Monday, November 30, 2009

Fern A. Rahnel 1914 - Nov 28, 2009

Fern Alma Rahmel was born in Peterborough in 1914.  

She was admired and respected as a teacher, theatrical director, journalist, historian, horticulturalist and writer.
She was a patron of the arts, contributing generously to many associations that promote art, music, writing and drama. She established and provided funds for a bursary at Trent University. She also donated the funds for the Phoenix Award for English which she established at PCVS many years ago.
In 1999, the Peterborough Examiner's Ed Arnold published a list of 50 people who most influenced the development of Peterborough in the previous 100 years. She was on the list with Dr. H. R. H. Kenner, Sir Sandford Fleming, Katherine Wallis, Pansy Forbes and George A. Cox, to name but a few.
To celebrate Peterborough's Centennial in 2005, Market Hall undertook a project to recognize the accomplishments of Peterborough area artists. She was recognized as a director and writer in the catalogue of names which emerged and became known as Peterborough's Greatest 100 in the Performing Arts.
Born in 1914 to Ohio-born Earnest W. Rahmel and Mossie Loomis, she attended King Edward Public School, Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School. She attended Peterborough Normal School in 1932-1933 and was editor of the 1932-1933 year book. 
She was one of the few fortunate graduates to get a teaching job, starting her career in a two-room school at Bailieboro and then moving on to King George Public School and Queen Alexandra Public School where she was chosen to be a member of the critic staff for beginning teachers from the Normal School.

During her early days of teaching she entered a contest sponsored by CBC for teachers, accepting the challenge to adapt Hilda Lewis' book The Ship That Flew to radio at the Grade 5 level.
Not only did she win the contest and the $50 prize but she was engaged to do many CBC scripts which were aired regularly on both CBC and CBS. In all she wrote 60 plays that were broadcast in parts of Europe and in North America and many of them received CBC awards. Her final writing for radio was a series on the Queens of England prepared at the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II.
In 1941 she graduated from Queen's University in French and Latin but her professors could see that with her talent for writing she really should pursue the study of English.
In 1948 she joined staff of Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School where she taught English for five years. During this time Robertson Davies encouraged her to write some book reviews for the weekly magazine Saturday Night of which Davies was the book editor.
In 1953 she left teaching to become the assistant to Gwyn Kinsey, the editor at Saturday Night for three years.
Returning to PCVS in 1956, she began to work with the school drama club. Many aspiring student actors learned the rudiments of theatre and experienced the thrill of being involved in outstanding productions.
In the 1964 Echoes, writing about that year's production of Caesar and Cleopatra, Merike Madisso wrote "More than anything else, the production of a successful play requires unending supplies of patience on the part of the director. Miss Rahmel provided such ample amounts of fortitude and cheerfulness that a sense of steadiness and stability prevailed at every rehearsal and finally at the production. I believe that to be the highest tribute a director can be paid."
Upon her return to Peterborough she also joined the Peterborough Little Theatre and stage-managed many of the original productions of Robertson Davies' plays. She was named a lifetime member of the Eastern Ontario Drama League.
When St. Luke's Anglican Church was destroyed by fire, the newly formed Peterborough Theatre Guild bought the ruins. In this badly damaged church she directed the guild's first play, Christopher Fry's Sleep of Prisoners which takes place in a bomb-damaged church. The setting made the play one of the most memorable of the guild's productions.
She trained both choral and verse-speaking choirs, and in recognition of her work she was made an honorary life member of the Kiwanis Music Festival.
Her interests were not confined to teaching and theatre. She was an avid gardener, with roses and peonies her greatest interests. She was a life member of the Peterborough Horticultural Society and toiled for years to help to create outstanding gardens at a city park.
She was also the regional director of the Canadian Rose Society. Several years ago she was invited for tea at Rideau Hall in Ottawa to be honoured for her work with the Canadian Peony Society.
Among her many contributions to the community, she was a sustaining member of the Friends of the Bata Library from its inception. She also served on the Peterborough Public Library Board and the Regional Library Board. She was a supportive member of Park Street Baptist Church and taught Sunday school for many years.
She cared for her ailing parents and was a most devoted sister of Joan Rahmel who died in 2008.
She was interested in history as well and wrote a paper on Peterborough's first librarian Frederick Montague de la Fosse. It was initially presented to the Friends of the Bata Library and later published by the Peterborough Historical Society as an occasional paper.

