|Educator, Community Servant David Rempell Remembered|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
05:19PM / Sunday, March 26, 2023
|Left, the late David Rempell joins his Select Board colleagues in a water toast to the town's new well in 2012; right, he breaks ground for the new Youth Center that same year.|
David Rempell with Jane Allen during a Select Board meeting in 2009. He served three terms on the board after retiring as principal of Williamstown Elementary School.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Few people left as indelible a mark on the Village Beautiful as did David Rempell.
An elementary school principal who helped build the current school building, a director of the town's youth center who spearheaded a drive to build its new facility and a nine-year member of the town's Select Board, Rempell died Saturday, surrounded by family, at the age of 76.
Just 34 of those years were spent in Williamstown. But Rempell's impact will be felt for decades to come.
"When he became the director in 2005, we were an unlicensed drop-in program more or less in a building that was falling down around us," current Williamstown Youth Center Director Michael Williams said on Sunday. "When he left in 2017, we were a fully licensed program in a brand spanking new building, one that was worthy of the kids that were attending our programs.
"The program had completely turned itself around. We went from being a place where kids went because they had no other option to a place where kids wanted to be. That's a remarkable achievement, and Mr. Rempell did that."
Rempell, a native of New York City, was educated at Cornell University, New York University and the University of Massachusetts before working as a teacher and later school administrator in the Pioneer Valley.
In 1988, he came to Williamstown as principal of Williamstown Elementary School.
"He was probably the finest principal around," said Paul Jennings, superintendent of the school at the time. "He was the finest principal I ever worked with, and I worked with a lot.
"What I enjoyed about David was I think we complemented each other in a lot of ways. He was extraordinarily good at detail. He could read twice as fast as I could. While I was trying to pay attention to the big picture, he made sure everything ran the way it was supposed to run."
His 16-year tenure at the school included the 2002 opening of a brand-new elementary school on the Church Street campus.
"This is a school we will be proud of for so many years to come," Rempell said at the time.
The underlying message, "how important this entire community of Williamstown feels your education is. How blessed I feel to be part of a community that will do something like this for the children of our town."
Three years after he retired from public education, Rempell began his next journey in service to the community when he took the reins of the Williamstown Youth Center, then located in an aging former school building.
It was about that time he crossed paths with a new resident to town named Mike Williams.
"I think of my first experience with the Youth Center as a father was bringing my 7-year-old daughter to a dance class in the old building and having to go downstairs in the basement and walking across 2-by-6's on the floor to walk over the water collected in the basement to get to the dance room," Williams said. "I thought to myself, 'What kind of town did I move to?' And David felt the same way and made sure that that changed."
In 2006, Williams joined the staff at the Youth Center, and his successful collaboration with Rempell lasted until the latter retired for a second time in 2017 — after successfully shepherding a $4 million fund-raising campaign to build a new center on the WES campus.
About the same time that Rempell started his 12-year run at the helm of the WYC, he started the first of three three-year terms on the town's Select Board.
"David was dedicated to the whole town and every age group," said Peter Fohlin, who was town manager for 15 years. "His engagement as Williamstown Elementary School principal, Williamstown Youth Center director, and Williamstown selectman demonstrated the depth and breadth of his talents and commitment. David was a staunch Democrat who believed in its principles, but he never let those beliefs create division. David lived diversity, inclusion, and equity long before it became a catchphrase."
Rempell's last term on the five-person Select Board coincided with the first term of Jane Patton, who this spring was elected to her fourth term.
Patton said Sunday that she was "terrified" of Rempell when she joined the body in 2013.
"This guy's serious," Patton said of her first impression. "He's legit. He knows his stuff. You just need to listen more than you need to babble, which I still try, to this day, to be mindful of."
Patton said Rempell and another veteran Select Board member, Jane Allen, were inspirations for her when she began public service. And Rempell continued to be a source of strength long after he left the body.
"Over the last few years when we were going through some of the stuff when it was so challenging the year I was chair a second time , he would reach out on occasion," Patton said. "He didn't always agree with what I did, but he was always encouraging and had a kind word."
As a parent, Patton discovered another side of Rempell.
"He was the classic educator who knew every kid's name," Patton said. "One of my daughters struggled with reading a little bit, and he really worked with her. It takes a special person when you have, I don't know, 100 kids in there, to see the one who needs a little boost or a little extra help.
"It's a big loss to the community, but we'll always have the Youth Center, and I know he was a big part of that."
Williams said Sunday that the Williamstown Youth Center plans a plaque in his honor at the entrance to the facility and, more importantly, has established a scholarship fund in Rempell's name to ensure access to the WYC's programs to as many children as possible.
Rempell spearheaded the capital campaign to the youth center built during his time as director.
"We have things already in place to honor David and recognize the tremendous work he did for the Youth Center," Williams said. "Everyone at the Youth Center is aware of his legacy and honors that legacy.
"I had been working with David and his family [the last few months]. I thought it was important for David to know, while he was alive, how much he was appreciated, and I wanted David to know there would be something at the Youth Center to honor his legacy."
Within hours of Rempell's passing from double-hit lymphoma, a long, thoughtful obituary
was posted on iBerkshires.com. That was no accident.
"True to form, David and his family have been working on his obituary for a couple of weeks," Williams said. "That was one of the things that he felt he needed to complete, and he wasn't going to leave until it was completed. That's my sense. If there was going to be some notice of his life and the things that were important to him, he wanted to participate in writing that.
"I say 'true to form' because David always had that sense of responsibility, that sense of duty."