A life remembered: Nick Fiorillo 'was always talking taxes'

PAXTON — Nick Fiorillo loved to talk. Taxes, the focus of his profession, were often the subject.

Even as Mr. Fiorillo was recovering from hip-replacement surgery this month at the Illinois Knights Templar Home in Paxton, his conversations with his fellow residents and the facility’s nurses always seemed to lead to the inevitable topic.

“He was always talking taxes,” said Jeff Shaffer, who worked alongside Mr. Fiorillo for 18 1/2 years at Fiorillo, Shaffer & Associates Ltd. in Paxton.

Shaffer’s last conversation with Mr. Fiorillo was on Monday night, the eve of Mr. Fiorillo’s unexpected death. But as one might expect with Mr. Fiorillo, the 82-year-old Paxton tax preparer/accountant wasn’t particularly concerned about his health — only his clients.

“He was still doing tax returns, and he was still worried about the extensions and giving me instructions on people to call,” Shaffer said. “And he was talking to one of the workers at the nursing home about their tax situation, and they were seeking his advice and help.”

Mr. Fiorillo’s dedication to his job, and the community as a whole, was evident, Shaffer said. It showed in the hours he would spend helping each of his clients prepare their tax returns. It showed in the conversations he had with his colleagues, imparting on them his knowledge about changes in tax law and other matters. It showed in the seminars he led for his fellow tax professionals in Illinois, as well as in the weekly radio program, “Tax Tips,” that he did on Paxton’s WPXN Radio for some 30 years.

And it showed in his clients’ loyalty to his accounting firm, which Mr. Fiorillo started in the early 1970s and continued to own and operate until 2008, when he sold the business to Shaffer.

The relationships Mr. Fiorillo developed with his customers went beyond his job. He treated all of them as friends, with his meetings with them sometimes lasting into the night, they said.

“I’d have a 4 o’clock appointment, but it would last four hours because the first two hours we’d spend talking about everything other than taxes and accounting,” recalled Marvin Perzee, a rural Ashkum farmer who was a client of Mr. Fiorillo for 50 years. “We got to be great friends, and I’ve been doing business with him every year since.”

“He always had time for everybody — maybe sometimes a little bit too much time — but as a tax person he was a very, very friendly person,” said Chuck Crane, a 66-year-old rural Clifton farmer who was a customer of Mr. Fiorillo for 41 years. “We just always had a longtime relationship — it was kind of more than him just being my accountant; we were friends, too.”

‘People were drawn’ to him
The 64-year-old Shaffer, who began working as an accountant in Mr. Fiorillo’s firm in 1998, said Mr. Fiorillo had a way of making his clients feel important.

“People were drawn to Nick by his easy-going manner, his charm, his warmth,” Shaffer said. “But most important, he had a very encouraging nature — he made people feel good about themselves, and he was a good listener and he was just a good friend.”

“He always encouraged people to expand (their business) and take off if they had good ideas,” Crane added. “He could see when a person was doing good, and if they had growth in mind he would always expound on that — he would tell you, ‘Go for it!’ He was always a go-getter.”

After graduating from Mattoon High School and then studying accounting and business at Eastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois, Mr. Fiorillo served in the U.S. Army for two years as a medic stationed in Germany. He then became a registered agent with the Internal Revenue Service, a job he held from 1964 to 1969. After moving to Paxton in 1965, he began working for the Clifton-based father-and-son accounting firm, Granzow & Granzow, before he opened his own accounting firm, then known as Fiorillo & Associates, in the early 1970s in Paxton.

Shaffer said he doesn’t think Mr. Fiorillo ever would have retired, because he was so devoted to his clients, who would “just never let him.”

“Each year we would try to pare down his work schedule, but they just had to see Nick,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said that Mr. Fiorillo’s clients had “so much confidence in Nick” that even after they moved away from Paxton to other states across the U.S., they would still continue to use his accounting and tax-preparation services. Mr. Fiorillo at one point had clients living in 31 states, Shaffer noted.

