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Friends and family pay tribute to ‘Double R’

He was a special man for all reasons.

Randolph Rabenold passed away last week, but he lives on in the many people whose lives have been touched by his hand upon their hearts.

Affectionately known as “Double R,” the lifelong Lehighton resident had shared his multiple talents with anyone and everyone. He had earned several accolades as a phenomenal art teacher for 36 of his nearly nine decades of life and as a beloved high school and summer league basketball coach, earning him awards in both endeavors. Rabenold was inducted into the Jim Thorpe Area Sports Hall of Fame and the Carbon County Sports Hall of Fame in recognition for his five decades as the summer league basketball commissioner. In 2009, the basketball court in Memorial Park was named after him.

Cartoon creator and war hero

At Lehighton High School, Rabenold lettered in three sports. He also was the class historian, wrote stories and drew cartoons for the Leni Lenapian, the school newspaper.

One day after graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. After boot camp, he played baritone horn for the Corps’ California First Division band and took part in the filming of the movie “The Sands of Iwo Jima.” In 1950, Sgt. Rabenold was in the first Marine Brigade at Busan, South Korea, where his war bravery earned him five battle stars.

The Elwood Miller AMVETS post in Lehighton, where “Double R” was adjutant for 60 years, will be renaming their scholarship fund, “The Randy Rabenold Scholarship.”

Family man and legendary coach

Following his discharge from the military, he met Ruth Arlene Haas, who would become his wife of 53 years. A graduate of Kutztown University, he and Ruth raised six children.

“It was hard for us children,” said his son, Ron, “to grow up in the shadow of this great man, knowing we had to share him with so many people.”

Rabenold coached high school basketball for 28 years at Jim Thorpe and was known to have never cut anyone who tried out for the team. When he didn’t have enough uniforms, he silk-screened the extra ones in his classroom. Rabenold had the most and loudest players on his bench compared to anyone Jim Thorpe played. Reporter Joe Boyle dubbed Rabenold’s team bench “Randy’s Raiders.”

George “Chuck” Hanna, retired vice president of Reader’s Digest, coached with Rabenold back in the ’70s.

“He had a great relationship with kids,” he said. “He loved them all, and they all respected him.”

Hanna said that Rabenold cared less about winning games and more about making sure the players had fun.

“Randy had an incredible memory, too,” Hanna said. “He never forgot a kid’s name. When they became adults, Randy still could match every name with faces and even make remarks about shots they took in the games.”

Lehighton Area Elementary Center Principal Aaron Sebelin also coached summer league basketball with Rabenold.

“Randy would pick up kids and take them home if they didn’t have rides,” Sebelin said. “He treated athletes and nonathletes the same. One year, we won only two games, but I had so much fun because Randy made it fun for everyone.”

Sebelin’s friendship grew stronger as the years went by. “Randy made a beautiful piece of art for my wedding,” he said.

‘A walking encyclopedia’

Rabenold kept meticulous records, including a newspaper archive containing clippings of interest to his friends. The Morning Call dubbed him “a walking encyclopedia.”

At Trinity Lutheran Church, he created over 1,000 unique baptismal banners. He also utilized his artistic talents to produce countless cartoons, signs and various other materials for sports programs, veterans’ organizations and the American Legion, and he did it all for free.

“He let his mind create what it will,” Ron said.

In 1993, Rabenold held his “Jim Thorpe Alumni Art Show” that drew over 500 people in three days. In 2014, he was honored by his family with a surprise art show of his works. The show was attended by hundreds.

Daniel McGinley, longtime owner of McGinley’s Bar in Blakeslee, was a friend of Rabenold’s for 61 years.

“If you look up the word ‘gentleman’ in the dictionary,” said McGinley, “you’d find Randy’s picture there.”

McGinley remarked about Rabenold’s wonderful kindness and also made mention of his friend’s incredible memory.

“I once bet Randy 10 bucks that George Halas, who went on to own the NFL football Bears, had played in the same outfield with Babe Ruth. It was a few weeks later when I opened my mail and there was Randy’s 10 bucks.”

Daryl Zurn was Rabenold’s “Art Student of the Year” in 1985 and remembered his teacher’s extraordinary attention to helping kids, and one in particular, who played on Rabenold’s summer team.

“The boy’s parents were both killed in a car accident,” Zurn said. “Randy picked him up and took him home after the games. He put him in the game and instructed all the players to let this kid shoot the ball, and when the ball went in, the smile on the kid’s face was priceless.”

Precious memories

When asked to make final comments about “Double R,” there was further praise about the life of Randy Rabenold.

“He was forever the gloomy optimist, forever finding the good in bad situations and in people, too,” Ron said.

“Every day with Randy was an accomplishment,” Hanna said.

“I became an educator because of Randy Rabenold,” Sebelin said, “and just like he did, I try to help kids feel good and build their self-esteem.”

“You can argue which man is the greatest athlete and the greatest teacher, but you can never argue which athlete and which teacher was the greatest man,” McGinley said about Rabenold.

“I visited Randy in the hospital when my mother was there,” said Zurn, “and he really wanted a good cup of coffee, so every time I came, it was an honor to bring him a cup of Turkey Hill coffee.”

“He was always writing notes on index cards,” Ron said. “The last one he wrote said, ‘What more do you want?’?”

Ron Rabenold captured the essence of his father in these words from the eulogy he spoke at the funeral.

“He was the greatest of humble men.”

One of Randy Rabenold's cartoons. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Anne Martino, of Lake Harmony, talks to Randolph “Randy” Rabenold in 2014 after he autographed one of his prints for her. Martino was one of Rabenold's students during his 37 years teaching art in the Jim Thorpe Area School District.