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Remembering Jane Rinden

Jane Rinden taught Upper School English from 1967 to 1981 and was chair of the English Department for eleven years. She passed away on July 23, 2018.  

Jane Rinden was a beloved master teacher who was as devoted to her students as they were to her. Marilla Palmer Zaremba ’71 IVAc recalls Jane’s early years at Packer: “Mrs. Rinden got my attention the first day I saw her; she was stylish, hip and smart. I’ll always remember her that way.” Elizabeth Shine Bishop, a member of the same class says, “She seemed so eternally young and full of energy. She was such an inspiring teacher.” Robert Litt ’81, too, is one of scores of Packer students upon whom Mrs. Rinden made an impression: “In my young eyes, she was so serious. It took me a long time to notice that when she asked her discussion questions, it was with a smile, and when she would speak to you out of the classroom, she would speak with much affection.

Many of her students credit their becoming teachers to Jane. One, Amy Finkel Cobb ’71, says of her, “She was a young teacher with radical ideas and not afraid to stray from the traditional approach to teaching. And I loved her for it. Whenever anyone asks me which teacher inspired me in my own teaching career, I always talk about her. Her passion for reading and discussion made this reader so very happy.”                
She maintained friendships with many of her former Packer students. Janet Mainzer ’71 offers this: “I’m only one of many who owes Jane Rinden a glad debt for her teaching, and for friendship graciously extended after graduation. While in graduate school I was fortunate to live near Jane and Thor. One memory is especially vivid: a brilliantly sunny and breezy afternoon when I helped them divide the overgrown coral bells and astilbe in their backyard, and came home with a generous gift of plants for my garden—all bundled up in pages from The New York Times.” Janette Payne ’80 writes, “She was supportive of me both at Packer and after. She came to watch me row at Princeton.” 

During her tenure at Packer, Jane advised the PCI and chaperoned several memorable trips to Russia in the late 1970s. Elizabeth Svenson ’80 remembers Jane as “an extraordinary teacher” and described her trip to Russia as “an amazing experience I will always carry with me.” 

Group photo of student trip to Russia with Jane Rinden

Jane Rinden with students in Russia.

Betsy Gilbride DeSoye ’71 speaks for Jane’s many hundreds of Packer students: “Thank you to Mrs. Rinden from the bottom of my teenage heart.”

Barbara Minakakis ’71 IVAc and Maggie Levine ‘82 were among the many friends, former colleagues and students who spoke at Jane’s memorial service, which was held in the Packer Chapel on October 28, 2018. Excerpts of their remarks are below.

Barbara Minakakis ’71 IVAc: Mrs. Rinden was an immediate hit with her students. To Jana Miller North she was “classy and smart”; to Marilla Palmer Zaremba, “stylish and hip.” Amy Plumb Oppenheim recalls her “calm, lovely deep voice and wonderful way of speaking”; and Christine Dombrowski, her “grace.”

Mrs. Rinden had her students reading Pirandello, Stein, Ferlinghetti, Kazantzakis. Mary Byrne remembers being assigned Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and says: “This low-key, gentle teacher was a radical who ran under the radar to teach us the relevancy of literature to real life.” She taught her students to appreciate, as Helen Zrake Dodson puts it, “the power of words.”

And the power of different types of expression. She sent us out to the far east of Midtown — a grittier place in those days — to see Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and Alan Arkin’s Little Murders; to the New York City Ballet; to MOMA; and to Broadway to see Claire Bloom in A Doll’s House.         
Along the way, Jane taught us to be subway-smart. And to become resilient.    

Those years at Packer were rough ones. In early spring of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered; two months later, Robert F. Kennedy. The next spring, the Stonewall riots. The Vietnam War, all the time. College students were organizing, demonstrating; and in the spring of 1970 at Kent State, four were killed by the Ohio National Guard. Terminating a pregnancy was illegal.            
How did Jane Rinden manage her students’ heartbreak — and anger?                

She let us talk, and argue; and sweetly, deftly refused to offer her own thoughts during our passionate class discussions. Flavia Mastellone remembers: “I loved her and was always exasperated at the way she would lead us into debates about controversial topics, and never hinted at her own opinion.”

Exasperating, yes — but Jane Rinden knew how to give young women their own voices. And backbones.” 

Maggie Levine ’82: “...Her real gift was her ability to see her students individually, to make each one feel recognized and valued. It didn’t matter if they were not, as Leslie North said, “lit likers who would eventually go on to major in English.”  Every student had something to offer. And isn’t that what we all want as human beings? To be seen? To be appreciated?

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that like Barbara, many Packer and Chapin students’ have memories of Mrs. Rinden asking to speak with them outside of class. On Facebook posts and in condolence letters, many recounted stories of disappointing Mrs. Rinden in some way. Yet, they never described any sense of feeling “guilt tripped,” as Barbara’s students joked. What stuck with them was the feeling of how much Mrs. Rinden seemed to care about them.

I have my own vivid memory of Mrs. Rinden asking me to stay after class. It was in Room 319 — right behind that door. I stood next to her desk, and she started to explain how disappointed she’d been with a chapel announcement I’d recently made. It was odd.  She was so uncharacteristically inarticulate. And as she struggled to describe what about my demeanor had troubled her (I’d probably been too glib or lacked poise), I saw tears forming in her eyes. I couldn’t fathom it:  how could one chapel announcement could have affected her that much?  But now, as I stand in the same spot where so long ago Mrs. Rinden watched me fail to present my best self, I marvel at how just how much I mattered to her. Jane, if you’re watching, I hope I’m doing a better job today.” 



Watch the Jane Rinden Memorial Slideshow

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