“Nick’s always going to remain very much alive in the memories of those clients and friends who loved and respected him over his 50-plus years as a tax accountant,” Shaffer said. “His stories will go on, because he helped so many different people. We were working with three generations (of clients). He was doing the grandpa and then the son, and now I’m doing the grandkids. ... It just went on and on.”

‘Shocked and saddened’
Shaffer said he and the other employees of Fiorillo, Shaffer & Associates — including accounting manager Denise Peers, receptionist Darlos Shaffer, office assistants Rachel Palmer, Lori Heinz, Rebecca Caspers and Alyssa Frye, and ICE student Natalie Balnius — were “all shocked and saddened” by Mr. Fiorillo’s unexpected death.

Mr. Fiorillo had just underwent hip-replacement surgery one week earlier, and he was undergoing rehabilitation at the local nursing home with the expectation he would be released soon, Shaffer said.

“I had spoke with him that Monday evening (the day before he died), and we talked about business and joked and made plans for the future, and then he just never woke up on Tuesday morning,” Shaffer said. “You’re saddened, but you realize that life will go on.”

A true civic leader
Mr. Fiorillo was a civic leader in the Paxton community in addition to being a locally prominent accountant.

“Nick was a champion of the common man and, more importantly, the underdog,” Shaffer said. “If somebody was down on their luck and needed a helping hand, Nick was drawn to them to assist.”

“He was very benevolent, always very friendly and willing to help people out,” added friend Bob Thorthesen. “He was a super, super person.”

Mr. Fiorillo’s community involvement included being a longtime member and past president and treasurer of the Paxton Rotary Club.

“Nick was a stalwart member of the Paxton Rotary Club for decades and fought to keep the club alive and viable until the organization dissolved,” said former Paxton Rotary Club member Tom McCabe, chief executive officer of Farmers-Merchants National Bank in Paxton. “He was always ready and generous in  committing  resources to assist various groups and individuals. He seemed to enjoy immensely the camaraderie (of the club’s weekly noon meetings) and was quick with a witticism to stimulate lunch-time conversation.”

Former Paxton Rotary Club member Bob Martensen, a local attorney, recalled that Mr. Fiorillo was “always willing to share with me his knowledge and expertise.”

Mr. Fiorillo also for many years was involved in the PBL Area Community Food Pantry, currently serving as the pantry’s comptroller.

“He did all the reporting to the government agencies and all that,” said Gary Popel, the pantry’s treasurer. “He was also instrumental for a while in getting us bread for the pantry, but something happened and that fell through.”

Mr. Fiorillo was also a long-time sponsor of Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School’s ICE Program, which places students in the workforce so they can gain first-hand experience in jobs they may want to pursue following graduation.

Doug Anderson, who oversaw the ICE program for 22 years prior to his retirement this summer, said Mr. Fiorillo throughout the decades had always welcomed students into his office to talk to them about taxes, including changes in tax law and “some of the statistics that are relative to what kids would want to know.”

“And as a gesture of kindness for the last 22 years, any of our ICE kids who wanted Fiorillo’s to do their taxes for them, they would do it for free of charge,” Anderson said. “Of course, all the kids make money and have to file (income) taxes, so that was just a really nice gesture on his part. He was always very caring. Whenever I took groups up there, he would always spend time going around the room, wanting to know where each kid works, what their future plans were. He  was just a really kind and generous man.”

Involved in tax association
Mr. Fiorillo was also a member of the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP).  In that role, Mr. Fiorillo was a speaker at many tax seminars throughout the state, and he was currently the editor of the newsletter for the NATP’s Illinois chapter.

Paul Gill, a tax accountant in Bloomington who served with Mr. Fiorillo on the board of directors of the NATP’s Illinois chapter, recalled how Mr. Fiorillo seemed to have “never met a stranger in his life.”

“When we would go to national meetings of the NATP, he was always outgoing and willing to talk to other tax professionals with great ease, and he wanted to talk to as many of them as he could,” Gill said. “Going from one session to the next session, he would be late because he was talking to somebody.

“And he was always outgoing and eager to learn. Even in his later years here, he tried to learn as much as he could because the dynamics of the tax business changes every year.”

