One GHS Alum’s Love of the City and the Schools of Garrett: The Backstory of His Generous Donation
by Carolyn S. Ridenour, GHS Class of 1960
Garrett Schools Alumni Association
February 7, 2022

Vowing to contribute to the “good of society” for one Garrett High School alum turned out to mean financially supporting the advanced education of GHS graduates. This was the commitment of Rick Kneisley, and the beginning of this story. He attended Garrett Schools from grade 6 through grade 11 (completed in 1961). Then, because Rick’s mom needed to move closer to her job in Fort Wayne, they moved there. That was his entire family, he says, “just me and my mom.” He graduated the next year from South Side High School.

He and his wife, Judy, recently made a very generous donation of $25,000 to the Garrett Schools Alumni Association Trust fund – significantly increasing the value of the fund and securing its future stability, a most noteworthy contribution. The Alumni Association is extremely grateful for this amazing donation. Moreover, his donation confirms his strong belief in the association’s scholarship program and in the aspirations of GHS graduates. The Alumni Association annually awards scholarships (typically, from $1000 to $2000) to selected graduating GHS seniors to support advanced education and training.

Love of the City of Garrett and the Garrett Schools

Unquestionably, Kneisley’s contribution comes from his heart. This was clearly revealed in my recent telephone interview with him as well as our email correspondence over the past month. His fondest memories and stories will surely resonate with many alumni. Kneisley expresses a deep love of Garrett, his true home town he didn’t know until he was 9 years old. Both the city of Garrett and the Garrett schools, he says, profoundly solidified his values, setting his life’s journey in a positive direction.

He states that their donation to future Garrett graduates was strongly motivated by the words of Andrew Carnegie, a well-known philanthropist he admires. He quotes Carnegie: “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer during his or her lifetime for the good of society.” Kneisley believes in that sacred trust. Currently, a retired Financial Services and Financial Sales Manager, he quickly returns our conversation to the heart of his donation: “I loved growing up in Garrett.”

Both the city and the schools are strongly embedded in his memories. For example, he recalls, “I loved the nine-hole golf course…where I played countless rounds with friends.” Golf, he says, was at the opposite end of town from where he rode his bike to the “awesome” Garrett swimming pool. His bike also took him to the Garrett Public Library, the Gala Theatre with its Saturday afternoon double feature matinees with Loony Toon cartoons, the Bakery and its five-cent cupcakes next to the Newsstand on the corner near the theatre. He recalls the A & W Root Beer Stand, another popular spot for him and his friends: “The glass jugs were iced, and the hotdogs were scrumptious.” He warmly recalls that the grandmother of his best friend, Denny Blaker, had a record store downtown. He and his friends, he says, were among scores of other Garrett teenagers congregating there on Saturdays to buy their 45RPM records. Getting a hamburger and an ice cream soda at Best Drug Store for less than half a dollar added to his repertoire of many more vivid memories. Life for a kid in 1950s Garrett was full of engaging opportunities.

He attributes his own career success to seeds planted not only in the experiences of the city, but profoundly situated in the Garrett schools. Compared to most of his 6th grade classmates who had begun kindergarten together, he came in from the outside. Reminiscing, he says his experiences taught him how to adapt to change, how to get to know people, how to engage with them. For the most part, it was a positive experience. His affinity for the schools and the city came easily. The influence of Garrett educators is part of his story, both teachers and administrators.

The Education Journey after High School

He reflects, “College never would have happened for me had it not been for our high school assistant principal, Ben Simpson.” He reports that, as a GHS junior, he had overall average grades and no ready family financial resources. With Simpson’s guidance, he learned that as an Indiana resident, he’d be accepted at a state school. Even more enlightening and enticing, he learned from Simpson that he could begin classes at Purdue University conveniently located in downtown Fort Wayne. He and Judy, who had also attended South Side High School, married. He attended classes at Purdue in Fort Wayne while both he and Judy worked.

Kneisley worked at many jobs in Fort Wayne during those first two college years, including the Sunbeam Bakery, Siegel’s Delicatessen, waiting on tables, and painting houses during the summers. He describes working “all sorts of odd jobs my first two years of college till I discovered what I was good at.”

During his final two years of college, they lived on Purdue’s main campus in West Lafayette, continuing to work to pay for living expenses and college tuition. Judy worked on campus in the student union. Kneisley had a job on weekends and during the summers selling mobile homes in West Lafayette. He discovered that he thrived on those experiences he liked best: talking with people, getting to know them, gaining their trust, listening to their stories. Turned out – these were attitudes and skills for good salespeople. His boss set him the goal to sell two or three mobile homes a month. During his first month he sold eleven. He found out, he says, that he loved sales. When I asked, he humbly admitted that his boss confirmed that he was pretty good at it, too.

A Successful Career Path over Several Decades

He completed his bachelor’s degree in Economics at Purdue, a major step on his life journey. His affinity for the sales process and his actual success in sales carried him to a new venue: sales in the financial market. He responded to opportunities in banking, the eventual setting for his role in Financial Services and Financial Sales Management. He was drawn to helping his bank customers, potential investors, understand the ins and outs of financial investments. For a time early in this career he and his growing family moved to New York City for a training period on Wall Street. Judy also completed college – both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and had a very successful business career for more than three decades.

Over the years he and Judy had two sons, and have lived in Texas and Southern California during their 50 plus years of marriage. They retired a few years ago and presently live in Texas.

Garrett’s Annual Alumni Reunion Brings Old Friends Together

He reconnected with his GHS alumni friends at the 2000 Alumni Reunion Golf Outing, beginning a 20 year experience of annually renewed golf matches. These reunions reinforce the basis of his advice to graduating seniors: “Hang on to your current school friends and work to make them your lifelong friends.” Just as Eric Bickel and David Schafer and the late Denny Blaker have been his lifelong Garrett High School friends.

Wisdom: Both Looking Back and Looking Forward

In his 77th year he would tell GHS students his strong belief that “Everyone is brilliant at something!” In his case, he says, he stumbled into it; and it was sales. Everyone, he says, has something unique, some things they’re good at. Just like each one’s DNA is unique, so is his/her gift or vocation. Challenged by me, “Yes, but how do you find it?” he didn’t hesitate. “First,” he suggests, “you graduate from high school and get a job. Monitor what you like about that job, what engages you, energizes you. Then, at some point, try to move to another job that has those characteristics, maybe more of them. Continue to monitor ‘what does it feel like in your heart?’ The key is self-awareness. Continue to discover your self and your successes. You’ll grow in those ways that reinforce what you do best.” This exploration, Kneisley promotes, is – perhaps at times uncertain and rocky – but, ultimately, a road to success.

Kneisley’s road of discovery was clearly his and Judy’s journey. It’s a success story that promises to inspire us all. It’s a story to especially inspire future Garrett High School seniors. They will benefit not only from Rick’s and Judy’s generosity. They’ll also benefit from Kneisley’s story and all he learned where the journey started at age 9 in his beloved hometown.