Retired professor passes away, leaves legacy of love



Alicia Balog

Jim Rinier, retired professor of geography at Kent State, watched the leaves of the maple tree change colors outside his window and still enjoyed being pushed around the courtyard a week before he died. Rinier, 90, passed away peacefully Friday, Nov. 1, surrounded by family at Trinity Grove Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington, N.C.

Spencer Baker, Rinier’s grandson and a graduate student of geography, said Rinier, a “man who lived by his convictions,” left a legacy of love for his family, for teaching and for the Earth.

“He was inspiring in so many ways to me and to the thousands and thousands of students,” Baker said. “He lived an amazing 90 years of life.”

Rinier was born May 22, 1923, in Canton, Ohio, to Harry and Florence (Orwan) Rhinear, and he was raised by his grandparents Sam and Viola Mae Rinier.

After high school, Rinier served in New Guinea and the Philippines in World War II as part of the 595th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion, 5th and 13th Air Force. Rinier originally wanted to be a pilot who could look down at the world like a map maker; however, the Air Force had enough pilots, so he became a radar specialist, Baker said.

Rinier’s time in the service may have influenced him and his career in geography, Baker said.

In 1946, Rinier enrolled in Kent State and graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography and then attended Ohio State University for graduate studies.

Rinier later taught courses, such as the geography of soils and the conservation of natural resources and many introductory courses, at Kent State. He also led many field courses around northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Baker said Rinier was very focused on teaching, wanting to pass on the knowledge and guidance to the future generations to conserve the natural resources on Earth.

“He really appreciated the fact there was one earth to use and one to live on,” Baker said.

He received the Kent State Teaching Excellence Award in 1969.

Rinier also received the Cardinal Award from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for his contributions to protecting natural resources and, in 2009, was inducted into the ODNR Hall of Fame.

“He thought geography was really a way to move forward and shape the future in a positive way,” Baker said.

Rinier’s family had nothing but love and respect for him, and Baker said Rinier’s four daughters, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren all are geographers at heart, just like Rinier.

A memorial service for Rinier will be at a later date at the Kent United Church of Christ, but instead of flowers, the family asked that donations be made at the Kent State University Foundation Office or online to the Rinier Scholarship Fund to help students afford college.

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].