Cecil Riney and Lisa Hittle, a former colleague at Friends University.
I’ve made my share of mistakes as a journalist but hadn’t caused any actual physical harm until last month when I prematurely killed off Cecil Riney, surely one of the best-known folks in Wichita.
I put “late” in front of Riney’s name in an article, and I didn’t mean as in tardy. I meant deceased, expired, kaput.
I don’t know why I thought Riney had slipped this mortal coil except that his name adorns the Fine Arts Building at Friends University, and aren’t buildings usually named for, you know, dead people? (Charles Koch Arena notwithstanding.)
Anyway, Riney and his wife, Verna, had a good chuckle over the error and were gracious when I called to apologize. “I’ve had worse things said about me,” he joked.
Riney, in case you’re as uninformed as I , served as chair of Friends’ fine arts division and director of its Singing Quakers choir for 45 years, until his retirement in 2005. He then returned to serve as interim chair for two years when the position suddenly became vacant.
He’s still a busy guy, especially for one who’s come back from the dead, so to speak. The first time I called, he was attending a board meeting of the Koch Cultural Trust, which awards grants to aspiring young musicians, actors and artists with connections to Kansas.
The next time, he’d just come in from the North Y, where he works out four or five times a week. Nothing too strenuous, just a little sweating on the treadmill, stationary bike and light weights. Riney is 87.
Riney also serves on the board of the Salvation Army and volunteers at Youth Horizons and Trinity Academy. A lot of his volunteer work involves asking other people to donate money for some cause or project, something he admits he’s pretty good at.
“If I’m really sold on the project, I’m not at all hesitant to ask.”
Riney and Verna, a longtime piano teacher, both attended Friends after growing up in western Kansas. Riney went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Kansas and then take his doctorate at the University of Southern California.
For the first time in about 50 years, he’s not directing a church choir in Wichita. Northridge Friends, First Presbyterian, Central Christian, Eastminster and Chapel Hill United Methodist are congregations that benefited from his prowess in that area.
So maybe there’s a little more time for Cecil and Verna to spend with their grandkids. Their daughter Michelle, who chairs the fine arts department at Trinity, has three children: Katie, who’s married to Matt Braeuer, former Shocker basketball favorite (and now an assistant basketball coach at North Texas State University); Scott, manager of Ashley Furniture in Wichita; and Kelli, a graphic designer here.
Their son, Doug, who just retired as choral director at East High after 20 years, has a boy, Paul, who’s 14 and “actually a very good percussionist,” Riney said.
“I could talk all day about them.”