Iovino a local legend on the accordion

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Photo by Jeff Cohen Photography

Playing the accordion for hospital patients. Working as a crossing guard. Dog sitting for 30 clients.

At age 71, Linda Iovino likes to keep busy, never forgetting a quote she read at the bookstore when she was in high school: “It takes 12 muscles to smile and 72 muscles to frown.” While the numbers may or may not be accurate, the underlying message exemplifies how Iovino continues to live her life.

“With what is going on in our world today, people are having a hard time getting through the day,” she says. “We all need to do things that make us happy. You must advocate for yourself. Encourage yourself and love yourself, because no one does that for you.”

Iovino’s grandparents came to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s. When her grandfather, Domenico Iovane, passed through Ellis Island, his last name was misspelled on documents. “He said his last name was Iovane, but they wrote down Iovino. Of all our cousins, we are the only ones with the spelling of Iovino.”

The second of five children, Iovino grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, where she attended Immaculate Conception School and Highland Park High School. She started playing the accordion at age 5, after her father won six free music lessons at a local music studio.

“My first choice for music was the piano,” she says. “While I was taking accordion lessons, I started to take piano lessons also from one of the nuns at Immaculate Conception. Her advice to me was to stick to the accordion, because my fingers were too short to do the stretches. Best advice this nun ever gave me.”

As a 15-year-old, Iovino started playing at restaurants in Highwood, always with a chaperone, and staying as late as 2 a.m. “I was pretty well-known,” she recalled in a video shot by her nephew on the occasion of her 70th birthday. “It was a lot of fun.”

Over the years, Iovino has played the accordion at weddings, church functions, family gatherings and senior picnics, as well as places such as Froggy’s French Café and Poeta’s Food Mart, both in Highwood. She used to play at Misericordia Family Fest in Chicago with the Giovanni Italian Club of Highwood.

She’s also been involved with the Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation and Sacred Heart Guild of Christ our Hope and is a member of the Women’s American Legion Auxiliary Post #145 of Highland Park.

Nowadays, Iovino loves playing the accordion virtually for patients of Northwestern Woodstock Hospital through the Sharing Notes nonprofit organization. “The nurses take their laptop to the patients and I ask them if they have any favorite song they would like to hear. Usually, two patients are scheduled for half-hour sessions,” she explains. “It is a great set up, all from the comfort of my home.”

She doesn’t play many gigs anymore, but a memorable moment came in September, when she played at her niece’s wedding in Oregon, with the couple requesting the theme song of “The Godfather.” “The guests went wild!” she says. “It was the highlight of my year.”

Iovino also relishes her jobs as a crossing guard and dog walker.

She’s been a crossing guard for about 15 years, helping elementary and middle school children cross the street they arrive at and depart from school. “I enjoy talking to the students, parents and neighborhood walkers during my shifts,” she explains.

As a dog walker, she enjoys her daily strolls with her clients’ dogs, as well as taking the smaller dogs to her home, or staying with others at her clients’ homes. She especially loves the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed.

Iovino has always lived in Illinois with the exception of four years in Boulder, Colorado, where she moved in the late 1970s. When she played the accordion at weddings there, the music from “The Sound of Music” was the most requested, she recalls. She returned to Illinois when she realized she missed her family, she says.

“Family means everything to me,” says Iovino, who lives with one of her sisters in their parents’ home. She has three nieces, one nephew, four great nieces and nephews, and one more great niece arriving in July. “I would not be where I am today without the family I have.”

Last December, Iovino marked her three-year cancer-free anniversary. “I was very lucky to get diagnosed early,” she says. “I went through six weeks of radiation and two weeks of chemotherapy. I had a great team of doctors at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, and I am still going every six months for follow-up visits.”

As for her philosophy of life, she points to a quote by author Jose N. Harris: “Falling down is part of life. Getting back up is living.”

To live properly, it’s essential to spend time with others, Iovino says. “The more you’re with people, the better you are,” she says in her 70th birthday video. “I think you live longer when you share your ups and downs with people, and try to be as happy as you can.”

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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