Remembering an extraordinary father, volunteer and citizen

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An article appeared in the Miami Herald in 1973 explaining how important Nick Arroyo had been to Sunset Elementary School as an employee and volunteer since moving his family to Miami from Venezuela in 1948.

The article details the roles played by Nick Arroyo; his wife, Nila, and their nine children Nick Jr., Mary Lou, Audrey, Sandy, Terry, Nila, John, Bob and Eddie.

The article noted that the school planted a bottlebrush tree along Schoolhouse Road (SW 52nd Avenue) to honor Nick, adding that a plaque would be placed near the tree.

In 2019, Nick’s seventh child John Arroyo, now 68, found the old Herald article and realized that the plaque had never been installed by his father’s tree, which is now a beautiful mature specimen.

“I called the school and spoke with the principal’s secretary and she put me in touch with the PTA, which made it happen. Today there is a beautiful brass plaque beside the bottlebrush tree,” John explained.

The Arroyo family lived right behind Sunset Elementary School at 5110 SW 73 Terr., in a house which Nick Arroyo bought in 1949 for $18,500. Ultimately, five different groups of Arroyos representing four generations lived on the street. A movement to rename the road Arroyo Lane is underway.

Nick’s parents were from Venezuela where his father was a highly placed judge. After making a ruling unfavorable to the Venezuelan government, Nick’s father was exiled to the United States, where Nick was born. Nick moved to Venezuela during the Depression years to better his life and find his roots. It was in Caracas that he met and fell in love with Nila, to whom he was married for nearly 50 years.

While living in Caracas during World War II, Nick was a talented electrician and assisted the United States government by installing audio surveillance wiretaps in Venezuelan hotel rooms frequented by German U-Boat commanders. This enabled the Office of Strategic Services to eavesdrop and gather information on U-Boat operations in the Caribbean.

When he brought his family to Miami in 1948, he immediately got a job as an audio-visual technician with Dade County Public Schools. He was so good maintaining the Bell and Howell projectors that he was in demand throughout the school system, and was even loaned out to Miami-Dade College and ultimately retired there.

“Our father wanted us to be Americans so he moved the family to Miami. Five of us had been born in Venezuela and four more were born in Miami,” explained daughter Audrey.

“His No. 1 goal was for all of us to receive a college education. Eight of the nine of us earned degrees, which made him very happy.”

In addition to ensuring they received college educations, teaching his children to be self-sufficient was a primary objective of Nick Arroyo.

Beyond his duties in Sunset Elementary School’s Audio-Visual Department, Nick Arroyo almost singlehandedly set up and ran the annual Sunset Carnival, where his booming voice made him the perfect candidate for barker.

“He also did A-V work outside of his regular school duties and worked at a camp for kids with cerebral palsy and coached Khoury League Baseball. Before hurricanes he went from neighbor to neighbor with a hammer, helping put up shutters. And yet he made plenty of time for the nine of us kids and the love of his life, my mother Nila. How he ever did it all, I’ll never know,” said daughter Terry.

“For birthday parties in the 1950s, Dad would get a newly released movie from a distributor and set up a projector and show the movie against a wall of our house. All of our friends would attend and Mom would make popcorn,” she said.

“After he showed the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, I couldn’t sleep for a week,” John added.

“He was Mr. Fixit. He had a magic touch and he wanted his kids to learn how to fix anything broken and rig other things through ingenuity. The ironic thing is that he chose me, his daughter, to be his apprentice, because the boys weren’t interested in learning,” Audrey said. “Maybe that’s why I married Pete, an electrical engineer.”

John, Terry and Audrey remember their father and mother with fondness, smiles and laughter, as all of their brothers and sisters do. Among their favorite memories include Sundays spent at Milam Dairy Farm eating ice cream and petting the cows, or visiting Grandfather Arroyo who lived on Sunset Drive and SW 62nd Avenue (then the western hinterlands of South Miami). Eating hot dogs, grilled cheese and tater tots for dinner when times were tight financially (each kid got the same number of tater tots). They remember Nick’s strict parenting, but the fact that he was always fair, and each child felt as if they were their parents’ favorite.

“We were so lucky,” Terry said.


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