Dr. Jon H Rieger
Louisville - Distinguished Veteran and University of Louisville Professor, Jon H Rieger, Dies at 83.
Dr. Jon H Rieger, age 83, died of natural causes at his Louisville home on July 16th. In addition to his distinguished academic career spanning 60 years he will be remembered as a pioneer in Visual Sociology, a Navy Captain, patron of the arts and culture, a "big brother" and life-long friend to many.
Jon Hill Rieger was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1936, son of Dorothy Hill Rieger and Nelson M. Rieger and grew up in the Dayton area. He was an Eagle Scout and an alumnus of Loomis Preparatory School (1952-1954), Middlebury College (1954-1955), Miami University of Ohio (1958), and Michigan State University (1961-1971).
Following Naval ROTC at Miami University, Jon served two years of Active Duty (1958-1960) aboard the USS Platte (AO-24) as the ship's Navigator and Gunnery Officer. He went on to 24 years of Active Reserve duty where, among other assignments, he served as the Commanding Officer of four naval reserve units and Chief Staff Officer of two other units. He retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of full Captain.
His academic career began at Michigan State University and continued at the University of Louisville for nearly 50 years. Professor Rieger taught courses on rural sociology, sociology of music, social change, and graduate-level research methods. Professor Rieger advised dozens of undergraduate and graduate students and authored many publications.
One of Professor Rieger's major scholarly contributions was pioneering the field of visual sociology. His work photographing social change in Ontonagon County, Michigan that began in 1960 is possibly the longest, continuous visual study in the world. He was a founding member of the International Visual Sociology Association and his trailblazing articles and methods seeded a new approach to sociology.
Dr. Rieger's nearly 60 years of field research and visits to Ontonagon made him a respected figure in the community. He received several community awards including the 2006 "Ambassador Award" given by the Ontonagon Chamber of Commerce in recognition of a non-resident who has contributed most to Ontonagon County. Dave Bishop, Ontonagon resident, said, "Jon Rieger was always happy, even when he was in physical pain from his various medical ailments. His regular visits and significant contributions to the Ontonagon County Historical Society and the Ontonagon Theater of Performing Arts made a big difference to our local community and region. Jon was a close friend."
Jon's wide-ranging passions included sailing, camping, classical and contemporary music, ballet, bodybuilding, photography, trap shooting, and civil rights. Dr. Rieger was active in the community and advised groups such as the Louisville Orchestra, the Louisville Agriculture Club, the U of L Weightlifting Club, and authored the Official Physique Manual for the Amateur Athletic Union of the USA. He proudly served 25 years as a judge for the prestigious Grawemeyer Music Composition Awards.
Jon Rieger is survived by his two brothers, Nelson A. Rieger and Dave H. Rieger, along with nieces and nephews Kristi and Robert Campbell, Tom and Beth Rieger, Mike and Karin Rieger, Holly Bishop, Ann and Tom Matthews, and Frederic "Rick" Rieger.
Jon never married or had children. However, from the early 1960s to his death, Jon Rieger formed life-long relationships with "younger brothers" and close friends he called his "families". He became as close or closer than blood relatives to his family members and transformed many of their lives for the better.
The "Lansing Family" includes Dan and Jean Batenburg, Mel and Beth Boynton, the late Sue Boynton, Harry and Gisela Klein, Ken and Roberta Kobayashi, and Ray and Sue Morris. Ken Kobayashi said, "Jon, Mel Boynton and I were roommates at Michigan State University. Jon proved to be the consummate roommate. As time passed you realized that his words and deeds reflected an admirable degree of ethical and moral character. For those willing to listen you would often be rewarded with his wisdom and nuggets of information about topics that would increase your knowledge and understanding of the world around you. This continued throughout our friendship. You couldn't help but marvel and be impressed with how Jon lived his life."
The "Louisville Family" includes Phillip Ball and Wanda Stoll, Mike and Pam Jefferson, Bob and Debbie Shaw, Joe and Laura Steele, Mike and Mary Steele, Todd Stommel, and Dave and Tina Williamson. Mike Steele remembered Jon saying, "If you're going to live in this house you must always show me forward progress." And Mike added, "He never stopped working on making us better humans!"
The "Tin Ear Society" includes Andrew and Ursa Acree, Reece and Jordan Bors, Ryan Burch, Jonathan Burton, Jeff and Elana Diehl, Keith Glenn, Dave and Alexis Ingram, Roger Creel, Justin and Jennifer Lewis, Tomek and Tara Smolinski, Ben and Caitlin Sollee, Milan Valko, Erica De La O and Kris Wojtera, and an expansive network of artists, creatives, and academics.
"Jon built a family around his love of the arts," says family member Ben Sollee, "that he affectionately coined the 'Tin Ear Society.' This expansive family of dancers, musicians, composers, photographers, writers, visual artists and creatives were all connected by his mentorship, patronage, and radically honest critiques of our work. He helped us make better and more meaningful art. And, importantly, he never missed an opportunity to get us all together to enjoy Louisville's bounty of performances. He taught us all, as both a sociologist and Big Brother, that great art is the product of and the fuel that grows thriving communities."
Jon's brother David Rieger said, "Jon had an unusual talent for drawing people out in an extended conversation, and then putting them on the spot in a positive way. This authentic reflection became motivation to do one's very best. He took the time to do this for his friends and many of their lives improved dramatically."
Rieger's ashes will be interred in a private ceremony and his ashes also will be spread in multiple locations of significance. An online memorial service is planned for Friday, August 7th at 5:00 PM EST. To attend please reach out to Ben Sollee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-608-0495
Memorials may be directed to the Ontonagon County Historical Society, 422 River St, Ontonagon, Michigan 49953 or to the J H Rieger Scholarship Funds c/o Community Foundation of Louisville, 325 West Main St #1110, Louisville KY 40202.
Published in Courier-Journal from Jul. 25 to Jul. 26, 2020.