When she returned to Peoria in 2015, Mary Jo Papich picked up right where she left off—as one of the community’s foremost champions of the arts. A lifelong advocate for arts education, Papich taught in Iowa public schools before coming to Peoria, teaching and directing band at Woodruff and serving as district fine arts coordinator from 1992 to 2001. She founded the Peoria Jazz All-Stars and the Preparatory School for the Arts at Peoria High, before leaving to chair the fine arts program at Highland Park High School, and then serve as fine arts director for District 219 in Skokie, Illinois.
In 2008, Papich co-founded the Jazz Education Network, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance jazz education and performance around the world, and remains an active board member. She is the artistic director for jazz fests in New Orleans and Puerto Vallarta; board member for numerous arts organizations, including ArtsPartners of Central Illinois; and recipient of the Lifetime Jazz Achievement Award from DownBeat magazine. A world traveler and lover of people, Papich embodies the spirit of one of her favorite quotes, from Maya Angelou: “People may not remember what you said or what you did, but they will always remember the way you made them FEEL.”
- Words to live by: Create possibilities. Make things happen!
- Favorite vacation spot: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I produce a student jazz festival on even years—the result of visiting there (not hearing much jazz) and being active in the Highland Park/Puerto Vallarta Sister Cities program. Love the city, the people… the beach!
- Favorite splurge: Artsy jewelry shopping!
- Favorite leisure activity: Traveling and attending concerts, theatre and art shows.
- Person who’s had the greatest impact on my life: My dear Momma, who was both mom and dad to me since my father died when I was 11 months old. A fair, just, liberated woman—before the term was coined.
- Three words that best describe me: My family says: “dreamer, motivator and doer.”
- Proudest achievement: Founding the Jazz Education Network (JEN), which brings together professional and student musicians, music educators and the industry, active in 23 countries and all 50 states. I am humbled that JEN gives a Women in Jazz Scholarship in my name. (Check it all out at JazzEdNet.org.) I am also proud of all the band students I taught—especially the ones in Peoria Public Schools, 1980 to 2001 (Woodruff, Roosevelt, Jazz All-Stars). Many are still performing and teaching; I stay in touch with many of them via Facebook.
- Secret ambition: To direct a pit orchestra for a musical on Broadway (thanks to my days at Peoria Players Theatre)!
- Favorite journey: Whatever one I am on!
- My life is… blessed. a&s