Clarice (Foster) Wagner Shinn, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, teacher, doll collector, adventurer and world traveler died June 5, 2019. Her family visited with her in her last days. She leaves two sisters, four children, eight grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren.
Clarice was a teacher, always. She earned degrees in early childhood education from Oberlin College (BA) and special education (Master of Education) from Rhode Island College. She taught early education in Connecticut; Vienna, Austria; Providence, R.I and special education in Cranston, R.I. In Cranston, as a master teacher, her classroom was used to allow college students and other teachers to observe her teaching methods. She enjoyed working with student teachers and teacher’s aids. Her classroom was a diagnostic special education classroom and she was gifted in un-packaging the challenges the children in her care faced. She measured her success in life through the success of her students and children.
Clarice, known as Rissy to many, was an adventurer. She grew up in Claremont, CA where her Dad had a lemon orchard. When, in a family of five girls, her Dad asked for help in the orchard, she would eagerly volunteer. She learned problem solving, mechanics, and truck driving at a young age! She worked with her family to build a summer cabin on US Forest Service land in the San Bernardino Mountains, peddled a balloon tire bike around the Four Corners with several Girl Scout friends, and spent a year as a teenager with her Aunt in Meriden, Connecticut. She chose to go to college in Ohio far from home, where she met her husband of 62 years, Ridgway F. Shinn, Jr. Her sense of adventure was the predicate to her response to opportunities, even to the end of her life: “Why not?”
Clarice was interested in other cultures, peoples and ways of life. Her paternal grandparents were medical missionaries in China for a decade prior to the Boxer Rebellion, where her father, Clarence Wagner, was born. Her grandmother supported her grandfather in clinic work with a set of dolls which she could use to diagnosis pain and interpret treatment. Claremont, where she was raised, was home to the Claremont Colleges, a large population of retired missionaries, and farm laborers from other parts of America (Dust Bowl) and from Mexico and Central America. This interest combined, with her sense of adventure, led to a life time of collecting ethnic and international dolls and international travel. She and Ridg traveled widely and lived for several periods of time in Scotland and England, as well as Vienna. Their travels took them throughout the United States and through Europe, Iceland, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Jordan, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel. Each place has provided an opportunity to look at social customs and, especially, to acquire ethnic dolls.
Clarice’s Teaching and Learning Collection of International and Ethnic Dolls, a collection of over fourteen hundred dolls from around the world, was a focus for much of the second half of her life. This also includes a four hundred book library of research and reference materials. Clarice collected and accepted gifts into the collection, not because of the market value of the doll, but because of the story the dolls could tell. Many dolls were collected in flea markets, street fairs and everyday trade stores rather than tourist venues. Most show typical, historic or unique aspects of a particular place, geography or historic time. This collection, fully curated, has been a vehicle for teaching and learning, and has been exhibited in part or whole many times including at Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design, and recently at Willamette View Manor, where she last lived in Portland, Oregon. Parts of the collection have been used to narrate presentation on travels, understand important international issues, and introduce people to world geographies. It has been her great hope that the collection will continue to serve this purpose of connecting people to others.
Clarice shared in and supported the institutional legacy her husband, Ridgway F. Shinn, Jr., created at Rhode Island College. On his retirement, Clarice and Ridg initiated the Shinn Study Abroad Fund at Rhode Island College. Clarice and Ridg traveled extensively in the United States and throughout the world and personally supported their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in foreign travel to create first hand understanding of other cultures, traditions and governments. The Shinn Study Abroad Fund extends this commitment to helping RIC undergraduate students study abroad. The Shinn Fund celebrated its 30th Anniversary in April of 2019. To date just under a hundred students have studied or will be studying abroad as Shinn Scholars with study travel in countries spanning the globe including Armenia, Egypt, Chili, Japan, Italy, England and Palestine. The Shinn Fund is one of the designated funds for memorial donations.
Clarice and Ridg also were stalwarts in their church, Mathewson Street United Methodist Church. Clarice taught and directed religious education programs, served on governing boards and committees, and could be called on “to make things work” be it a church meal, children’s performance or special event. While her husband, Ridg, was organist, choir director and lay leader, Clarice had her own joy in singing, music and worship. These followed her in her later years at Willamette View where she would regularly engage in vespers, special music events and performances.
Devoted to family, her marriage with Ridg became a cornerstone for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Consistent with their love of travel, sense of adventure and commitment to family, in 1960 they embarked on a summer-long cross country exploration of the United States in a VW bus taking all five children on a journey to California, plus their nephew, John Case, for the return trip. Family gatherings celebrated their marriage (40th in Rhode Island, 50th in Edinburgh, Scotland and 60th in Ottawa, Canada). For several years, they gathered their eight grandchildren for a week long “Cousins’ Camp” which predictably included van tours with historical lectures en route to the region’s historical, cultural and geographical landmarks. The Cousins’ Camp tradition continues with the next generations, as do so many family traditions.
The Clarice Wagner Shinn and Ridgway Foulks Shinn, Jr. family includes:
Clarice’s loving embrace reached many. Her table was a welcoming table for many friends, family and those who just needed to be embraced by love. Holiday meals regularly had extra people present, and the Winsor Farmhouse at 22 Whittier Drive in Johnston, R.I., a pre-Revolutionary War house, and her home for over fifty years, accommodated guests regularly. Whether well planned or spur of the moment, people were always made to feel welcome. More than one casual guest – a college student without a holiday place to be or a person from church or an exchange student or acquaintances – would become regular visitors, and part of her network of family and friends. Even after moving to Willamette View Manor she would invite people to visit with her. From cleaning staff to maintenance workers, from residents in the building to professionals visiting, many would be touched by her interest in their lives and the stories she would share from her life. Hers has been a remarkable life measured in her own terms – by the people she has touched and the success others have had because of her care and support.
Memorial gifts in lieu of flowers may be made to the Shinn Study Abroad Fund (RIC Foundation) or charities supporting children.
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