Dick and his good friend Dan Evans in Hawaii While shelving another piece of local history yesterday, I saw a small pamphlet entitled, “Some Early History of Montgomery County.” This little booklet is a reprint of a paper given by Thomas H. Ristine in 1913. As I was reading about the founding of Crawfordsville by three young men, one of whom was a Ristine, the phone rang with the news that Dick Ristine died over the weekend. While many on campus knew it was coming, it is hard not to feel that we have lost something big. It is true that, as Dick liked to say, he was the last of the alums closely connected to someone who knew Caleb Mills very well. Dick’s family history is a history of this college and of this town in equal measures. I would like to share a little bit of that excellent history in this posting.It starts in the pioneer era…In 1823 Henry Ristine built the second log structure in this new town and it quickly became a gathering place. Ristine Tavern was where most of the business of this young community was discussed and then settled. An early court hearing even took place there. In fact a history of the young town is in many ways a history of the Ristines as they were in this area right from the first. They have served as trustees, lawyers, public officials, church elders and across many charitable committees. From 1823 on the Ristines have left their good mark on our community in dozens of ways.
Nine Years later, in 1832, a small group of Presbyterians came to town to hold a meeting on the subject of an academy here in Crawfordsville. It was agreed that this would be the best way to supply enough teachers and preachers to the “Wabash Country.” Leading the founders were James and John Steele Thomson. James was the first President of the Prudential Committee and John was on the first faculty. Their younger brother Samuel Steele Thomson was in Caleb Mills’ first class and became the first alumnus to join the faculty. Professor Thomson’s daughter married Theodore H. Ristine, an alum of the class of 1865 uniting these two pioneering families. It was this same fellow who wrote the “Early History of Montgomery County” that I mentioned earlier.
The Ristines lived in Crawfordsville and raised their children at the edge of campus. Theodore Ristine served the college as a Trustee for 48 years. Dick would sometimes speak about being a little shaver and playing under the table as his grandfather met with the various trustees and officers of the college.
Dick’s parents were yet another example of the melding of town and gown as Dick’s mother was the daughter of long-time professor James Osborne. Her brother was the legendary English professor Insley Osborne. Dick would tell me stories about “Uncle Insley” and other legends of the faculty. His stories were always told with a chuckle and a grin – often things no one else knew or that few remember…Stories about Doc Mackintosh, George Kendall, Bryon Trippet, Frank Sparks or Eli Lilly.
While I will greatly miss the chance to listen as he spins a yarn, perhaps even more I will miss the sense that Dick had of Wabash – as something timeless, something bigger than any era, bigger than any person. Dick lived the history of this place, it was truly in his DNA. Dick also loved this place and served it well in nearly every capacity. Dick lived and loved well all of his life – his family and his friends, his beloved Alma Mater, the state he served as Lt. Governor, the state he retired to and the natural world around him were all objects of his affection – and all benefited from his passion. The world is a better place for the life of this good man.
Indeed, we will all miss our good old friend Dick Ristine…