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Everyday Hero: Theresa Villec

Crystal Lake woman touches youngsters’ lives through music, foundation

Theresa Villec works with Emily Meinecke, 7, of Johnsburg during a lesson at Music Makers for Life Inc. in Crystal Lake. Villec created a nonprofit foundation to raise money for scholarships for kids whose families can't afford lessons.
Theresa Villec works with Emily Meinecke, 7, of Johnsburg during a lesson at Music Makers for Life Inc. in Crystal Lake. Villec created a nonprofit foundation to raise money for scholarships for kids whose families can't afford lessons.

Having dealt with her own strife growing up, Theresa Villec of Crystal Lake knows how powerful music can be for a child.

Villec recalled a particularly tough time when she was in middle school. She described how personal belongings and furniture were sold as a necessity to maintaining the roof over her family’s head.

“I had lost the radio and record player we had,” said Villec, who grew up in Forest Park. “Then there was this family that felt sorry and gave us a transistor radio, and I remember going into my room – I could almost cry thinking about this – and just holding it and listening to the music. That meant everything to me.”

The now-owner of Music Makers for Life Inc. in Crystal Lake has taught music for more than 25 years. After teaching private lessons in her home for a decade, in addition to teaching at schools, the multifaceted musician enterprised a business in a space of her own in 2006.

Villec and her staff of music teachers offer McHenry County youth lessons on a variety of instruments, as well as singing. And by piecing together students who play different instruments to form bands, Villec said the lessons have gone beyond nurturing musical talent.

“Some of these kids start when they’re really young and now they can play multiple instruments,” she said. “We’ve got about six bands that now perform all over the county, and the confidence these kids have after doing this – it’s like nothing for them to get up and perform in front of people now.”

For 15-year-old Rachel Hartley of Crystal Lake, music and Villec’s teachings have become a huge part of her life.

Having started with Villec when she was only 5, Hartley, a freshman at Crystal Lake South High School, already has made the wind ensemble and the a capella choir.

Looking back on the years of lessons from Villec, she said she especially appreciated her teacher’s patience, and how she never gave up or got angry if Hartley made mistakes or forgot to practice.

“When I was younger, I didn’t expect music to be a huge part of my life,” Hartley said. “Now, it’s hard to picture my life without it. ... [Villec] has basically taught me a life skill that I’m hopefully going to be using my whole life.”

That’s exactly the message Villec was hoping to convey with the name of her business, she said. While she enjoyed teaching music in a classroom setting, Villec’s real moments of triumph were when individual students realized they could read music.

“When they can read ‘Ode to Joy’ and play it themselves, to me, that’s the reason for the name, Music Makers for Life,” she said. “Once you can read music, you can play for the rest of your life.”

During the recession, Villec said she witnessed several students having to give up lessons. As a way to prevent that, Villec said she resorted to lowering prices and even giving free lessons. The result of this struggle came a few years ago – the establishment of a nonprofit of which the sole purpose is to help kids who might not be able to afford music lessons, she said.

Villec added no child passionate about music should have to give it up, because for so many, such as Hartley, being able to make music is so much more than just a hobby.

“To me – and this is going to sound so cliché – music is the only thing I can really count on,” said Hartley, who has been practicing piano, trombone, guitar, bass, euphonium, and singing in the time Villec has been her teacher. “You can feel what you want to when you’re listening or playing, and music won’t talk back or judge you.”

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