Les Marti, who owns Les Tax Ltd. in Gibson City and served on the state board of the NATP with Mr. Fiorillo for 10 years, teaches other tax preparers for the NATP. Marti said he would always ask Mr. Fiorillo for suggestions on possible topics for his courses, and Mr. Fiorillo was never short on ideas.

“He was always insightful; he always had something to contribute. He wanted to just improve things and was always diligent,” Marti said. “In fact, he stayed on the state board beyond his allotted time just because he wanted to continue to contribute. I’m 30 years younger than Nick ... and I just hope I can be like Nick when I’m 80 years old, because he just continued to work and to give.”

Mr. Fiorillo also had a weekly radio show on Paxton’s radio station, during which he would talk about changes in tax law and other tax-related issues.

“There was a tax law change back in the ‘80s, and I think he started it out to just talk about the changes that were going to be significant that year,” Shaffer said, “and it just continued each year.”

‘Nick was very social’
Mr. Fiorillo was also a member and past secretary/treasurer of Lakeview Country Club at Bayles Lake. Shaffer said Mr. Fiorillo was not much of a golfer, but he enjoyed the camaraderie.

“Nick was very social,” Shaffer said. “He always had time for a friend and conversation. He was very generous with his time. He was never in a hurry.”

Paxton Mayor Bill Ingold — who used Mr. Fiorillo for tax preparation for 45 years — said he was still in shock by Mr. Fiorillo’s death. Ingold recalled how whenever he would visit Mr. Fiorillo’s office as a customer, Mr. Fiorillo always had some “great stories to tell about a lot of different things while he was getting (my taxes) done.” And sometimes, Mr. Fiorillo would turn the conversation’s focus to what the mayor could do to improve the town, Ingold recalled.

“He had some great ideas,” Ingold said. “A lot of times what ended up being a pretty short meeting ended up being a long one.”

Visitation for Mr. Fiorillo will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 17, at Baier Family Funeral Services, 406 E. Pells St., Paxton.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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paulcon40 wrote on July 15, 2016 at 7:07 pm

It's Friday night, or "Nick Night" to me.
 

If it's Friday night, any Friday night, every Friday night, it was "Nick Night" which meant we were going out, probably to dinner. And if there was a Friday conflict, then Nick would move it to Saturday. Didn't matter, Nick lived life, all the time.
 

Yes, I was "Friday night", but that was only 1/7th of being Nick Fiorillo. Bill had Thursday's, Frank had Sunday's, and anyone close to Nick had a regular time they would be hanging with Nick. He was a marvel to me. Nick graduated high school the year I was born, yet whenever we went out, no matter where we were or who we were with, Nick would endeavor to be the last one to leave, well beyond my bedtime or the limits of my stamina. Nick seemingly could go all night long. Dining with Nick gave me an appreciation for dessert. Why? Because you could not have dinner with Nick without having dessert, and a coffee, and a refill and another, until the wait staff would begin to show signs of fatigue. Not Nick. Upon finally getting up to leave Nick would strike up conversions, with other unknowing wait staff, then the Matire d', then random folks in the lobby, and sometimes if there were folks in the parking lot, them too. And he charmed them all, because Nick Fiorillo was nothing if not the best people person I've ever met. Yes, he was a tax expert, yes he was always interested in and fascinated by financial stuff, and yes he was really good at solving accounting problems. But what stood out was Nick the people person of all people persons. Because Nick showed interest in you, he wanted to know about you, he asked you questions about you, and that made "you" seem important, coming from this kind older man who for some reason found interest in "you". But Nick did genuinely care about everyone he met.
 

Yes, it's Friday night, but for the first time in as long as I can remember, it's not "Nick Night" and I'm sad about that. And for all the people Nick would have met tonight, who for a minute (well never a minute) or for an hour that Nick would have found something they would love to talk about, well they'd be sad too if they could know what could have been tonight if they had met Nick.

-Paul Conforti

psncodes12 wrote on July 20, 2016 at 12:07 pm
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