Paul Rimovsky: A Passion For The Music Of Life Part 2
Height has nothing to do with a human being's passion for life, and Paul T. Rimovsky was a perfect example of that. Fully grown, he stood 5' 4" tall, but his achievements cast a giant shadow over the Concordia area and helped inspire a love of music for tens of thousands.
In 1964 Rimovsky moved his family to Concordia, took over a run-of-the-mill business - Tom's Music House - and transformed it into a Mecca of music for communities and schools all across Kansas and southern Nebraska.
Rimovsky was the kind of man who made friends easily. His quick smile and seemingly bottomless well of jokes and funny stories instantly put people at ease. Friends, family, loved ones and complete strangers remember his kindness, and his willingness to always lend a helping hand.
Rimovsky's accomplishments are many, but for Cloud County - and for the historical significance of Kansas - his crowning achievement may be helping to preserve and then enhance the former World War II POW camp on the outskirts of Concordia.
In operation from 1943–1945, Camp Concordia was the largest POW camp in Kansas, with a complex of 308 buildings that housed over 4,000 German Army prisoners.
By the 1990s, only one of the stone guard towers and a handful of the original buildings remained. In 1995, determined to preserve this remarkable piece of history, Rimovsky, Everett Miller, Lowell May and a handful of other volunteers organized a 50-year anniversary of the Camp, and brought many of the former German POWs to Concordia for the celebration.
Rimovsky was instrumental in establishing a museum inside the Camp's T-9 building, and devoted decades of tireless effort to accumulating artifacts and memorabilia. The museum now holds thousands of historical items including uniforms, vehicles, photographs, posters, weaponry, and even original artwork created by the German prisoners.
Rimovsky's final project for the camp museum was securing a detailed diary kept by one of the German prisoners. The diary has now been translated into a book: 'Pride and Honor: The Diary of Franz Kuester.'
Included in the Register of Historic Kansas Places, POW Camp Concordia is the second largest tourist attraction in Cloud County.
"The Camp wouldn't be what it is without the three of them: Paul, Everett Miller, and Lowell May," said longtime friend Sue Sutton. "They were just determined to keep the history alive. They spent 25 years turning that camp into what it is today, with the museum and displays. Paul really loved giving tours of the camp."
Lowell May remembers Rimovsky's complete dedication to the Camp. "He was still running Tom's Music House, but he would jump in and do anything he could for the Camp. He was really instrumental in buying the original POW Camp building and fixing it up."
Susie Haver, the executive director of Cloud County Tourism, smiles when she recalls Paul driving the 1940s fire truck that was acquired for the Camp museum. "He rode kind of low in the seat, but he loved driving that truck and turning on the siren. He was like a little kid."
Denny Taylor grew up in the same area of Nebraska as Rimovsky, and worked with him at the POW Camp. "Boy, did he love that fire truck. It was a pretty cantankerous vehicle and we were always working on it, but he just loved it."
"He was always into just about anything mechanical," said his daughter Sheri (Rimovsky) Johnston. "Cars, airplanes, boats, RVs, motorcycles." She remembers the BMW Isetta 300 car her father owned when she was a child. "It had three wheels, and the door was in front. We'd all pile in through the front, then he'd close the door and there was the steering wheel. The car was so small that he would drive it on the sidewalk at night. But then the cops made him stop doing that."
Son-in-law Kenny Johnston remembers Rimovsky's love of airplanes. "He used to build model airplanes. These were big planes with engines and a wing span up to ten feet. Wendell Wilson at KNCK was a really good friend, and they would fly the model airplanes together at Blosser Airport."
Rimovsky and Sue Sutton often took road trips across the Midwest. "He was fascinated by airplanes, and he loved to drive, so we would go on these trips to former airbases," Sutton said. "For the solar eclipse, we went to the old Fairmont Army Air Base in Nebraska where they trained bomber pilots in World War II. There were hundreds of people lined up on the runway to watch the eclipse, and there was Paul, wearing that giant cowboy hat of his, sitting in a lawn chair watching it all with a big grin."
