A first date at the downtown Bloomington theatre led to a 68-year marriage filled with dream jobs, love, and family for the Homecoming: Redbirds in Flight alumni king and queen, Frank ’51, M.S. ’59, and Jean (Strauss) ’51 Chiodo.
The lovebirds’ chance encounter occurred on the train going south to campus, as Frank departed from his home in Joliet and Jean from St. Charles. Jean had many items to carry—a violin case, hat box, and extra luggage—which gave Frank the opportunity to offer his assistance. From that point on their love flourished while pursuing their passions at Illinois State Normal University. Jean played the snare drum for the ISU marching band and sang in the women’s choir. She was invited to sing with the men’s choir, traveling around Illinois performing at churches and other schools. Frank was a four-year letter winner in football, where he was a quarterback and led the Redbirds to their last undefeated season in 1950. He also played four years for Redbird basketball.
The two were supportive of each other throughout their time at ISNU. Frank went to Jean’s performances with the men’s choir, while Jean sat in the stands to cheer on Frank at Redbird sporting events.
In 1951, Frank graduated with a degree in physical education and Jean with a degree in music education. Less than a year later, they were married. They enjoyed married life for a short period of time before Frank was drafted to the U.S. Army. While he served, Jean taught music at high schools and grade schools in LeRoy and Arrowsmith.
When Frank returned two years later, the pair was able to pick up right where they left off. Frank started coaching football at Kankakee Bishop McNamara Catholic School, where he eventually became the athletic director, while Jean was a stay-at-home mom. It was during this time that she opened her own flower business, Jean’s Flower Basket.
As Jean managed her flower business, Frank landed a football coach position at University High School, where he eventually retired. Jean closed her flower shop after 40 years in 2012.
In 1990, Jean and Frank helped to establish the Chiodo-Hubbard Endowed Fund at University High School to assist student-athletes who are unable to meet some financial expectations. In addition, the two established a College for Youth Summer Program. Frank is also a 1978 Athletics Percy Family Hall of Fame inductee and 2011 College of Education inductee.
Since retiring, Frank finds joy in wood working in the basement where he has made quilt racks and church benches. Jean enjoys knitting and teaching her daughters and granddaughters how to make quilts.
Jean and Frank have lived a life full of love and family, with six children, 14 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren. To be selected as alumni king and queen is a great honor that they could not imagine doing without each other.
Learn more about the spring Homecoming: Redbirds in Flight events and programs, and see Frank and Jean in the virtual Homecoming parade on Saturday, April 10 at 10 a.m. on Illinois State’s Facebook page.