By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY — George R. “Tooter” Tinius could have come home from World War II with a chip on his shoulder. His hands blown off and his body broken by a land mine, Tinius returned to New Albany a different man.
But what the enemy took from him physically on the battlefield only gave him more grit and determination to help shape the lives of others in his hometown. He never used his disabilities as an excuse, only as an inspiration to thousands that they could achieve anything they put their minds to, because he had.
“He was one of the most significant role models in my life,” said Bill Ryall, a retired educator, tennis coach and U.S. Army colonel. “He was an inspiration and never had a challenge. He taught us to be optimistic and that we could overcome anything.”
Tinius, who once said being severely wounded was “the luckiest day in my life” because his life was spared, died Saturday. He was 93. His funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. today, March 26, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Albany.
After returning home from the war, Tinius, along with a group of concerned parents, helped get Rauch Inc. off the ground. He was Rauch’s first employee and was instrumental in raising funds and in the construction of the first Rauch building along Charlestown Road in New Albany.
“He was very important to us,” said Bettye Dunham, who has served as chief executive officer of Rauch for 20 years. “He didn’t know why anyone would think anything special of him. He was always so humble.”
Dunham said Tinius didn’t think he had a handicap and always inspired others by his words and actions.
Dunham said in 1953, when Rauch was founded, there was no public funding. She said Tinius led the charge, asked the community for financial assistance and helped people understand Rauch’s mission, which is to serve people in Southern Indiana with disabilities.
“He helped them [people] understand to not be afraid of people with disabilities and that they can do things despite their limitations,” Dunham said.
Through the years, Tinius was honored for his service to his country and to Rauch. In 1968, he was given Indiana’s Distinguished Handicapped Person Award. In 1999, he received the Career Achievement Award for Celebrating Catholic School Values, the Rauch Board of Directors Award for the years 1994 to 2000, and in 2002, the Rauch Imagine Award.
“Tooter was always in contact with us. He would come talk to us and see clients,” Dunham said. “He would always set me straight ... he was a mentor, friend, coach and cheerleader.”
Ryall said Tinius served with Ryall’s father in World War II. When he returned from the war, he served as Ryall’s Little League coach.
“He was always very special to me,” Ryall said. “He was the last of the greatest generation ... . He was a selfless hero.”
Tinius is survived by his wife Catherine “Tinny” Tinius, three children, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a sister. His full obituary can be found at newsandtribune.com.