Divorced in 1990, Rimovsky struck up a lasting relationship with Marie Dochow. "He dated my mom for close to 30 years," said Debbie Honeycutt. "They liked to go dancing, and cook together. And the casinos! They loved to gamble."
"After he came back from a gambling trip," added Haver, "we'd ask if he won, and he always said he 'traded off.'"
"He became part of our family, and we just loved him," said Honeycutt. "When we remodeled the Fusions store, he was there on his hands and knees working on the flooring. Even after my mom passed away, Paul would always come over for a visit. He was very loyal; very caring."
Kenny Johnston recalled an incident years earlier when Marie Dochow wisely refused to help Rimovsky. "Most people don't know that Tom's has an elevator. It goes from the basement to the third floor, where Paul had an apartment. One night Paul went into the store, and he never turned the lights on. He's done it a thousand times. He opens that door to the elevator, but the elevator is in the basement. The door isn't supposed to open if the elevator isn't there, but it did."
Rimovsky fell down the shaft, hit the roof of the elevator, and then fell through the opening and landed on his back on the floor of the car.
"So, this is Paul," Johnston recalls. "He gets up, takes the elevator to the 3rd floor where Marie also rented an apartment, and tells her to pull on his arm because he'd dislocated his shoulder, and that would re-set it. She refused, and finally convinced him to go to the emergency room. It's a good thing Marie didn't pull on his arm, because he'd broken it."
As the years gained on Rimovsky, he made a bucket list. Honeycutt remembers three items on the list. "There were three things he wanted to do right away," she said. "Get new glasses, get new dentures, and buy a Hummer."
Rimovsky was fascinated by the Hummer, the civilian version of the military's M998 Humvee. So he bought one, and it became a common sight on the streets of Concordia: this massive gray vehicle with the diminutive Rimovsky behind the wheel.
"When he bought that Hummer," said Haver, "we all gave him a dollar so he could buy an extra gallon of gas. He just loved driving that big car around town."
The passage of time - and a lifetime spent smoking - was beginning to catch up to Rimovsky.
"He once told me: 'I was not a panzy smoker,'" said Marian Condray, co-director of Cloud County Tourism. "He smoked 2 packs a day for 57 years. When the doctor told him he had cancer, he said he'd been waiting for that phone call since the day he quit smoking."
Paul Rimovsky had advanced cancer, but you'd never know it if you talked to him. He went through grueling chemotherapy and radiation, but never complained.
"He was of that generation," said Kenny Johnston. "They were just tough."
COVID-19 restricted social gatherings, so the day before Rimovsky began his cancer treatment, his friends organized a car cruise to show their love and support. Rimovsky sat in a lawn chair in the parking lot behind Tom's Music House with his daughter, Sheri. Thirty-one vehicles - with a police escort - drove by honking their horns and holding up signs.
"He sat there wearing that big cowboy hat of his, and grinned from ear-to-ear," said Condray.
Paul Rimovsky lost his battle with cancer, but he lives on in the hearts of his friends and loved ones.
"I'm going to miss his camaraderie," said Everett Miller. "He was just a great guy to be around."
"I'm going to miss everything about him," said Debbie Honeycutt. "Especially his quirky grin. He had such a passion for life."
"He was a fantastic musician, but it's more than that," said Kenny Johnston. "He just had this great depth of music knowledge. On his gravestone will be the melody for 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' just like it is on the front of Tom's Music House."
Rimovsky received several awards throughout his life, including the Marian D. Cook Legacy Award from Cloud County Community College, the Kansas Band Masters Assoc. Lifetime Award, and the Leon Gennette Award for Lifetime Achievement for Community Service.
"Sometimes," said Marian Condray, "you don't realize what a treasure you have until it's gone."
Though small in stature, Rimovsky cast a large shadow. For over a half-century he nurtured the musical passion of thousands of students, and the thousands more who love music because of his inspiration. He was a driving force behind turning a former World War II POW Camp into a nationally recognized historical landmark and museum. And in the community he adored, he always made his friends smile and went out of his way to make a stranger feel welcome.
On July 25, 2020, Paul T. Rimovsky left this earthly life. On that day... Concordia lost a giant.