Robert Arnold, 84, passed away on Friday, October 1, surrounded by family. Like the final note of his favorite jazz song, Poinciana by Ahmad Jamal, Bob’s gentle, quiet end brought his robust and complex life to a close.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Leo, a Kresge store manager, and Violet Arnold, Bob moved almost 20 times before graduating from Marshalltown High School in Iowa. At the age of 15, he contracted polio, which would be one of the forces to shape his life from that point forward. He went on to graduate from the University of Illinois with a degree in accounting. While in college, he pursued his love of sports and physical fitness, playing wheelchair football and lettering in wheelchair basketball. As a young man, he worked in Chicago in large insurance firms and eventually pursued a career in educational finance.
While working one day at Main East High School, a student teacher caught his eye, and he asked out an equally smitten Patricia Pollock. Their first date at a popular and exotic Greek restaurant in Chicago would set the tone for their 50-year marriage, which was filled with adventure, travel, and the enjoyment of a good meal in the company of favorite people.
Bob and Pat began their life together in the Chicago area, and while he pursued his masters and EdD at Northern Illinois University, they had three children, Sarah, Anne, and David. After working as a controller in the U46 school district and the business manager of the Lake Zurich school district, Bob and Pat moved their family to Normal, Illinois, in 1985 to enjoy the educational opportunities and quality of life in a college town. Bob taught graduate students as an associate professor of school business finance in the department of Educational Administration and Foundations, and, as was no surprise to anyone who knew their close relationship, Pat worked across the street as a Spanish teacher at Metcalf Elementary School. Bob was grateful to the twin cities community for the life it afforded his family, and he showed his appreciation by serving on the McLean County Board, and the boards at the ISU credit union and LIFE CIL.
Throughout his life, Bob loved learning and traveling, taking Pat or the entire family across the country to visit such iconic places and experiences as Times Square on New Years Eve, Key West, New Orleans, and Yellowstone National Park. He pursued an exhaustive list of interests from sailing and skiing, to fishing and skeet shooting, to painting and drawing. He was particularly passionate about all areas of the arts, from live music to theater productions, and he instilled that love in his children, going to painting exhibitions with Anne and writing workshops with Sarah. Bob was also passionate about the art of baseball, a pastime he shared with David at countless t-ball, Peoria Chiefs, and St. Louis Cardinals games.
Dad was always teaching us something—how to change a tire, use tools to fix or build something, throw a baseball, fry an egg, tell a joke, and make “The World’s Best Chili—Until Proven Otherwise.” As his granddaughters, Norah, Harper, and Mia, came along, he moved on to teaching and loving them, his large, strong hands helping them hold a paintbrush, offering them a bite of cake frosting, or simply cradling them in a hug.
Bob is survived by those granddaughters, beloved wife Pat, children Sarah (Jason), Anne (Juan and step-grandson Aidan), David (Sofia), and sister Nancy Irvan. In lieu of flowers, please consider sitting around a good meal and enjoying long, thoughtful conversation with the people you love.
For all of us, Bob led by example, teaching us each day how to persevere, how to be strong, how to care for those you love, how to keep learning and inquiring, and how to love all that life offers. It’s impossible to sum up a life as rich as his in a few lines of text. Like the rhythms of Poinciana, there were low notes and high ones, but the music was so, so sweet.