Jack Rittenhouse: A big man in many ways

Pat Haley - Contributing columnist

The news of the death of Jack Rittenhouse caught many of us by surprise last week.

I thought of Willie Nelson’s new song — written in remembrance of his son, Billy’s death, “It Is Something You Get Through” — when I heard the sad news about Jack.

“When you lose the one you love,” “You think your world has ended,” “You think your world will be a waste of life, “Without them in it.”

Jack was a big man by any physical measure, but it was his big heart, kind nature, compassion, thoughtfulness, and humility that made you immediately mindful you were in the presence of a truly special man.

He was born with an innate kindness, a quiet manner that drew people to him.

MaNy years ago, my wife Brenda worked with Jack at Clinton Memorial Hospital, and knew he was an accomplished carpenter.

Jack wasn’t hard to find. He was the big guy, the gentleman wearing jeans and a khaki work shirt with a hammer in his hand, and always a smile on his face.

Brenda needed some carpentry work done at her house and asked Jack if he would be interested in the job. He went out and took a look. The project would take some time, but said he would be glad to help.

Jack finished the project within a couple of days. When it was finished, he said goodbye and started out the door.

“Jack, wait a minute. I have your money here for you,” Brenda said.

“Nah, you don’t owe me anything,” he said. “Get a nice set of glasses to go with the new cabinets.”

Brenda knew there was no use to argue, so she didn’t protest. Shortly thereafter, she sent him a check knowing it would be harder for Jack to return the payment.

Jack’s obituary in the Wilmington News Journal spoke of his basketball prowess, and mentioned he was one of the all-time leading scorers in Sabina High School history.

He was more than a scorer. He was a force, a big man who couldn’t be budged under the basket. There aren’t many players from Clinton County who have had the opportunity to play big time basketball in college, but Jack did. He played for George Washington University, averaging 20 points per game.

Our family has known Jack for most of our lives. My brother, Jack Haley, played basketball against him when Port William and Sabina came together in the old Clinton County League. On those cold, winter nights in the small gymnasiums within the little towns, everyone knew Jack Rittenhouse was a force to be reckoned with.

Jack had been out of high school for nearly 20 years when he joined his fellow Sabina alumni to play against the Cincinnati Bengals in a charity game at the Sabina gym on March 10, 1972.

Retired Coach Beryl “Buck” Carter brought his team including Phil Snow, Dean Snow, Jim Reese, Jim Kramer, Mike Moore, Terry Richard, Jack Rittenhouse, Jerry Bentley, Larry Taylor and Kenny Briggs. They played to win. The Bengals were big, but Jack was stronger, and he moved them around like he had the opposing teams during his high school years.

Of that group, Phil and Jack are in the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame. Coach Buck Carter once said at a banquet, “If I had known Phil Snow was such a great shot, I might have let him shoot a little more often.” The crowd roared.

The Sabina High School basketball teams were outstanding in 1963 and 1964. They were headed to the district finals at Hobart Arena in Troy, and every basketball fan in Clinton County was going with them.

My brother, Jim, asked if I wanted to go with him, Jack Rittenhouse, and Jim’s brother-in-law, John Emrick, to the game.

We reached Dayton and everyone was hungry. Jim pulled into the Hasty Tasty on Linden Avenue near Smithville Road.

We were sitting in a booth, and a couple of fellows behind us were getting loud and obnoxious. John was cocky, but he was also small and thin.

“You guys quiet down or I am going to throw you out the front door,” he yelled, as Jim and I hunkered down a little in our seats. These were a couple of Dayton tough guys.

“Yeah? Who’s going to make us?” one asked.

“Jack, kick these guys out,” John said.

As Jack stood up, and the two guys saw his size, they grew pale and quiet. Abruptly, they jumped up and took out of the restaurant.

We laughed all the way to Troy.

Maybe Willie summed it up best.

“You feel there’s no way to go on,” “Life is just a sad, sad song.” “But love is bigger than us all,” “The end is not the end at all,”

“It’s not something you get over,” “But it’s something you get through.”

May you rest in peace, Jack.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner and former Sheriff of Clinton County.


Pat Haley

Contributing columnist