A tradition 54 years in the making

By anybody's standards, a half-century is a long time to continue a tradition.

When this school year ends, a streak 54 years in the making will come to a close.

In August of 1963, Margaret Rinkel was hired to teach in the Mahomet-Seymour school district.

Each year that has followed, there has been a Rinkel on the faculty at M-S. Next May, her daughter-in-law, Jill Rinkel, will retire as the high school choir director after 34 years in the district.

Margaret Rinkel retired in 1995 as a high school English teacher. During Margaret's last decade of teaching, both her and Jill were on staff together, but teaching at different schools.

*****

The story starts before Jill Rinkel was employed by Mahomet-Seymour.

"She (Margaret) was instrumental in telling me about the job in Mahomet," Jill Rinkel said.

The Mount Pulaski native was in her third year of teaching. She spent a year at Crest Hill (near Joliet) filling in for a leave of absence and moved on to Homer, where she was in charge of chorus and general music from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"My second year, they added the band," she said.

That was when she realized she needed to make a change.

"It was too much," she said.

Before she left Homer, the former Jill Buckles became engaged to a fellow teacher in the district, Steve Rinkel.

The summer of 1984 was a whirlwind for the young couple.

"She interviewed by for elementary music position in M-S — "with Lee Jessup and Janet Watkins," Jill Rinkel recalled — went house hunting and planned a wedding.

Jill and Steve were married in November 1984.

In April, 1985, they moved into their home.

During the couple's house search, Jill Rinkel had one requirement for a residence.

As a teacher who was then splitting her time between Sangamon School (where Larry Gnagey was the principal) and Lincoln Trail, she said, "I wanted to move as close to the school as we could. I had high school variety show and musical rehearsals every evening, as well as teaching at Sangamon and Lincoln Trail. I was pretty much working day and night for the whole semester."

They found a suitable home a little more than a block east of Lincoln Trail.

Steve Rinkel chuckles at the memory of what was written on the "For Sale" sign when they walked through what would be their future home.

"The sign said 'Nice neighbors,'" Steve Rinkel said.

The neighbors to the north, incidentally, were Steve's parents, Margaret and Gene Rinkel.

"I love my in-laws," Jill Rinkel said. "A lot of people wouldn't want to live next door, but I had no qualms.

"It's nice to be close. You can help each other out."

*****

Margaret (Causey) Rinkel and her three siblings weren't raised by a family of teachers in Macon, Ga.

Her father ended his formal schooling after the seventh grade, but Margaret said, "he pulled himself up and taught drafting citywide and for the Georgia Central Railroad."

Teaching wasn't originally on Margaret Rinkel's radar.

"I wanted to be a medical missionary," she said. "I wanted to do something for humans that was altruistic."

She enrolled at Greenville (Ill.) College (located about 45 miles northeast of St. Louis) and worked to pay her entire way through school.

Her job was with food service where her specific duties were to dry dishes that had been hand-washed.

The young man washing dishes beside her made a favorable impression. His name was Gene Rinkel.

"I met my boyfriend and decided I didn't need to go to China," Margaret Rinkel said. "I loved English and decided teaching would be a good profession for me."

In August, Margaret and Gene Rinkel celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary.

*****

Jill Rinkel's father was a farmer and her mother — who was one of 11 children — worked as a secretary and then as a stay-at-home mom after Jill and her brother were adopted.

Music was one of Jill's passions, but not necessarily the singing aspect.

"I was involved with band and was first-chair clarinet for years," she said.

As a high school senior, she joined choir for the first time and earned the lead role in the school's musical, "Bye Bye Birdie."

Two of her favorite subjects were science and mathematics, so as a freshman at Illinois State University, Jill Rinkel's listed major was medical technology.

"That didn't last," she said. "I got sucked into music."

She was one of the few ISU students chosen for Concert Choir as a freshman.

To help prepare for her role, she said, "I began taking private voice lessons."

*****

Margaret Rinkel's teaching career didn't take flight until more than a decade after she graduated from college.

Gene Rinkel was a minister and he was called to serve in Aurora (Illinois), Davenport (Iowa) and Battle Creek (Michigan), as well as in Margaret's hometown of Macon (Georgia).

In 1963, Gene Rinkel had a career change and joined the University of Illinois as curator of special collections in the Rare Book Room.

Margaret Rinkel — whose only teaching experience at the time was one year of kindergarten at a private school in Willmore, Ky. — was hired at M-S.

"I was 33 when I started teaching," she said.

She quickly became known as an innovative instructor who did more than lecture and follow a textbook page by page.

"The actual definition of 'preposition' is not one you'll remember," she said. "I tried to use a lot of games and activities based on the material that corresponded with the story.

"When I taught prepositions to ninth-graders, I had a sentence, "The mouse ran (fill in the blank) the clock. They could use 'up,' 'down,' 'around' or 'by.'

"It was a little kernel to help them remember what a preposition was."

Students enjoyed her style.

Steve Rinkel recalled a former classmate — who had a penchant for giving teachers a difficult time — whose conduct was exemplary in his mom's class.

"He said to (be bad) would be like disrespecting your mother," Steve Rinkel said.

*****

Though Steve Rinkel intentionally avoided all classes taught by his mother — a decision which he said later, "I regretted," — Steve and Jill's daughters were among her thousands of students.

"Christa was quiet and would never say a word," Jill Rinkel said, "but Caitlin would come into class and say, 'Hi Mom,' and the students behind her would say, 'Hi Mom.'"

Both girls are now teachers. Christa is in her seventh year teaching French and is at MacArthur High School in Decatur. Caitlin is in her sixth year as a third-grade teacher in LeRoy.

"They both said they never wanted to be music teachers," Jill Rinkel said, "although they loved music and were both in Madrigal's."

Steve Rinkel's younger sister, Karen, had their mom as a teacher.

"She called me 'Mom' in class," Margaret Rinkel said. "One of the first times we had a quiz, all of the other students wanted to see what grade she got.

"When they saw, they knew I wasn't showing favoritism."

*****

As Jill Rinkel enters her countdown year to retirement and relaxation, she said, "I don't think I would have changed a thing, but if I had to pick a second job, it probably would be as an elementary ed teacher."

Her husband has a year's head start on retirement, but Jill believes one future endeavor will be to help him complete a bucket list item.

"Steve has been to every state, but Alaska, and I see an Alaskan cruise in our future," she said.

Her preference, however, will be to go to a warmer climate.

"I miss the beach," she said, "walking in the sand and listening to the ocean.

"I tell people I'm solar-powered."

She has to function at school without that luxury.

"My room has no windows," Jill Rinkel said.

*****

For Margaret Rinkel, retirement hasn't meant being inactive.

"I can't be still," she said. "I edited one book (on H.G. Wells, written by her husband Gene) and am working on one about Old Testament figures.

"I'm trying to get it edited."

If she could have a redo, there'd just be one change.

"I would have liked to have started teaching sooner," she said. "I grew up in a family with a lot of creative ideas and my (classroom) goal was to create something students could get through activities without lectures."

Margaret Rinkel is grateful to her daughter-in-law for continuing the family's long-standing teaching legacy in the M-S district.

"I've had so many parents whose children had Jill, ask me about her," she said, "and I continue to get parents who compliment her."

Jill Rinkel's popularity is unquestioned.

"I've lived here all my life, but more people know Jill than me because she taught so many kids," Steve Rinkel said.

What he really meant to say was, those former students sing the praises of a passionate teacher who helped to give a voice to many.

 

 

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