The Raiders’ Rummel
New student at Archbishop Rummel High School to bookstore manager Lory Rummel: “Were you married to Archbishop Rummel or something? Is that how you got this job?”
Lory Rummel: “No, honey, actually, I’m Archbishop Rummel’s daughter.”
Mrs. Rummel disappears behind a shelf full of books, where she laughs while the kid stands there with a look of total confusion on his face.
The 76-year-old Rummel eventually reappears behind the counter. This is the bookstore where she has been the supplier of textbooks, baseball caps, Rummel Raider sweatshirts and wall clocks emblazoned with the school mascot for every Rummel student for the past 15 years.
Prior to that, Rummel held down the same job for 18 years at Holy Cross High School.
“God, how much I love these kids,” says the white-haired, barely 5-foot, lady who looks like a Norman Rockwell grandma. “All of these years have taught me one thing for sure – each kid is unique – but in what makes them tick, they’re all the same. Holy Cross, Rummel – it makes no difference. They’re all wonderful, ‘my’ kids, I call ’em.”
To be sure, Lory Rummel is the sunshine for those sleepy-eyed Rummel boys who slog through the halls on their way to first period, just as she was to the “transition” students from Holy Cross, Archbishop Hannan, Brother Martin, Mount Carmel, Dominican and Ursuline, who attended Rummel while their schools were rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
“Man, does that lady ever have a bad day?” asks
one student from Brother Martin. “It’s like, she’s always smiling and stuff. I gotta find out what she eats for
Mrs. Rummel, in fact, has had a lot of bad days.
She grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood near the Fair Grounds Race Course, where “we were poor, but we didn’t know enough to know that we were poor. We had those 50-cent ball-bearing roller skates, and we thought we were on top of the world.
“My dad was a plumber, and back then plumbers
didn’t make what they make today,” she adds.
Rummel got two years of basic office training under her belt, things like bookkeeping and typing at L.E. Rabouin High School before dropping out at 16 and taking a job as a telephone operator at Kirschman’s Furniture Store on Dauphine Street in the 9th Ward.
She married and had one son, Danny. Then her world fell apart.
“My husband was a welder,” she says. “He was going to work one day when a co-worker came up to him and shot him. Killed him. To this day, nobody really knows why. The judge told me that this guy was going away and nobody would ever have to worry about him again. But that didn’t bring my husband back.”
With a young son, her mother and father, and a 100-year-old grandmother to look after, she could no longer afford to volunteer in the Holy Cross cafeteria. So she began a job in the Holy Cross bookstore, and although the pain and all the memories were still there, well, they just didn’t seem so painful in her new world, the world of students.
“I felt like a kid again myself,” she says. “I got to love those boys. I started going to all the football and baseball games. It was tough going to the basketball games because back then I used to smoke. And Don Maestri was the basketball coach, and he ran a fast break. I’d run outside for a puff and [I] had to run right back in so I wouldn’t miss any of the action. I got more of a workout at the basketball game then the players got.
“I’d go to the pep rallies and you’d have thought I was one of the cheerleaders. I even started doing little poems about the game coming up. They asked me to start doing them over the loudspeaker. Here’s one from when we played the Chalmette Owls: Tonight when we play Chalmette/We’re gonna whip ’em you can bet/Bye, bye, birdies…”
During her 18 years as Holy Cross bookstore manager, mother confessor, cheerleader and athletic-department poet laureate, Mrs. Rummel also picked up the title of “bubblegum mama” having spent many a night outside the stadium tossing chewy contraband over the fence to the players.
“If then [Holy Cross football coach] John Kalbacher had known I was doing that, he would have had my hide,” Mrs. Rummel says. “I’d stand outside and the players on the other side of the fence would run out for a pass or run over to get the ball and I’d toss the gum over. I guess Coach Kalbacher couldn’t figure out why all the action during the warm-up seemed to wind up at one little spot near the fence. I don’t guess he never did figure that one out.”
Mrs. Rummel breaks into one of her patented bursts of laughter, and she shimmies in place. Her blue eyes water and a student who comes in picks up on the laughter, and apparently without knowing why begins laughing also. He gives his name. She hands him a red, white and blue Rummel sweatshirt. All the conversation is in the laughter.
“God, how I love these kids,” she says again.
She loved them just as much at Holy Cross, and says it “broke my heart to leave.” But with Danny attending Delgado Community College, Mama Rummel needed a larger paycheck and found it at Archbishop Rummel High School.
“It was a tough, tough decision,” she says. “But what was I gonna do? Danny needed me. Where I am now, though, I know it was the right decision. I have friends at not just one, but two schools.”
At an age when work is a memory for most people, Lory Rummel battles on.
“It’s the insurance,” she says. “I’ve had a mastectomy. I’ve got diabetes, high blood pressure. I had a gall bladder taken out. I’m a walking medical encyclopedia. And the medicines I take. Wow! If you’ve got stock in my pharmacy, you’re a rich person! I’d like to retire, but I really can’t.”
The room goes silent and the years and the faces (“faces of the students I never forget”) flash past her eyes. Mrs. Rummel sits transfixed.
“At this stage of my life, I sometimes forget names, but I never forget their faces,” she says. “So many of them. I remember once a little boy from a lower grade came into the store at Holy Cross on a Friday morning. He looked so tiny and scared. He said, ‘Miss Rummel, can I leave my suitcase here and pick it up after school?’ I said sure. Then I said, ‘Hey, I wish I was going on a weekend trip like you.’ He looked at me and said, ‘This is my weekend to be with my dad. I’m going to visit him.’ I felt so badly for him. I broke down. That sweet little boy. It was then that I realized that this job isn’t just about books and T-shirts and warm-up suits. It’s about a lot, lot more.”