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Longtime Arcada organist dies at 78

Onesti: 'We called him our resident rock star'

ST. CHARLES – As the longtime organist at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, Jim Shaffer sometimes received as much acclaim as the acts gracing the stage.

Shaffer died Tuesday at his home in Aurora. He was 78.

“We called him our resident rock star,” said Ron Onesti, president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre. “The crowds went crazy for him. They treated him like the rock star that he was.”

Shaffer was the perfect fit for the Arcada Theatre, Onesti said.

“He personified the heart and soul of what I was to trying to recreate with the Arcada Theatre,” he said. “I always vowed to him that no matter if it was a heavy metal band or a comedy show, I would always start the show with him and the pipe organ to expose not only the wonders of the great instrument itself, but also in tribute to the work that he did over all those years to maintain the instrument. I wanted to give him the respect and attention that he deserved.”

The Arcada Theatre first opened in 1926, attracting such performers as George Burns and Gracie Allen. Onesti Entertainment Corp. took over the management of the theater in 2005.

Shaffer spent several decades maintaining and repairing the theater’s organ. In an interview earlier this year in the Kane County Chronicle’s sister publication, St. Charles Republican, Shaffer described it as a “labor of love.”

Shaffer, a retired railroad employee, said a love of pipe organ music led him to join the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts nearly four decades ago. Until a few years ago, Shaffer didn’t know how to play the instrument.

“I finally thought I would love to play that big organ up there,” Shaffer said in the interview. “I kept working on it until I could do it.”

Onesti will deliver the eulogy at a funeral service for Shaffer at 3 p.m. Sunday at Healy Chapel, 332 W. Downer Place, Aurora. The visitation will precede the service from noon to 3 p.m. at The Healy Chapel.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be directed to the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts.

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