March 02--STERLING -- The Arduinis were a close family, literally.
When Jim Arduini was growing up as the oldest of nine children, his family lived next door to his Uncle Tony, Aunt Arlene and their seven kids.
"Our mothers were sisters and our fathers were brothers, so there was technically 16 of us from the same gene pool," Arduini said. "We lived on the same block most of our lives. You never had a lack for kids to play with."
As the oldest, though, Arduini was like a second son to his uncle, and both of his father figures were very involved in local politics.
Jim Arduini Sr. was mayor of Rock Falls, and Tony Arduini still is chairman of the Whiteside County Board at age 90.
"My first soiree into politics was when I was 12 years old," Arduini Jr. said. "My father was running for alderman in Rock Falls, and he had us kids with pamphlets going out door to door and on street corners. We got an early indoctrination into local politics."
When Arduini got out of the Navy in 1970, he got involved, first as a precinct committeeman and then on the Sterling City Council from 1983 through 1989. In the 1990s, he was on CGH Medical Center's finance committee.
He also now serves on the Whiteside County Board, although he's not seeking re-election because of his run for the Legislature.
"I had probably the greatest experience being allowed to do these things because I've worked with and under some of the best community leaders that a community could have," Arduini said.
"It provided me the opportunity to learn from them how things get accomplished, how good things get accomplished."
Now, he's ready to move to the next level: the state Legislature.
He's running in the March 20Democratic Party primary against Mike Smiddy of Hillsdale. The winner will challenge freshman incumbent state Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, for the seat representing the 71st House District.
The redrawn district includes the Sterling-Rock Falls area after the election.
Arduini grew up in Rock Falls and graduated from Newman Central Catholic High School. His wife, Sandra, graduated from Sterling High School.
"We met at a Newman-Sterling football game," he said. "She just came bounding down the stairs, and I saw her and asked a friend who she was. That was it. We went for a car ride that night, and the rest is history 45 years later."
They stayed together when Arduini was stationed in Norfolk, Va. He'd go on frequent cruises to the Caribbean, and it was on one trip to the Mediterranean that he found out his son, Jimmy, was born.
Sandra and James would come to visit when he wasn't on cruises, and they'd rent a little house in Norfolk or Portsmouth for the summer.
After retiring from the Navy, Arduini went back to school, getting an associate degree from Sauk Valley Community College, then attending Northern Illinois University for a few semesters.
He didn't finish the political science degree he was pursuing because of family matters.
His younger son Dustin, 2 at the time, had a shard of plate fly into his eye. That made Arduini decide it was time to be with his family full time.
"It was very hectic," he said. "We were very poor. We lived in a little house over in Rock Falls. The rent was $6,250. It had an oil heater that sat in the living room, and that was the heat for the entire house."
Arduini went to work in the insurance business, and when he got burned out about 20 years later, he decided to give school another go, pursuing bachelor's degrees in accounting and business administration.
Like his wife -- Sandra was the assistant to the superintendent -- Arduini found his calling in education, first at the Whiteside Area Career Center, where he coordinated partnerships between the school and area businesses, and then at the Morrison Institute of Technology, where he'd go around to schools talking to students about what the school had to offer.
The MIT job took Arduini to the Chicago area, where he'd make his pitch to students at inner -city and suburban schools.
"It was a very different situation but very rewarding," he said. "I got to provide some opportunities to some young people that gave them an opportunity to go on and do some really nice things for themselves."
Sandra's work also took her out to the Chicago area, so they ended up getting an apartment in Orland Park.
It was when they both retired and were back in Sterling full-time that Arduini decided to run for the Whiteside County Board, which he has been on for a year.
(c)2012 the Daily Gazette (Sterling, Ill.)
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