UofL Sociology professor Dr. Jon Rieger, who died in 2020 at age 83, distinguished himself in many areas beyond a remarkable 60-year academic career, including as a pioneer in visual sociology, as a US Navy captain, as a board member and patron of Louisville community and arts organizations, and as the author of a seminal bodybuilding manual.
Beyond these achievements and closer to the hearts of the local artistic community was Rieger’s strong impact on their creative work and lives. He functioned as a mentor, sounding board, supporter, caring critic, and advocate for many local musicians, photographers, painters and dancers. His obituary captures the love and respect they had for a man passionately devoted to fine art in its multi-varied forms.
One of Rieger’s strong, lifelong passions was contemporary classical music, which led him to amass a vast collection of recordings in various formats. Some are extremely rare, perhaps singular, from such locations as Russia, China, Eastern Europe, and the Americas, many gathered abroad during his years of active duty in the Navy.
Due to Rieger’s generosity and the University Libraries great fortune, these recordings are now publicly available at UofL’s Music Library. The new Jon Rieger Collection contains around 7,000 recordings (circa 4,000 LPs, 2,500 CDs and some 200 cassettes). Due to the size of the collection, the library’s process of cataloging is ongoing, but all recordings are available for borrowing or enjoying on site.
“Many of the recordings were collected while he traveled the world in the Navy and sought out recordings from other countries,” said Music Library Director James Procell. “So what you see in this collection are some extremely rare recordings, many of which were never commercially available in the US. He ordered pressings of particular broadcasts he encountered on the BBC, Radio Netherlands or on other international stations, so it’s possible these are the only recordings.”
A true audiophile, Rieger created a sophisticated sound environment in his home with two massive speakers for high-quality listening, said Procell. “He enjoyed sharing this experience with others and would often invite friends over for listening sessions and parties.”
In 2015 after Procell became Music Library director, Rieger reached out to him to arrange the library’s acquisition of his collection “when he was done with it” (i.e. upon his death). He wanted it to go to UofL, but remain separate from the Library’s main holdings.
“Typically, we can’t do that for most individual donors, but since Rieger’s collection is so unique and distinguished and expansive, we agreed to create a separate area for it. Not many people collect these types of sound recordings anymore, or have these big physical collections, so this is particularly special.”
Procell also plans to create a separate listening area with comfortable seating and headphones, so that students, faculty, researchers and the public can come and enjoy the music and browse the stacks at their leisure. The Music Library will organize the collection by record label, following Rieger’s own printed catalog of works and method of organization, which he updated until 2018.
“Anyone can check out the albums even though not all of them are cataloged as yet,” said Procell. “All are browse-able and on the shelves.”
Procell has been aided in his curation of Rieger’s collection by Louisville cellist, songwriter, and storyteller Ben Sollee. In Rieger’s obituary, Sollee says that Rieger “built a family around his love of the arts . . . 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 was a huge supporter of the arts,” said Procell. “He financially supported causes he thought were important, including various arts organizations, and individual artists, photographers, dancers and musicians.”
“He was a very good friend of the Music Library and the School of Music and is missed by everyone here that knew him.”
During last fall’s 50th Anniversary celebration for 1968-69 UofL graduates, Dr. Donald Shoemaker and Cathy Shoemaker visited the Belknap campus for the first time in almost as many years.
“It was amazing, completely different,” said Don. “We couldn’t believe how things have changed.”
Don admits that over the years he had been immersed in his medical practice as an anesthesiologist at Baptist Health in Louisville and hadn’t kept up with the growing campus. “I went to med school in 1968 and hadn’t seen it since and the whole time the campus was growing. My goodness. The way it expanded was amazing.”
UofL Archivist and Historian Tom Owen led the couple on a lengthy tour of the campus, fielding questions about buildings and settings both familiar and unfamiliar. Owen is well-known for leading Belknap History Walking Tours throughout the year where he plays raconteur and tour guide for groups of faculty, staff, students and Louisville residents.
“He took us out to the new music school, where it was all older houses when I was in school,” said Donald, referring to the building built in 1980 which now contains the School of Music, Comstock Hall and Music Library. “There are three old buildings nearby and I used to take Poli-Sci, English and other classes there.” Facing north, “there was a stone wall, a parking lot and a pizza place” that once lined the now long-gone Shipp Street.
