Bill Riegel Memorial Garden Dedication
On October 28th, a chilly autumn day, with fleeting sunlight splashing across the changing leaves in United Jewish Cemeteries Walnut Hills, 30 guests gathered to remember the former UJC Superintendent, William Riegel. Bill Riegel served as the UJC Superintendent from 1991-2008. Bill passed away in March 2017. A garden area, with a bench bearing the Riegel name, was dedicated in his memory.
JCGC was honored to have Bill’s wife, Peggy, along with Bill and Peggy’s son, David, and grandson, Nathan, as well as Bill’s sister Tammy, and her husband, Kenny, attend the event. Other guests included several former UJC Board members and former and current JCGC Board members, JCGC Guardians and Friends donors, JCGC staff members, and community members.
Dr. Richard Kerstine, former UJC Board member, provided a remembrance of Bill Riegel. Rabbi Gary Zola attended the dedication and offered remarks on the history of our cemeteries and a short tour of the cemetery and the history it holds.
The history of UJC goes back to the middle of the 19th century, formed by KK Bene Israel and KK B’nai Jeshurun, now known as Rockdale Temple and the Isaac M. Wise Temple, respectively. UJC eventually acquired six cemetery locations, including the Chestnut Street Cemetery, which is the oldest Jewish cemetery west of the Alleghenies and was founded in 1821.
Dr. Kerstine noted that Bill Riegel helped transform and professionalize the cemetery association, creating much of the framework on which JCGC was built and still operates. Bill parlayed his experience as Superintendent at Greenville Union Cemetery and his passion for teaching and helping others into his UJC position. Bill was a great resource to the other Jewish cemeteries in Cincinnati that were not a part of UJC and he enjoyed being of service to the Jewish community.
Dr. Kerstine noted that Bill’s passion for teaching and helping others made his employees at UJC a priority for Bill. He took pride in training them in proper cemetery protocols and best practices, teaching them skills they did not previously possess, and trying to help in other ways, as well.
Bill’s son, David, fondly recalled spending summers working with his father at the cemetery and noting that his father took great pride in his work, a lesson which David carried into his own life and has instilled in his son. Ronnie King, JCGC Foreman, who worked with Bill for many years, spoke eloquently about his former boss, noting that Bill taught him almost everything he knows about his work and recalling how much Bill cared, personally, about the UJC staff members.
Bill liked people and he liked teaching people and finding solutions to problems. For instance, when UJC had hired some staff from the former Soviet Union and there was a language barrier, Bill translated the English words for pieces of equipment into Russian and had labels made in Russian for equipment.
Bill made an effort to form relationships with the surrounding neighborhood, as well. He would send JCGC’s snowplow out to the surrounding streets, which were often not plowed by the city for hours after a storm. Bill wanted to help neighbors be able to get to work or leave their homes safely, and for them to think of the cemetery as an asset to have in the neighborhood. And Bill would also invite kids from the neighborhood in for a tour, and then enlist their help in keeping the cemetery clean, by asking them to not litter along the cemetery. He knew that kindness and a spirit of friendship would go farther than scolding the children, and that their curiosity was part of why they spent time along the cemetery wall.
After Bill retired, he was active in his church community, filling in as a leader when they were without clergy. He loved woodworking and made children’s toys and other useful items. Bill and Peggy also were interested in theatre, set design and also acting. Bill often played a butler in productions.
Bill planned and developed the section of the cemetery, where the garden is located. The Jewish Federation’s Young Adult LEAD program helped prepare the garden, which surrounds a tree that was planted by volunteers from Rockdale Temple. We all stand, to some extent, on the shoulders of others, whose work and commitment are a benefit to us today. Bill Riegel will be remembered fondly by JCGC and the community.