Lewis N. Rinko died suddenly this Tuesday at age 81. He was a former owner and publisher of the Swarthmorean, an author, owner of an advertising firm, husband of Kay Rinko, father to two daughters, Sonia and Nicole, and Swarthmore resident of 48 years.
Friends from Swarthmore Presbyterian Church — which the Rinkos joined in 1977 — recalled him on Wednesday. “Lew was a lovely person, a stalwart member of the congregation, and a genuine man of his community,” said Richard Wohlschlager, former pastor of SPC. “He came from hard circumstances, and was courageous and graceful.”
The hardscrabble life in his native Wilkes-Barre, Pa., gave rise to a pivotal period in Lew’s life. His father died in a mining accident, and when his widowed mother could not care for him, Lew was accepted into Girard College in Philadelphia. The venerable boarding school was chartered in 1848 by financier Stephen Girard to educate poor children and orphans, especially those from the coal belt. Lew attended Girard from first grade through graduation.
His life as a Girard “Hummer” was grist for the creative mill, and over the years, Lew ground out a memoir of his school years entitled The Unique Childhood of a Hummer. Self-published in 2013, the book expressed Lew’s fundamental optimism while chronicling a rigorous education and Dickensian socialization at the school.
Lew continued his education at Temple University, earning a B.S. in marketing, which ushered him into a career in communications. Armed with his degree, Lew began work in advertising, progressing through several ad agencies in and around the city. At age 32, he established his own ad agency in Philadelphia. His clients over the next 35 years would include Cigna, DuPont, Bell Atlantic, Glaxo SmithKline, and many smaller firms.
During his advertising career, Lew also spent 13 years as publisher of the Swarthmorean, which he bought in 1976 from Peter R. Told. Told commented in his final edition: “Among the paper’s new owner and publisher’s qualifications is his appreciation of the Community and his desire to serve it well.”
Lew did indeed serve it well, increasing the scope of the Swarthmorean’s coverage, as well as its size and price. He was joined in the enterprise by his wife Kay, who became staff photographer. With a fun-loving staff, the first floor office of the Swarthmorean (now Bamboo Bistro) was by turns a noisy news and production operation and a hangout, complete with a bar Lew sent home from an English pub.
Lew continued to run his advertising agency from the second floor of the Swarthmorean building following his sale of the newspaper in 1989 to current publishers Don Delson and Beth Gross,
Following retirement from business, Lew remained very active in the life of Swarthmore and the area. Lew and Kay were involved in Scott Arboretum, and at the time of his death, Lew was president of the Swarthmore Senior Citizens Association, which oversees The Gathering Place and the Dew Drop Inn. Alice “Putty” Willetts recalled, “We made Lew vice president without asking him, and then when I couldn’t serve any longer as president, he took over everything. He was conscientious, kind, and wanted things to be done right. We had a lot in common, particularly our determination to stay in Swarthmore. I loved him very much; everybody loved Lew.”
At the Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, Lew may have been most strongly identified with the Scotch Eggs he made for the SPC Fall Fair, where they usually sold out before noon. He served as an elder, a trustee, and a member of the Hunger Committee/Group “forever,” said SPC administrator Dorrie McGrath. Longtime SPC member and Swarthmore native Leonard Ellis recalls Lew as “always accessible to people in the church and the community. He was an exceptionally devoted father to his two daughters, and he loved Swarthmore and the house where he and Kay remained.”
We deeply mourn the passing of former Swarthmorean publisher Lew Rinko, who died suddenly April 5. Lew lived in Swarthmore for nearly 50 years, and when after 13 years as publisher (1976 to 1989) he decided to sell the paper, he only wanted the new buyers to be fellow residents so it would continue to be a forum for community affairs. Under his stewardship, the Swarthmorean expanded its pages and columns and shed its previous reserve.
Although he spent most of his adult life in advertising, Lew was also the author of The Unique Childhood of a Hummer, which is a thinly disguised memoir of his childhood at Girard College, a Philadelphia orphanage for fatherless boys, which we happily reviewed in one of our editions.
At his death, Lew was serving as president of the Swarthmore Senior Citizens Association, an umbrella organization for The Gathering Place and Dew Drop Inn.
But perhaps Lew’s greatest role was as loving husband, father and grandfather to his wife, Kay, and daughters, Sunny and Nikki, and his grandchildren, to whom we offer warm condolences.
Farewell good friend and esteemed civic leader.
The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Girard College, 2101 S. College Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19121; to the Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, 727 Harvard Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081; or to the Swarthmore Senior Citizens’ Association, P.O. Box 306, Swarthmore, PA 19081.