Herbert Rissler

 

Indiana State College

Indiana State University

1962-1999

 

 

Imagine devoting your entire professional life to an institution and watching it grow from something small into something spectacular.  Imagine looking back on your life and realizing that you have built your home around generations of family and loyalty. Dr. Herbert Rissler can do just that.  In a very real sense, he is Indiana and Indiana State University.

 

A self-described small-town family man and “homebody,” Rissler currently resides on a plot of land that has been in his family for generations.  With his childhood rooted in Brazil, Indiana, and having graduated in 1953 from what was then Indiana State Teachers’ College with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and minors in Geography and Commerce, Rissler notes that he has never ventured too far from home.  Recalling his student days at ISTC, Rissler was involved in several academic societies, including Blue key (honor society), Pi Gamma Mu (Social Studies), Phi Delta Kappa (Education), Kappa Delta Pi (Education honors), and Phi Alpha Theta (History), and remembers spending most of his undergraduate career in Normal Hall (then the library).  He began his Master’s degree at ISTC, but finished it in 1956 at Indiana University.  He likewise received his Ph.D. from Indiana University, writing a doctorial dissertation on C.W. Fairbanks, an Indiana man who served as Vice President of the United States.  After graduating from IU, Rissler taught United States History and English History at Indiana University’s South Bend campus until 1962, when he returned to Terre Haute to take up the post of Assistant Professor at the newly reconfigured Indiana State College.

 

During his long career at Indiana State, Rissler devoted a great deal of time and energy to the university and wider community. He was present at the creation of the new Department of History in 1966, and his colleagues soon recommended him to become the Chair, a post he held from 1970 until 1989.  While he enjoyed many facets of this position, including representing the interests of the department and sharing its perspectives with the rest of the university, he also noted with some regret that his administrative duties often dominated his attention, leaving limited time to concentrate on his teaching and research projects.  With regard to service, Rissler was a member of the university’s Administrative Affairs Committee, Legislative Relations Committee, Bicentennial Committee, and Budget and Revenue Committee, and was the faculty advisor to Phi Alpha Theta for several years.  His involvement at various levels of the university thus played a significant role in making ISU what it is today—a very different institution than the one he remembers as a student. 

 

During his time at ISU, Rissler took great pride in his various efforts to preserve and retell the university’s proud history.  He wrote many articles for the alumni magazine, including a biography of George Pliny Brown, the university’s second (and least known) president.  Rissler also undertook the overwhelming task of researching an overall history of Indiana State University, dedicating many sabbaticals to this continually growing endeavor.  The task seemed to be infinite, as the life of the college does not have an end. The project remains unfinished, but he notes that other professors in the department have a similar interest, and hopes that it will be completed someday.  For his part, Rissler would especially like such a history to include many of the seemingly trivial but important facts that have made the university and Indiana such great places.

 

A more tangible preservation project came in the form of Rissler’s many efforts to draw attention to the need to restore and renovate Normal Hall, one of the university’s architectural crown jewels.   As students at Indiana State Normal School and Indiana State Teachers’ College, both Rissler and his father saw the institution develop over the years, seeing many buildings come and go.  He was particularly saddened to see one of the earliest, Reeve Hall (the first women’s dormitory), fall into disrepair and eventually suffer demolition.  One of his main goals, then, was to see that the university’s first library, the place for student activity in the early years of the school, not be similarly neglected.  He notes that Normal Hall holds much historical interest.  In exploring the building, he and a colleague came across several surviving segments of the grand old stained glass dome.  After having the panels restored, they found a home for them on the north side of the ground floor in Cunningham Library.  While Normal Hall currently houses University Archives and a few other offices, the building is nevertheless in dire need of renovation.  Rissler continues to hold out hope that one day the university community will come to appreciate the treasure sitting right on the main quad, and make restoring Normal Hall to its original glory a top priority.

 

Rissler was also a busy man outside the university.  He was a member of many professional organizations, including the Indiana Academy of Social Sciences, Indiana Council of the Social Studies, and Organization of American Historians.  He devoted significant time as a Founders Day speaker and as a solicitor for the United Way, and has been an active member of his church throughout his life.  He also proudly served in the armed forces, and was stationed in Germany during the height of the Cold War.  Rissler’s penchant for service—to his country, state, university, and community—will thus figure greatly into his legacy.

 

 

Melissa Foster

2006

 

 

References

 

Rissler, Herbert. File at Indiana State University Archives.

Rissler, Herbert. Interview by Melissa Foster via telephone. April 5, 2006.

Walters, Gordon. “Professor Writing New ISU History.” Tribune Star. September 22, 1991.

 

Works by Herbert Rissler

 

“David C. Stephenson and the Indiana KKK.” Indiana Social Studies Quarterly 19 (1966): 29-39.

“The Hoosier Elementary School.” Contemporary Education 36 (1966): 157.

“Want to Return to the Good Old Days.” Indiana Teacher 109 (1965): 276-277.

“Prohibition: The Noble Experiment.” Senior High Content Supplement 1 (1964): 1-7.

 


Selected Press Coverage of Herbert Rissler