Reno D. Rossini, 92, died Oct. 17. He was the son of Domenico and Maria Rossini, immigrants from Lucca, Italy.
Rossini was a beloved science teacher and football coach at Murray High School in the 1950s. “Reno Rossini was a ‘no-nonsense’ teacher who instilled knowledge in his students,” said Anna Morlock Skovholt. “Although I had no interest in chemistry, I received an ‘A’ at St. Olaf in chemistry because of what I learned from Mr. Rossini.”
He grew up in the Frogtown neighborhood, in the shadow of St. Agnes Church, where he was schooled and served Mass. In the family’s home on Charles, an old-world gentility reigned: Tuscan specialties bubbled on the stove and Enrico Caruso’s lilting tenor rose from the phonograph. Outside, the streets teemed with a lively multicultural mix of kids, their families scraping by through the Depression.
In Frogtown, Reno learned to be tough and stand tall. He also learned the value of honesty, personal integrity and abiding friendship, lessons he would take with him the rest of his life. Reno attended Cretin High School, where his prowess on the gridiron earned him a scholarship to the College of St. Mary in Winona. There, he became president of the Glee Club, starred in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and—most important—found the great love of his life, Rosemary Vanderah, a dark-haired beauty from the farm belt of southwest Minnesota.
After serving in the Navy and earning a master’s degree at Creighton University, Reno returned to Minnesota to marry Rose. The children came in short order, a total of eight to fill the bungalow in St. Paul’s North End. Reno finished the house’s second floor and built a family room, put in a large vegetable garden to feed his brood, and filled his hand-built terraces with flowers. Reno loved his big family, and the home and gardens were extensions of that love.
Reno found his way to the St. Paul Public Schools, where he became a legendary teacher of chemistry, a football coach and, finally, a vice-principal and principal. In addition to Murray, he worked at Mechanic Arts, Marshall, Central and Highland Park high schools, putting his mark on every institution. There wasn’t much wiggle room in Reno’s chemistry lab; each class began with an inspection of the students’ shoes for a proper shine. After all, school wasn’t about learning facts, Reno told his students; it was about developing character.
During his four-decade career in the St. Paul schools, Reno had an impact on many lives; as late as a week before he died, former students were writing letters to the man they affectionately called “Prof.” Reno loved to teach, but he also loved to learn. He sent his children mailings stuffed with tidbits of Roman history, Italian proverbs, political cartoons and a new favorite Ole and Lena joke.
Ever the philosopher, Reno counseled his children through the twists and turns of life. How many 92-year-olds can speak at length about the proper way to prepare pork chops and spinach, Tuscan style, and in the next breath, discuss the latest discovery in modern physics? Reno was also a romantic with a passion for life. To watch him dance cheek-to-cheek with his beautiful Rosemary, her skirt swaying as they floated across the dance floor—that was an image of true love.
Annual pilgrimages to Shady Creek Resort in Millerville provided opportunities to teach his children—and then their children—the fine art of bringing in a walleye. Reno loved his hometown of St. Paul and plied the mayor’s office with letters of suggestions and advice, all written in careful longhand.
Ever and always, Reno was a man of deep faith. In his last years, he spent his days at the kitchen table with three objects before him: a brass crucifix from Italy, a picture of St. Padre Pio and St. Francis’ prayer for peace—in Italian, of course.
Reno wanted to live to 100. It was only his body that let him down in the end—that, and perhaps the thought of joining Rosemary, who passed in April 2013. He was a gifted teacher, a loving husband, and an utterly dedicated father and grandpa. As one admirer said, “Reno was a prince of a man.” He will be deeply missed.
Reno was preceded in death by his wife, Rosemary; one son, Raymond; a grandson, Joseph; and his brothers, Martin and Adolph. He is survived by his children, Steve, Martha (Gary Olson), Clare (Joe Byrne), Tony (Diane), Jeanne (Tom Weir), Mary (Bill Anderson) and Andy (Liz); a daughter-in-law, Sue Salmela (Paul Burnett); 19 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Oct. 23 at Maternity of Mary Catholic Church, with interment at Roselawn Cemetery. Memorials are preferred to the Maternity of Mary Church Endowment Fund.