“On the south side of the campus I remember the Purina silos that they tore down. They moved the observatory and other buildings, just pushed them back.”
Cathy, who earned a master’s degree in social work, said that back in the day, “Kent School was in a large yellow brick house near the old Confederate statue. I took a statistics course in the garage.”
The couple were also impressed with the Foucault pendulum clock installed on the ground floor of Grawemeyer Hall in 1978. “The ground level, where you now see the pendulum, was the finance office where we would drop off our tuition checks.”
Don remembers the main library in Schneider Hall – now the site of Fine Arts and the Bridwell Art Library – to study between classes and before fraternity events. He remembers the long fountain on the building’s east side was occasionally visited by soap bubbles as pranking students poured in laundry detergent.
“As a science major, I had all my classes in one building, the natural sciences building by Eastern Parkway. Now all the sciences have their own buildings. I’d just wait in the Natural Sciences library before classes.
“I’d be walking my legs off now, but probably I’d be in better shape.”
Since graduating from UofL, the couple has been busy with careers and raising a family of three daughters. Their eldest daughter also has strong UofL ties: Amy Shoemaker is the Associate Athletic Director for Administration and Deputy University Counsel. Lisa Borden, their middle daughter is a UofL medical school graduate and pediatrician in Middletown, and youngest Kristin Shoemaker is a commercial airline pilot, living in Charlotte North Carolina.
Cathy and Don were born and raised in Louisville and graduated in 1964 from local high schools, Cathy from Presentation Academy and Don from Seneca High School. Don’s fellow Seneca High School alum was Wes Unseld, the former UofL Cardinal basketball star who played for the Baltimore Bullets and was named NBA Most Valuable Player among other accolades. Unseld passed away on June 2, 2020.
“He helped our team win the Kentucky HS championship in our junior and senior years. We both went on to UofL; I went into med school and he went to Baltimore and had an NBA hall of fame basketball career.”
“He was a good, good guy. It was just a shock that he passed away. I saw him six years ago at the 50th HS reunion. We weren’t close personal friends, but we all rooted for him and I was proud of his talent.”
Cathy earned a master of science in social work from the Kent school. “First I went to Spaulding University and then I was a student at Kent School but I owed the state two years of work because they paid for my tuition,” she said. “I worked in Frankfort, teaching social workers how to lead therapy groups for families with dependent children.” She then worked as a clinical social worker for River Region (later Centerstone), and then after starting her family, she worked part-time for Seven County Services.
After Don earned a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Sciences, he entered the UofL Medical School and completed his residency at UofL Hospital. He served in the Air Force for two years in Omaha, Nebraska and then moved back to Louisville.
Cathy tells the story of how the couple met in 1970 at the old Louisville General Hospital – in the Psych ward, she says, laughing – while both were on rotation there. Cathy was working on her social work degree and Don was a medical student on rotation.
After they married, Cathy began working for the state of Kentucky, traveling all over the state to conduct trainings. At the same time, Don’s residency meant he worked overnight every third day.
“We used to joke that our marriage will last much longer than anyone else’s because we just hadn’t seen each other as much,” said Cathy.
In his long career – he retired in 2013 – Don has seen many changes in healthcare and in the world of anesthesia.
“Back in 1977, it was mostly MDs providing anesthesia, but now we need CRNAs, nurse anesthetists to staff all the areas where anesthesia is needed. Back in 1977, we had six ORs. Now there are close to 30, and they need anesthesia services in the endoscopy suites and delivery rooms, radiology, etc. Even in outpatient centers.”
“But during this COVID 19 crisis, I think people have changed the way they view anesthesiologists,” he continued. “They are heroes. They have to put people on ventilators, intubate them and keep them alive, keep their airways open as they battle the virus.”
Change has not only struck the healthcare profession, but also higher education and in particular, the University over the past 14 years of daughter Amy’s tenure. But though UofL had experienced some challenging times, Cathy and Don both expressed their enthusiasm for President Neeli Bendapudi and Athletic Director Vince Tyra.
“We have been very impressed with Neeli as a leader,” said Cathy. “She has been a stabilizing force and done a great job of turning things around.”
“We can’t say enough about her leadership. She’s personable, smart, and so energetic.”