Donald Ringnalda, 62, literature professor

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2007 - 9:32 PM

A professor at the University of St. Thomas, his work influenced the way critics looked at writings that emerged from the Vietnam War, a colleague said.

Donald Ringnalda, a University of St. Thomas English professor, had a gifted critical eye for the literature of the Vietnam War.

His Vietnam-era experience in the Army "shaped his abhorrence of militarism, imperialism and racism," according to Andrew Scheiber, chairman of the St. Paul university's English Department.

Ringnalda, who had taught literature at St. Thomas since 1983, died of cancer June 27 in St. Paul. He was 62.

His book "Fighting and Writing the Vietnam War" is "probably the number one work that will give you a handle on this body of work," including literature, film and nonfiction, Scheiber said. "Don's basic hypothesis is this: The very way that we make sense of history as Americans keeps us from seeing the world as it actually is and leads us into political and moral disasters."

Ringnalda's work has influenced the way literary critics look at writings that came out of the Vietnam War, Scheiber said.

When arguing a point, Ringnalda could be tough, Scheiber said. "He did not like people speaking from unexamined assumptions," he said. "He was not a person who avoided friction."

Laura Seidel, a St. Thomas senior, took an upper-level American literature class taught by Ringnalda.

"His style was very relaxed," she said. "His lectures had a loose structure. He liked it that way because he liked hearing from his students."

Jeff Day, who wrote about Ringnalda for a student publication and now works in the Star Tribune's newsroom, said he was frail during his illness, "but he was so sharp, and his eyes would just light up when he talked about the classroom environment."His students were so important to him," said Day.

Ringnalda joined St. Thomas' faculty as an adjunct instructor after earning his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Ohio University in 1975, becoming full time at St. Thomas in 1983.

He and his wife, Jonelle, were "urban pioneers" who bought a St. Paul house on the verge of being condemned in the early 1980s. It became their home through his carpentry and cabinetmaking skills, said Scheiber, who recalled that Ringnalda's friends awaited the call to a fish fry after his annual springtime trips to the Boundary Waters.

"To sit in their backyard, on the deck he built, and eat the fish he caught and cooked was really a wonderful thing," Scheiber said.

In addition to his wife of 40 years, Ringnalda is survived by his father, John, of Byron Center, Mich.; a sister, Marijane Zylstra, of Alto, Mich.; and two brothers, David, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Garry, of Alto.

Two memorial celebrations will be held on Aug. 5, one at 2 p.m. at the O'Shaughnessy- Frey Library Center, University of St. Thomas, 2115 Summit Av., St. Paul, and the other at 5 p.m. at the Artists Quarter, 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul.

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