We are constantly invited to be who we are. (Henry David Thoreau)
In high school, I had a friend named Julie with whom I engaged in a variety of fairly typical teenage shenanigans. She always had this beautiful blond hair, a great big smile, and she was armed with a handful of sarcasm at all times. I’m pretty sure it’s that last part that made the friendship work, ha?! I really enjoyed my time with her and I got to know her older sister, Renee and her little brother, Michael, a little too. We had plenty of sleepovers at the Tiller house, where Julie lived on Old Farm Road in Lafayette with her siblings as well as her parents, Arnette and Joe.
Julie’s mom, Arnette, was incredibly likeable from the moment I met her. What I didn’t know then that I understand much better now is why I was attracted to this family. It’s their unassuming authenticity! Now that I am pushing 50, I realize how attractive genuine people truly are. Arnette Tiller has remained friends over the decades with my mom. I had lunch with them both a while back and as I left, I remembered everything I loved about Arnette. She’s creative, articulate, talented…and OH SO REAL. She’s always been kind and generous.
As a high school athlete back in the 1980s, I was positively adequate. I spent quite a lot of time, as I recall, with perpetually sprained ankles. Sometimes, my ankles would blow up the size of pumpkins and Mrs. Tiller would take me over to Purdue to torture me with their training room ice baths for said ankles, ha?! At that time, her husband, Joe, was not the head coach at Purdue just yet. That happened a few years later. Nevertheless, she used her access to help a young girl try and get the obnoxious ankle struggle under control and I hope I was appropriately grateful.
Several years later when the Tillers returned to Lafayette, the first home game that year was against Notre Dame. The Boilermakers, under new head coach, Joe Tiller, had lost the season opener to Toledo. So, as I recall, the expectations for the ND game were not particularly high. However, Arnette was utterly optimistic and as always wore a big smile on her face and with her great contagious laughter she invited us to her house after the big win! WIN THEY DID! I think Notre Dame was ranked that year? I’ll be honest, I had a 6 week old baby boy at the time and I was just happy to be at the game and then thrilled with the unexpected win! When we joined the victory party, Arnette greeted us at the door and then showed us her cool ceramics art in progress before shoving us into the center of the party. Nothing ever seems to rattle this positive gal with the great sense of humor. She’s welcoming and kind to absolutely everyone.
In recent weeks, Arnette donated a lot of terrific old Purdue memorabilia and an RV to the Joe Tiller Chapter of the National Football Foundation. The funds for this endowment do a lot of good for others, including providing student scholarships. She’s an impressive woman who does a lot of good in her local community out in Buffalo, Wyoming as well. I remember her telling us at that lunch we met for in Lafayette that she was working on a project at the Buffalo Carousel Center. Of course she is! She never stops. I’ve got no idea what she’s currently up to, but I’m sure there’s something spectacular up her sleeves…for her family, friends, or community.
I know Arnette, Julie, Renee, Michael and the grandkids are certainly missing Joe. However, this is a fierce woman who is full of life, and she inspires me by how she continues to do good for others and make a positive difference in the world in so many ways. I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to give you a hug on your last trip to Indiana, Arnette, so today I wanted to just give you a shout out and tell you that I have always thought your authenticity and genuinely caring nature SHINES. You are a spectacular woman! I chose that quote above as I attempt to honor you today, because honestly I don’t know another person on the planet who lives her life being exactly who she is…and it is BEAUTIFUL!!