitude, but I know that Mr. Rome feels our family’s love and appreciation!” -Janet Carran