Donald N. Rimbach 1942-2005
Donald N. Rimbach, one of the pioneer cave divers from the early 1960s,
died April 6, 2005. He was 5 days from his 63rd birthday.
Rimbach, from Webster Groves, Missouri, was one of the first cold water
spring/cave divers, and invented several means of underwater silent
communication, including one now known as the Rimbach method. He, along
with partner Michael Tatalovich, (amongst others) was one of the first
people to dive and map Missouri's large spring systems, with an eye to
understanding their hydrology and geology, founding Ozark Spring Studies in 1973.
His penetrations were limited
to the realm of air dives, as mixed gas technology had not been invented
at the time. Many of these maps were published in Springs of Missouri,
by Vineyard and Feder, 1974.
Rimbach was a Navy welder, an employee of his father's water and
wastewater engineering firm, and a self-employed general welding
contractor. Rimbach attended Southwest Missouri State University,
majoring in geology, but did not graduate. Mostly field-educated in
Missouri and karst geology, he took his knowledge of caves and karst
into the activist arena when he spent 6 years from 1973 to 1978 and over
400 public lectures and debates questioning the Army Corps of Engineers'
plans for the the Meramec Park Lake Project in east central Missouri.
During part of this time, he was employed at Onondaga Cave by Lester
Dill as the cave geologist. Along with the Sierra Club, who sued under
the Endangered Species Act protecting Indiana bat sites which the
proposed dam would have inundated, Rimbach used his geologic knowledge
to write a large pamphlet "Meramec--A Dam Site Worse than Teton" and
present arguments which help to delay dam construction, and force a
public vote on the issue. The dam was defeated in a non-binding
referendum in 1978, and deauthorized by Ronald Reagan in 1981--one of
the few Corps projects to ever be derailed by public opinion. The Meramec Dam Controversy.
Although Don surveyed, mapped and took copious biological notes on many
dry Missouri caves, his first love remained the springs. Ill health
prevented much active diving after 1986, but he always considered
himself a diver, first and foremost. He was often consulted both on the
springs themselves and on landowner relations, especially with
government landowners. Don was intermittently a member of the NSS, the
Missouri Speleological Survey, and various grottos, but he was one of
those people who needed no introduction in any gathering of Midwestern
cavers. He earned the Lester B. Dill Award from the MVOR Region in 1988. In his later years, Rimbach gated caves, worked against new lead
mining in the South Central Ozarks, and continued to encourage new
cavers as well as concoct new projects at about the rate of one a week.
There was never enough time nor money to do everything he wished to.
Rimbach suffered a stroke in March of 2001, and another in August of
2002 which necessitated him moving to a Veteran's Home. Although
hampered by stroke effects, he never gave up his efforts to improve his
physical condition, nor lost his determination to make the best of his
situation, which found him partially immobile and confined indoors
nearly all of the time. In August of 2003 he was honored at the Meramec
Milestones celebration of the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the dam.
Don was divorced, and left no children.
A memorial and picnic for Don Rimbach was held Saturday April 23, at Picnic Shelter #3, (near Camper Spring) Meramec State Park, Sullivan, Missouri, on the banks of the Meramec. Approximately 60 people brought memories of Don to share. The memorial featured a cave trip to the last cave Don visited, as well as a hike to the base of the dam that never was.
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