She was a lifelong learner. She travelled the world and also spent a season at Oxford University studying under Christopher Ricks, the authority on Tennyson. She was a member of the Shakespeare Club for which she researched and presented many papers. For her many years of involvement in the University Women's Club of Peterborough she was made an honorary life member.

In 1970 she had been a Peterborough teacher for 20 years with the English Department of the Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS). She was Department Head before she retired. She was also assistant to Gwyn Kinsey, editor of "Saturday Night." She was an active participant in theatre and writing. Fern aided Robertson Davies in research while he was editor of the Peterborough Examiner. She wrote children's educational radio plays for CBC.

Perhaps her proudest moment was the 1970 Spring convocation at Trent University at which she was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. For those that knew her, the degree was the well-deserved recognition of a diversified career filled with accomplishments. 
She was a sustaining member of the Friends of the Bata Library and had been since its inception. She gave talks to the Peterborough Historical Society and published an occasional paper on F.M. de la Fosse, Peterborough's first librarian.
She directed Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons at PCVS and for the Peterborough Theatre Guild.  One of her favourite moments in the play was the discussion on teaching. Sir Thomas More asked Richard Rich, "Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one." Richard answered, "If I was, who would know it?" Sir Thomas More replied, "You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that".

Countless students would say of Miss Rahmel that she served as a wonderful role model and changed the course of their lives.  She was an extraordinary woman who chose to share her many talents with her students, friends and community. She will be missed.

The death of Fern A. Rahmel marks the passing of a woman of Renaissance proportions.
Miss Rahmel, 95, died Saturday November 28,2009 at Peterborough Regional Health Centre.

NOTES: Visitation is tomorrow at 12:30 p. m. at Comstock Funeral Home, 356 Rubidge St., followed by a funeral at 1:30 p. m.... Memorial donations can be made to the Fern A. Rahmel Bursary at Trent University, a book for a child or the charity of your choice.

A footnote

Fern Rahmel
University Receives $1.2 Million Gift to Assist Women in Need

Generations of Trent University students will benefit from a generous $1.2 million bequest from Fern Rahmel, a leader in education, the arts and culture in the City of Peterborough, Ontario who passed away in late November 2009.
The third largest bequest this history of the Trent University, the gift will focus on Trent University’s campuses in both Peterborough and Oshawa, leaving a remarkable legacy in support of women pursuing higher education.  When matched by the Ontario Trust for Student Support, the total endowment will equal $2.4 million.  Over and above the $1.2 million gift, a separate and specific gift of $5,000 was also directed by Ms. Rahmel to the Bata Library.
At Trent University in Oshawa, $1 million will be endowed in perpetuity, and will generate approximately $40,000 annually. According to the wishes of Ms. Rahmel, the funds will be used for bursaries for female students over the age of twenty-five who have demonstrated financial need as they work toward earning a Trent degree.  An additional $1 million will be endowed, and the income made available to third- and fourth-year students of proven academic ability who have demonstrated financial need, studying at either the Peterborough or Oshawa campuses. An additional endowment of $200,000 will also be created for graduate students who meet similar criteria. It is expected that $100,000 in new funds for bursaries will be available annually as a result of this extraordinary gift.
“This gift is a demonstration of the ability of a single individual to have a lasting impact on the lives of many,” said Dr. Steven E. Franklin, president and vice-chancellor of Trent University. “In addition to years of support to women in need of financial assistance to complete their education at various levels, Ms. Rahmel’s gift helps us to meet the strategic needs of Trent University, with a current focus on building out our 35-year presence in Oshawa with a brand new building opening in September 2010.”
She established the Fern A. Rahmel Bursary at Trent University for mature women students in 2002.

 “Staff here at Trent knew Ms. Rahmel simply as Fern, a kind person, an enthusiastic community member, a passionate promoter of higher education and supporter of Trent,” says Dianne Lister, vice president of External Relations and Advancement. “Fern used to enjoy reading letters from the women at Trent who benefited from the bursary she established here years ago. Her life story is about the power of one person to make a difference”.
Making a Legacy Gift to Trent University has given many friends, alumni, and parents the satisfaction of knowing that future generations will benefit from the gift of knowledge. 
“Fern was a member of the Trent University Legacy Society, which recognizes those who have remembered Trent in their wills or through a planned gift,” said Eileen Madder, chair of the University’s Planned Giving Advisory Committee. “Her gift to Trent is about the power of philanthropy to transform lives – and it was achieved by a school teacher right here in our own community.”

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