Mike Rhinaman served the house he loved until the very end.
The Ronald McDonald House at Riley Hospital for Children was his passion, the families were his friends.
So it was appropriate that he was honored in a memorial service Sunday at the Riley Outpatient Center. The 57-year-old died July 26, and hundreds filled the Ruth Lilly Learning Center auditorium to say goodbye to a man remembered as a giver, a jokester, a trivia master and a consummate shopper.
Rhinaman, a longtime volunteer and part-time employee of the RMH, was known for his devotion to the house and to the families who visit there while their children are hospitalized.
“He fell in love with Riley from the first time he volunteered,” Nancy Cox said of her brother. “He worked weekends and all the holidays.”
He also got his siblings involved in volunteering. Every Easter, the five Rhinaman siblings would purchase food and prepare and serve Easter dinner at the RMH to honor another sister who died unexpectedly nine years ago.
Now there are four siblings, and older brother Jack wonders who will keep track of their volunteer commitments without Mike as the organizer.
“Our lives revolved around the Ronald McDonald House,” Jack Rhinaman said. “On the holidays when he volunteered, we would want to wait to eat and he would say, ‘No, go ahead, just make sure I get a plate. Or two or three.’ ”
Jack Rhinaman wrote his baby brother’s obituary, but he wrote it in first person, as if the younger man had written it himself. He wanted people to see his brother in a more human way.
“I was born on January 20, 1962 at St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove, IN to Jack C. Sr. and Marilyn Hertz Rhinaman, and died reluctantly on July 26, 2019. The cause of my passing is not important. It is more important to know that I left my mark on this earth … hoping that I left it a better place.”
“GOD BLESS HIM FOR HIS LOVE”
By all accounts – and there were many who shared stories Sunday – Mike Rhinaman certainly left this Earth a better place.
“I have a feeling over the next year we’re going to find a whole lot of things we didn’t know that Mike did for us,” said Karin Ogden, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana.
“I promise you we’re going to lift up and celebrate all that was important to him,” she told those gathered for the memorial. “We’ll also try to lead by example, be there for each other and for the families and our community. God bless him for his love and his service to this house. We are better because of it.”
Mary Friend, volunteer resources manager for the house, reminded everyone that Rhinaman had received RMH’s highest volunteer service award one year into his decade of work for the house.
Though he was always front and center when it came to delivering supplies, decorating for parties, providing food and offering manpower, she said, he preferred to fade into the background in photos. He did not seek the spotlight.
“Mike may no longer be with us in body, but he will continue to be with us in spirit,” Friend said. “Michael Rhinaman has not left this building.”
Rhinaman, who worked for more than three decades in banking, was divorced and had no children of his own, but he held the families of the children hospitalized at Riley close to his heart. He remembered names of kids and parents and sought to make their time at the RMH a respite, even if just for a little while.
One father came up to the microphone to say that Rhinaman did just that for him when his infant daughter lay critically ill at Riley over the Christmas holiday several years ago.
He recalled how Rhinaman checked him in for Christmas Eve dinner and how he was able to find gifts for his children at Santa’s Workshop, which Rhinaman organized. In a poem he wrote to honor the volunteer, he said, “The giver is Mike, the gift is love. We open his gifts even after he is gone.”
The man’s daughter recovered and just started kindergarten.
HE LOVED TO LAUGH
There were many tears shared at the service, but there was laughter too. Because Rhinaman, who loved the Indianapolis Colts, photography and auto racing, also loved to laugh. He loved to dress up in silly costumes, and he loved shopping at dollar stores – usually to find supplies for the house or small gifts for colleagues.
“Mike and I have been the Santa Shop elves at Christmas for the last eight years or so,” one volunteer recounted. “Mike’s highlight reel included the year we got a donation of 170 tutus and the time more than 300 talking dolls arrived that spoke only Spanish.”
Joe Schulz, who volunteered alongside Rhinaman, talked directly to his friend through a letter he wrote after hearing of his passing.
“It’s only fitting that this celebration of your life is on a Sunday and is here at Riley. We are in your sanctuary. We’re your congregation that you did life with. Because of your great gifts and talents, your kind demeanor, your selfless attitude and your smile, along with your very familiar chuckle, we are here today because we loved you.
“You’ve left a void in our hearts and you will be missed. As it was once quoted, we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give. You certainly made your life by giving. God bless you, Mike.”
– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist