Q: I have a very old photo of myself as a 2-year-old with the name “Rissi” in the corner. I’d love to know what happened to their studio, because they also did portraits of my parents. My parents were in O’Fallon, and I was born in Belleville. It would have been about 1947.
A: It appears that your parents went the extra mile to focus on photographic excellence, which is what the Rissi family delivered for more than a half-century in Collinsville.
According to researcher-cataloger Charlotte Knapp at the Collinsville Historical Museum, 24-year-old Leo Rissi opened his studio in 1911 at 122 1/2 W. Main St. Probably watching intently at his side was his 13-year-old brother, Frank. Good thing. When Leo moved to Alton in 1922 to open a photographic supply business there, Frank was ready to take over the original studio.
He had learned his trade well. Frank not only became a president of the Illinois and Missouri Photographers Association but also was elected to office in the National Photographers Association. Away from the camera, he would father five children and serve as a 50-year-plus member of the Knights of Columbus.
Over the years, the studio would move twice, first to 15A W. Main St. in the 1950s before settling in at 604 W. Main St., which today is home to Peking Garden. In 1963, Frank retired and handed the studio down to his son Melburne, but, sadly, the younger Rissi became seriously ill and died in 1970. The studio apparently closed shortly before his death.
“Rissi took (my) mom and dad’s wedding photos in June 1963,” my friend and BND colleague Brian Keller, president of the O’Fallon Historical Society, told me. “He was very well known in Collinsville and had a reputation for taking excellent photos. After his business closed, all his negatives, photos and proofs he still had were destroyed per his request. Mom found that out when she called to get copies made of some of her wedding photos.”
Just before Christmas 1972, Frank and his wife, Delia, received more tragic news: Their son Donald, an Air Force pilot and father of five, had been shot down over Hanoi during the opening day of the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam known as Linebacker II. His remains finally were returned to the U.S. in August 1978, allowing the family to have a graveside service in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery a month later. Today you’ll find his name on line 95 of panel 1W of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A year after his wife died in 1979, Frank joined his son William in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the elder Rissi died just before Christmas 1989 at age 91. One son and daughter survived him along with 17 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Who is often credited for offering the world’s first demonstration of color photography?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: In 2004, Oprah Winfrey wound up part of a Chicago jury that convicted 27-year-old Dion Coleman of murdering Walter Holley during a dispute over a counterfeit $50 bill. “I didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, gee, I put somebody away,’ ” Winfrey later told the Associated Press. “In the end it just felt sad.”