Retired professor creates scholarship fund

Kathryn McGonagle

In 51 years of teaching at Kent State, Jim Rinier only missed four days of work.

Now retired, Rinier is an emeritus professor for the geography department who has dedicated his life, money and time to Kent State students. Following his future wife to Kent State, he became a student in 1946 after serving in the army during World War II and became a teacher three years later.

“I had close to 20,000 students,” Rinier said.

The enthusiasm for his subject and dedication for his students made him a beloved mentor.

“He had an energy that was riveting and kept you on the edge of your seat,” former student Charles Pirtle said. Pirtle went on to become one of Rinier’s graduate assistants and has since retired after working as the associate dean of faculty affairs at Georgetown University.

At 86 years old, Rinier is still as enthusiastic and excited about students as ever before. He and his wife recently created a scholarship fund for students majoring in geography, conservation or early childhood education that will be donated to the university after their death. Former students have added to the fund, which began at $100,000.

In addition to that scholarship fund, Rinier presents a monetary award to a student in geography, conservation or early childhood education each year.

“I feel my whole life, whether I’ve gained or achieved anything is because I was a teacher,” Rinier said.

Never satisfied that he did his job well enough, Rinier shies away from awards.

“I never felt I deserved those awards,” Rinier said. “There were other people who deserved them more.”

But his students felt otherwise, because in 1969 he won the Distinguished Teaching Award. In December 2009, his students nominated him for induction into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Hall of Fame, their highest honor given for conservation, which he won.

“It wasn’t his goal to win awards,” said Thomas Schmidlin, chair of the geography department. “He wanted to do what he loved best.”

Rinier said he also believes teaching should come before research, but many professors see teaching as a byproduct of research rather than it being vice versa.

“The emphasis now is very much on research, and professors today need to focus on that,” Schmidlin said about modern professors’ need to balance research and teaching. “It takes time and concentration to do both.”

Still to this day, Rinier said he cares about each and every one of the students he had in class and those he has yet to meet.

“It wasn’t work to me; it was a part of my life,” Rinier said. “A lot of my students have been very successful, but it wasn’t due to me. They were great students.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Kathryn McGonagle at [email protected].