At age 104, Louise (Grissom) Rimmler is the oldest living graduate of Rhode Island College. On June 14 she joined fellow alumni from the Classes of 1937-1968 to celebrate the RIC Golden Years Reunion.
In the early days, the Rhode Island College of Education (RICE) produced hundreds of schoolteachers and principals. Today those educators are white-haired, some lean on canes, a few use wheelchairs. Seating themselves at tables that glittered with silverware and wine glasses, it was as if they had come home. Gently they put their heads together and reminisced.
Retired Lt. Col. Carl Rimmler
No longer as verbal as she used to be, Louise relied on her husband, retired Lt. Col. Carl Rimmler, to reminisce for her, and he told her story with such ease and detail it was as if she was telling it herself.
By all accounts, Louise is “a strong woman,” “a bit of a spitfire,” “diplomatic yet determined.” While attending college, she would walk over two miles from downtown Providence to Olneyville, then hitchhike from Olneyville to her home in North Scituate every evening throughout her tenure at RICE.
After graduating from RICE in 1937, Louise taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Foster, Rhode Island, instructing grades one through eight.
“There was a potbellied stove in the middle of the room for heat,” Carl said, “and in back, there was a pail with a dipper that everybody drank from. Of course, the lavatory was an outhouse.”
Those were hard times. In 1937 America was still in the midst of the Great Depression. A loaf of bread cost nine cents, a gallon of gasoline was 10 cents and the average wage per year was $1,780. Louise earned $800 a year.
She met Carl five years into teaching. They met on a train. Carl was a commissioned second lieutenant stationed at Camp Edwards in Cape Cod, and Louise was on her way home to North Scituate.
“We sat facing each other and struck up a conversation. We made a date to meet again,” he said.
They met for four weekends before they were married in 1942. Three weeks after their marriage, Carl was shipped overseas. He served in World War II and fought in the South Pacific. He remained in the service for 28 years.
Though the Rimmlers didn’t have children of their own, Louise had hordes of them in her classrooms. After teaching in the one-room schoolhouse, she taught elementary school in Scituate and later in North Scituate, where she was also appointed principal. Overall, she dedicated 35 years to the field of education and still gets letters and cards from her former students.
Suddenly Carl’s voice cracked in the telling and his eyes filled with water. He gazed over at his wife and said, “She’s just a super being, a super wife and a super woman.”
Louise lives in a nursing home while Carl resides in an assisted living unit within the same complex. “We live within walking distance from each other,” he said. “I see her every day.”
Raising a glass, Michael Smith ’79, president of the Rhode Island College Alumni Association, toasted the Rimmlers and all 180 alumni at the Golden Years Reunion: “To friendship, memories, health, success ... and to our alma mater.”
Smith invited members of every Class to share personal stories of their time at RIC. “Our alma mater has such an amazingly rich heritage that there is no limit to the new discoveries that I make whenever I have a chance to do the research,” he said. Smith plans to establish an ongoing Committee on College Heritage, with the expectation that “this committee will provide a lively forum for the continued research and publication of the rich history of Rhode Island College.”
In the meantime, alumni may send their recollections or anecdotes to:
Office of Alumni and College Relations
Rhode Island College
600 Mt. Pleasant Ave.
Providence, RI 02908