Paul Rimovsky: A Passion For The Music Of Life
(Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part series)
History judges the true measure of a man by the impact he had on the lives of others. You don't have to be a world leader, a titan of industry, or a renowned athlete to leave a lasting legacy.
You don't even have to be tall.
Paul T. Rimovsky was born in Norfolk, Nebraska, on November 15, 1936. He would grow to a height of 5' 4", but he cast a giant shadow around the Concordia community, and nurtured a love for music in tens of thousands of students across the Midwest.
To understand Paul Rimovsky the man, understand the mindset he demonstrated as a child: at the age of four he decided to master the accordion, a massive instrument that is difficult to play.
"Paul told me that when he started performing with the accordion, he was so small he had to stand on a table," said Barbara Shunn, a co-worker at Tom's Music House.
All through his school years, Rimovsky and his accordion performed in hundreds of variety shows and band concerts. He even played the accordion for a troupe of dancing horses.
"Paul always said that the horses didn't really dance to the music," said Marian Condray, co-director of Cloud County Tourism. "He would watch them move and play something to match what they were doing."
One of the people young Rimovsky got to know while performing in Nebraska was Johnny Carson, who went on to become the legendary host of 'The Tonight Show.' Carson also grew up in Norfolk, and fancied himself an amateur magician.
"Paul played the accordion, and Carson did magic," said Kenny Johnston, Rimovsky's son-in-law and the president of Tom's Music House. "They performed together at a lot of shows around the Nebraska area. Carson was the opening act, and Paul played the accordion in the music show."
While attending college at Wayne State University in Michigan, Rimovsky would often drive to Yankton, South Dakota, to play in a polka band. "He said he was paid $10 for the gig, and $3 for gas," said Condray. "Sometimes he would be so tired after driving back from South Dakota that he wouldn't make it to class the next day."
Travel weary or not, Rimovsky was an excellent student and received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Wayne State. He returned to Nebraska and taught high school music and band classes. His marriage to Dixie Hansen was blessed with three children: Sheri, Kristi and David. After five years of teaching, Rimovsky went to work for his father-in-law, Tom Hughes, in a music store.
In 1964, Rimovsky moved his family to Concordia to run Tom’s Music House, and quickly transformed the store into a renowned business.
The great Athenian philosopher Plato once wrote: "Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm to everything.”
Music is one of the most common threads that binds human beings together. Whether it's rock, country, rap, classical, hip-hop, blues or a dozen variations of them all, music relieves stress, elevates one's mood, gives meaning to anguish and soothes a troubled soul.
On a societal level, performing musically is regarded as a precursor of advanced child development. Studies have shown that being engaged with music improves brain development in young children; band and music classes in school teach students to draw upon their creative energies. Learning to read music, and then playing the notes on a musical instrument is akin to expressing yourself in another language.
Imbued with a passion for music and musical creativity, and dedicated to instilling that passion in others, Paul Rimovsky turned Tom's Music House into more than just a store where people bought instruments.
"When Paul and Dixie took over the store, they had no working capital," said Kenny Johnston. "There were some lean years in the beginning, but he really turned it into something."
"Tom's Music House became a Mecca in the 70s," said Shunn, who worked at the store from 1970-73. "Kids went there a lot because they could play music or listen to records. Thursday evenings were jam sessions. Anybody could come in and play. The store was always filled with music."
Shunn smiles when she recalls the early confusion with Paul's name. "So many people from all over came to the store, and because of the store's name, a lot people called Paul 'Tom.' So after awhile he just answered to both: Paul and Tom."
Rimovsky established a music service program with more than 200 educational institutions across the state of Kansas, and into southern Nebraska. He also teamed with Wendall Wilson and the KNCK radio station to create a weekly music show broadcast directly from Tom's Music House.
In the 1970's, Rimovsky and Everett Miller, then a music instructor at Cloud County Community College (CCCC), founded Youth For Music (YFM), an annual event that gathers hundreds of musicians from area high schools to perform a joint concert for the community. YFM has been co-sponsored by Cloud County Community College and Tom’s Music House for 50 years.
"That was just a wonderful experience, and Paul loved it," said Miller. "For all those years, he just loved working with the kids."
When Kenny Johnston reflects on the decades he spent working with his father-in-law at the music store, his admiration is heartfelt. "I spent a lot of time with Paul, and everything I know about customer relations and how to treat a customer, I learned from him. He loved music and understood what it could mean to people. He took so much pride in helping people. Tom's is called the 'The House of Friendly Service' for a reason. Paul had a way of making every customer who walked through the store feel like it was their store, and we were just there to help them."
Symbolic of Rimovsky's passion and belief are the musical notes mounted on the marquee of Tom's Music House. They are the notes to 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow,' a song of hope.
Rimovsky became deeply involved in the Concordia community. He was active in the Cloud County Museum, Concordia Lions Club, the National Orphan Train Museum, the Brown Grand Theatre, and was a founding member and President of the POW Camp Concordia Preservation Society. He even got a pilot's license and was part of the Civil Air Patrol, a non-profit organization that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force.
"He really fell in love with Concordia," said his daughter, Sheri (Rimovsky) Johnston. "He was always busy, always involved in things. He loved to go to 'gatherings,' to banquets and dinners just to meet people. He loved to talk to them and learn about them."
"We used to have Susan Conventions," said Susie Haver, the executive director of Cloud County Tourism. "It's an annual gathering for anyone named Susan. Paul would come. There were all these women with some variation of the name Susan, and Paul."
Rimovsky was known for his ever-present smile and sense of humor. "He just always seemed to be a happy guy," said Haver. "He always had a joke or funny story to tell."
"He liked to make fun of his height," said longtime friend Sue Sutton. "Whenever he had to speak somewhere and address an audience, he would stand up there and say: "Can everybody hear me?" And then he would say: "Can anyone see me?"
Rimovsky blazed new trails for musical awareness in north central Kansas, and helped generations of students and music lovers pursue their passion. But for the community, and for the preservation of an important piece of Kansas history, his crowning achievement may be Camp Concordia, the former World War II prisoner-of-war (POW) camp located northeast of town.
FRIDAY: PART TWO - POW Camp Concordia, and a life well-lived to the end.