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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Thomas J. Risinger

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 14-16 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Thomas J. Risinger, deceased, who was long a prominent factor in commercial education, left hundreds of former pupils throughout the Mohawk valley as a record of his life work, for he established the Utica School of Commerce on September 14, 1896, and remained its principal to the time of his death, which occurred on the 6th of April, 1919, when he was nearing the seventy-seventh milestone on life's journey. He was born in Vanport, Pennsylvania, on the 5th of June, 1842, his parents being William and Elizabeth Risinger. He graduated from the academy at Beaver, Pennsylvania, from the Edinboro Normal School and the Iron City Business College at Pittsburgh. Then he entered the Spencerian Art School at Geneva, Ohio, and while there was under the personal instruction of Platt R. Spencer, the author of the Spencerian system of penmanship. Mr. Risinger chose teaching as his profession. He was at one time principal of the high school at Millerstown, Pennsylvania, and he also had the principalship of a department in the Detroit Business University. Subsequently he went to Troy, where he was associated with McCreary & Shields when their business college was on Third street in that city. At that time Mr. McCreary conducted a branch school in Utica. It was in 1887 when Mr. McCreary's sudden death made it necessary for Mr. Shields, the surviving partner, to send somebody to Utica to conduct the Utica branch. He sent Mr. Risinger, and from that time until death closed his eyes the latter was a factor in business education in all this section. Until 1896 he conducted the school for Mr. Shields. In that year Mr. Risinger determined to start out for himself, and he took the upper floors of the Munson building. There until 1915 he instructed hundreds in the intricacies of business. In 1915, when the Mayro building was projected, he secured a lease of certain space in it, and had the rooms laid out according to his specifications. This gave him the most commodious and best equipped business school in this part of the state.

The Utica Saturday Globe of April 12, 1919, printed the following tribute to the memory of Thomas J. Risinger:

"All through central New York, wherever clerks climb up on their high stools and flourish pens in those beautiful artistic curves which we so admire and which are so hard to make; wherever men stand behind tellers' windows in banks and count so quickly the greenbacks it takes us such a long time to collect; wherever deft-fingered girls sit at typewriters and make the keys rattle with incredible swiftness, and run adding machines and perform the hundred and one expert services that are so indispensable to modern businesswherever these are found there also are found heavy hearts over the loss of Thomas J. Risinger, their schoolmaster. The master penman has crossed his last 't', dotted his last 'i'. In glowing script is his record inscribed. Business men felt no hesitancy about calling up and asking Thomas J. Risinger to send them an accountant or a secretary, or a clerk, because they knew that he would not send an incompetent young man or young woman. So there are hundreds — yes, thousands — of business people who can put their finger on the day they came under this master's instruction at the Utica School of Commerce as the beginning of their business careers. For Thomas J. Risinger was far greater than a mere writing master, although few could excel him on the Spencerian curves. He was far greater than a mere drillmaster in bookkeeping and the other arts of business. He was a broad-minded man of gracious personality, of ever-recurring youth, of a keen sense of humor, and kept always in touch with new ideas. He was never a man to stick to the quill pen and inkhorn when the steel pen and the fountain pen were in common use, nor to bemoan the lost art of addition when adding machines were perfected, nor to disdain any device or any business help that was of approved value. He was keenly alive to the needs of the times. Since 1917 the master penman had not been able to go to his school. In fact, much of the time he had been confined to his room, where his cheery habit never deserted him. A man of broad mind and liberal views, he loved to associate with his fellowmen. The high regard that was felt for their teacher by his present and former pupils was evident in the wealth of floral tributes that marked the funeral of Mr. Risinger. Burial was in the family plot at Forest Hill cemetery. Thus ends the visible existence of one who left a deep imprint on the business life of all central New York. The invisible existence will not end until the last precept of the master penman is forgotten by the last person who directly or indirectly comes under that influence."

In early manhood Mr. Risinger was united in marriage to Miss Eleanor E. MacKenzie of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He leaves three children: Presley MacKenzie, who is associated with his brother in the management of the Utica School of Commerce; William S., who succeeded his father as principal of the Utica School of Commerce; and Bessie A., the wife of Clarence F. Putnam of Utica. Thomas J. Risinger was a member of the Republican Club and exemplified in his life the teachings and purposes of the Masonic fraternity, belonging to Utica Lodge No. 47, F. & A. M.

Probably no local institution has carried the name of Utica into so many far-off places and with greater credit to the city than the Utica School of Commerce. Graduates of this splendid school may be found in all parts of the country, for since its inception more than ten thousand students have received the benefits of the splendid business education which it affords. When Mr. Risinger opened this school in Utica in 1896, his name at the head of the faculty was an assurance that it would be successful. And successful it was from the very first day of its existence. Many of Utica's leading business men of today are graduates of the Utica School of Commerce, and there are few establishments in the community that have not among their office employes one or more persons who received their training at this school. It has an annual enrollment of over five hundred and provides for its students the best business education and training it is possible to receive anywhere in the country. One of the unusual features of this institution is the splendid cooperation which at all times exists between the instructors and the students, and among the students themselves. It is like one large, happy family and everything possible is done to encourage this feature.

The institution is one of the best equipped in a physical sense in the land. It was built especially for the Utica School of Commerce and is a model of its kind. The editor of the Business Educator, the leading paper published in the interests of business schools, had this to say of the Utica School of Commerce:

"At Utica we spent a day visiting the Utica School of Commerce, which we found to be housed in a building designed to order for the school, and we have never seen a commercial school so completely combining the atmosphere of both school and business as in this institution."

William S. Risinger, the present principal and head of the Utica School of Commerce, is a son of the founder and, had many years of excellent training before assuming direction of the school at his father's death. He, as well as all his associates on the faculty, believe in keeping abreast of the times always, and every innovation that will tend to increase the efficiency of the school is promptly put into operation. Positions are secured for all graduates and Mr. Risinger and his associates interest themselves in the welfare and advancement of the graduates long after they have left the institution. Perhaps the best testimonial to the successful methods of the Utica School of Commerce in training the youth along business lines is the fact that it is daily in receipt of requests for help from business establishments far and near. This is an institution of which Utica and Uticans may justly be proud.

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