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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet native's musical legacy lives on

Fred "Fred Wayne" Marentic was born in Joliet and attended St. Joseph Catholic Grade School and Joliet Catholic High School.
Fred "Fred Wayne" Marentic was born in Joliet and attended St. Joseph Catholic Grade School and Joliet Catholic High School.

When Alfreda Marentic met her future husband through mutual friends, she only knew one of his many accomplishments.

Alfreda, who lived in Chicago at the time, knew Fred “Fred Wayne” Marentic taught school in Chicago.

“I didn’t know he was a musical arranger. I didn’t know he was nominated for a Grammy,” Alfreda said. “I didn’t know he was Teacher of the Year. I didn’t know he’d taken his students to Florida for band conventions. I didn’t know any of these things about him. I only knew he was kind and sweet and nice. And I knew he was a family man, which was important to me.”

Fred was born in Joliet and attended St. Joseph Catholic Grade School and Joliet Catholic High School.

In his lifetime, Fred wrote more than 7,000 musical arrangements. He played, taught and arranged music for Count Basie, Derek David of the Platters, Woody Herman, Helen Reddy, Marlena Shaw and saxophonist Sonny Stitt. He also wrote for Frank Sinatra Jr. and Dizzy Gillespie, according to his obituary.

But of all his accomplishments, Fred was most proud of the influence his musical skills had on youth – those he taught, as well as his own children. In a 2016 Herald-News story, Fred said his six oldest children all were professional musicians. Fred had 10 children, according to his obituary.

Fred was named Chicago Teacher of the Year in 1970, and appeared on “The Ray Rayner Show” with his school band in 1972, according to his obituary.

But on Fred and Alfreda’s first date in 1996, Alfreda, who had a 7-year-old daughter at the time, let Fred know she needed to find a baby sitter. His response astonished her.

“He told me, ‘If she’s not welcome where we’re going, then we don’t need to be going,’ ” Alfreda said. “ ‘So don’t get a baby sitter.’ ”

After they married, the couple moved to Florida because neither one “liked the Windy City,” she said. But after Fred died June 28, 2017, at age 78, Alfreda flew his body back to the Joliet where family, friends and former students paid tribute to him one last time.

“People flew in from all over the country,” Alfreda said.

One former student, Phil Blackman of New Jersey, said he only had Fred as a teacher for one year, but Fred’s influence has endured.

“He inspired me in so many ways,” Blackman said. “He even arranged music for me so I could go out and perform as a junior in high school at restaurants and things like that.”

At the time, the Tijuana Brass was very popular, so Blackman had business cards printed up that read “Phil Blackman and the Tijuana Brass.” In high school, Blackman played trumpet in the school band and jazz band. Fred also arranged music for the jazz band, Blackman said.

Fred’s prolificacy astonished Blackman.

“Every single day, he was doing another arrangement,” Blackman said.

Blackman said Fred also influenced Blackman’s best friend, Steve Kauffman, a “fantastic percussionist” who died of cancer in his early 20s. Both Blackman and Kauffman studied music at DePaul University in Chicago (Fred’s alma mater, Blackman said) on Fred’s advice.

Both students were thankful for Fred’s continued mentoring whenever Fred came to Chicago, Blackman said.

“He exposed us to the different musical outlets and their styles of music, things like that,” Blackman said. “Although we were miles away from home, he was like a dad away from home.”

In an email, Blackman said he became a high school band director and was president of the South Jersey Band and Orchestra Directors Association. He also sat on the board of the New Jersey Music Educators Association.

“While teaching, I received a master’s degree in music education,” Blackman said in the email.

Today, Blackman conducts a brass ensemble and community band. He teaches brass at Pennsville High School Academy in New Jersey.

But even in death, Fred’s love for teaching young people music will live on. Alfreda recently donated Fred’s music to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She also has established The Fred Wayne Music Scholarship for the college.

The college, Alfreda said, will decide the recipient. Each year, Alfreda will meet the “deserving student” at the college’s annual scholarship dinner.

“We could not protect Fred’s music on our own,” Alfreda said. “We needed help, and the university helped us. I know Fred is smiling down on us from heaven knowing people are still going to learn from him.”

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

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