Donald James Renn, age 86, known as Jim to family and friends, died October 7, 2022 at Edinboro Manor after a lingering illness. A full-time professor at Edinboro University of PA until his retirement at age 77, Jim had the distinction of teaching longer than anyone else in the history of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. During his 48 years as a chemistry professor, he served as chairman of the department for 18 years. He was treasurer of the Erie chapter of the American Chemical Society for many years. Although organic chemistry was his specialty, Jim taught several other chemistry disciplines during his career. Children and grandchildren of former students continued to enjoy his teaching style in the lab and in the classroom. After his retirement, he was honored to have the Chemistry Department name their on-line chemistry server “RennChem”. He possessed the unique ability to diffuse tense and difficult situations throughout his life. A comment once made by an elderly acquaintance of Jim‘s wife, Beverly, was “Jim Renn is the nicest man I have ever known,“ which pretty much sums up the esteem and affection for Jim held by everyone who met him.
An only child, Jim was born October 25, 1935 in Southwestern PA in Connellsville. He lived in Donora until age 10. His family then moved to the home of his maternal grandfather in Rices Landing, PA. The son of Chester R. Renn and Velma Guesman Renn, Jim became an active member of the historic Hewitt Presbyterian Church in Rices Landing and was recognized as the youngest deacon in the history of the church. His mother was his teacher for a period of time in the public school located on the banks of the Monongahela River near their home.
Among Jim‘s favorite childhood memories was his longtime newspaper route, first by bicycle and later by motor scooter, in the communities of Rices Landing and Dry Tavern, PA. As a Boy Scout, he achieved the level of Life Scout and later worked as a counselor at church and Boy Scout camps. His interest in Presbyterian Church camps continued into his adulthood when he served as president on the boards of both Camp Lambec and Westminster Highlands. He was musically inclined and played the baritone horn in high school and college.
In 1953, Jim graduated from Jefferson Morgan High School, Greene Co, PA, and in 1957, he graduated from Waynesburg College. In graduate school in Philadelphia, he met Janet Beverly Morris, who became his wife on April 9, 1960. During the Cold War escalation, Jim was drafted into the army. Basic training was at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, followed by a stint at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he received an “early out” from the military to resume graduate school.
While attending Bucknell University, his first two children were born. He also did graduate work at Pitt and at the University of Delaware. His teaching career began in Pawling, NY, where he taught high school chemistry. By the age of 29, he had relocated to Edinboro, where he began teaching on the college level. His third child was born while the Renns were living in their home on Normal Street in Edinboro. This was across from Normal Hall, which burned to the ground one night as they watched from their windows. Several years later, the family purchased their home in the country in Washington Twp., where they lived for over 50 years.
Jim was a Civil War buff and an avid reader. Three of his great grandfathers fought in the Civil War, and several direct ancestors served in the Revolutionary War, including Isaac Weaver, first treasurer of the state of PA. A member of the local chapter of SAR (Sons of the American Revolution), Jim served a term as president of the organization. He was a member of Oasis Lodge, number 416, Free and Accepted Masons and was the lodge secretary for many years. He was a ruling elder of the Edinboro Presbyterian Church and served as head usher for over 40 years. He also was a board member of the H. G. Gillespie Foundation for many years. His greatest passion was enjoying the family cabin built by his paternal grandparents in the mountains of eastern Lycoming County, and for many years, he was president of the family corporation that administered the property.
Jim was pre-deceased by his parents, stepfather Byron Stuart, and his wife of 62 years, Janet Beverly Renn, who passed away just three short weeks ago. He is survived by his three beloved daughters, Janet (Bill) Nelson of Albuquerque, NM, Julie (Doug) Tinkey of Harrisburg, PA, and Jennifer (Bill) Berger of Edinboro, PA. He is further survived by six grandchildren, Nathan Renn, Heather (Trisha) Hayward, Vanessa (Michael) Hupp, Kyle Berger, Kaley Berger, and Kelsey Berger and three great grandchildren, Lily, Lucas, and Aria.
The family would like to thank the Edinboro Presbyterian church for the many cards and prayers they have sent for the last two years, as well as the Edinboro Manor who treated him with respect and kindness and always gave him a handshake and his coffee.
Friends may call at the First United Presbyterian Church of Edinboro, 4281 Rte. 6N, Edinboro, PA on Wednesday, October 12, 2022 from 3 to 5 p.m. and are invited to attend memorial services there at 5:00 p.m.
The Glunt Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc., Edinboro, is entrusted with funeral arrangements.
Burial of ashes will be in Washington Valley Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the First United Presbyterian Church of Edinboro. To send condolences please visit www.gluntfuneralhome.com.