Obituary & Remembrances
I met Rena 32 years ago. She and Gus were at Purdue at the time.
I had recently received my bachelor's degree in liberal arts, and
I had only the highly-marketable job skill of pizza waitress. So
I felt incredibly lucky to be hired as the secretary for a wonderful
group of creative and wacky people in the Medical Illustration Unit
of Purdue University's Veterinary School. Rena was working in that
group as a graphic artist. She and another artist shared a small
office with me in the basement of the Veterinary School. We were
so squeezed for space that if I rolled my chair back from my desk,
I bumped into Rena's drafting table. I guess it's a good thing that
we hit it off right away.
I loved watching Rena work, using Rapidograph pens and drafting
tools and all kinds of art supplies I never knew even existed. She
was a perfectionist in her work. I can still see her shaking her
bottle of white-out, as she prepared to correct even the tiniest
blip when her pen went astray. And she ruined me! To this day, I
cannot look at a piece of matted art without scrutinizing the cutting
of those right-angles of the matte that frame the picture. Rena
believed in perfectly cut mattes. Anything less was unacceptable!
When I met Rena, she had already begun to explore feminism. I read
my first Ms. magazine when she lent me hers. I watched in awe as
she politely corrected anyone who dared to refer to use as "girls,"
giving them a quick education in the power of words. She introduced
me to the writings of Gloria Steinham, Betty Friedan, and Germaine
We had both been brought up in traditional, conservative Midwestern
familiesDad worked, Mom took care of home and the kids. Rena
opened my eyesthere were other possibilities! We were in Indiana,
in the middle of cornfields--not exactly a hot bed of feminist activism.
So we held our own consciousness-raising sessions across the coffee
table in her living room, just the two of us. I was single and childless
then. I didn't appreciate the "magic" it took for Rena
to make Gus and Bruce disappear, for hours at a time, while we talked,
shared, and challenged the expectations we'd inherited from our
upbringings. And in those early years, we forged the most powerful
friendship I've ever experienced.
Rena was instrumental in so many other changes in my life. Once,
she dragged me to a graduate student party that she and Gus were
attending. There I met my future husband. When Rena noticed that
we were hitting it off, she quickly circulated through the crowd
and invited everyone over to their house the next night, so she
could be sure that Jim and I would be thrown together again.
She introduced me to bluegrass music. Jim and I would go with her
and Gus to a local restaurant/club that had live bluegrass bands,
and we would sit up front by the stage, enjoying the music, and
talking to the band members during their breaks. Rena even took
banjo lessons for a while.
Rena was one of my biggest supporters when I decided with
a lot of apprehensionto tackle an MBA degree at a time when
it was still a program dominated by men. And whenat the age
of 40I decided I was finally ready to be a mom, she and Gus
wrote wonderful reference letters for ustwiceso that
we could adopt our two beautiful daughters.
The past ten years have been far too busy. I had two young children,
I switched careers, and my elderly parents came to live with us.
Rena was incredibly busy too, getting involved with the community
here in New Brunswick and rediscovering her fine arts roots. Rena
and I didn't talk as often as we once did, we didn't see each other
as often as we once did, but the bond between us was always strong.
I could pick up the phone after months of being out of touch, and
we could still talk and talk, like no time had passed at all.
Rena was the most amazing woman I have ever known. I am so grateful
that she was a part of my life. She was my best friend; she was