By Sue Tiffin
To many, Paul Reng was a mainstay on Main Street.
He was generally a quiet man, and largely kept to himself, until, that is, a patron browsing in his Minden bookstore asked about a particular title.
At that point, Reng would become quite engaged, discussing in great detail the author or the topic, and doing what he could to access that book or further information for his customer.
The owner of Minden Book and Stationary, who opened the shop in 1989, died unexpectedly of natural causes on Dec. 2 last year, just 16 days short of his 61st birthday.
Born in 1957 in Doncaster, northern England, Paul was the youngest child of Czeslaw, an engineer, and Margaret Reng, a fashion store operator and homemaker, and a baby brother for Sonya Holliday-Rhodes, who was 12 when he was born.
“He was a cute baby,” said the Minden resident. “You should see the hair he was born with.”
A baby blue record book kept for Reng after his birth is in near-perfect condition, detailing the name of the nurse who attended his birth, pictures of him as a baby in a pram outside, and with a lock of his hair carefully saved in a small plastic bag on one of the pages.
Holliday-Rhodes babysat her little brother, when she was home, despite his mischievous nature and joy in pranking her.
“That was the kind of little brother he was, he was always up to something,” she said. “I would come home, after a date … I would come home to find spiders in my bed. Spiders. If I see a spider these days, it’s dead. My brother was one who would put them outside, let everything live. That was exactly Paul, let everything live, it’s only got one life. Spiders in my bed!”
Though Reng retained his sense of humour, Holliday-Rhodes said he became significantly less of a practical joker and was often looking out for her throughout their lives, evolving into a model citizen.
She said he spent his teenaged years helping his family, going “out headbanging, and out for dates, and was always [working] under a car.”
Like his father, Reng became an engineer, working with the International Harvester Company of Great Britain Limited in the 1970s. He volunteered with the Royal Observer Corps., a civil defence organization that detected and reported aircraft over Great Britain.
In his 20s, Reng began having seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Soon after, he followed his sister to Canada.
“He got so that he couldn’t even talk,” said Holliday-Rhodes. “He had so many grand mals. My dad got concerned that if anything happened to them, I’m the only one, so they sent Paul over for a year first.”
Like his penmanship, Reng was meticulous in his work, foregoing engineering because of his epilepsy but working as a handyman under the name Minden House Maintenance – he worked on the extension on The Brown Owl.
“Our mother was the intense reader,” said Holliday-Rhodes. “Paul always read information. He was a mind of information. Astrology, he knew everything. War … he knew everything about war.”
The first version of The Minden Book and Stationary Store, opened in 1989, advertised bargain books at up to a third off the suggested retail price from its Hwy 35 location next to Jug City.
“He sold what people wanted, he didn’t judge anybody,” said Holliday-Rhodes.
The store moved to Bobcaygeon Road in the space next door to what was then the Village Chalet, and in 2005, Reng bought the building the store is currently located in, which has been offering 50 per cent off of everything inside since his death.
“Nobody knows how he managed,” said Holliday-Rhodes, noting the low prices at the store and the seasonal nature of the town, “because he never borrowed a penny from family and friends. He denied himself luxuries in life. He lived in a modular, he was careful with his money and paid all his bills. He just managed things very well.”
On two occasions, Reng’s bookstore suffered attempted robberies.
In March 2012, he encountered a would-be thief at the shop, burrowing his way through the wall of the store. Recalling the incident, Reng told the Minden Times he told the person he was going to call the police, and they got into a scuffle before exchanging blows and Reng ended up on top of the intruder.
“He spent a lot of his time in England at soccer matches,” said Holliday-Rhodes. “He played soccer as well but he would watch it. He was a big soccer fan. And when he tackled this fellow, he said he was just thinking they were at a soccer game where they used to do that.”
Reng had health concerns apart from epilepsy, including heart disease and diabetes. About 14 years ago he gave up smoking, and began following a vegetarian diet.
“He used to phone me, I have to take a blood pressure pill in the middle of the night, about 11 o’clock,” said Holliday-Rhodes. “Paul used to take his last pill about 11, and every night he’d phone me in case I’d fallen asleep and say, ‘take your pill.’ Every night. Every night.”
Reng was also an artist, with a talent for pottery and outdoor photography, and a love of nature and animals. A portion of his estate will be donated to charities concerned with ocean conservation and animal rescue.
“There was so much more to him,” said Holliday-Rhodes, as she sifted through mementos of Reng’s life stored in boxes in her living room: a photo of his beloved dog, an old history class workbook with neat handwriting, a Polaroid of Reng at the white water rapids in Minden, an old book in pristine condition, snapshots of adventures at the bowling alley, of him skiing, of him at the top of the CN Tower, of him at the beach with her, his only sister. She has slips detailing his donations to children in need overseas, hundreds of concert tickets showing Reng saw bands like Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, and an old telescope in the original box.
“He had a really good side to him,” she said. “He got around to a lot of stuff that I thought I might get around to but never did.”
Bookstore patrons have been sharing stories and support with Holliday-Rhodes since Reng’s death, including numerous dog owners whose dogs pulled them toward him, and readers who loved discussing books with Reng whenever they stopped in.
“He had it right, you know,” said Holliday-Rhodes. “And I didn’t. His favourite saying, whenever I got upset over stupid things, was don’t sweat the small stuff, Sonya. He would repeat that. And now, if I find myself getting upset about some trivial thing. I say, OK Paul, don’t sweat the small stuff. And I think a lot of people should hear that. He tried to concentrate on the bigger things in life, the more important things.”
A celebration of Paul Reng’s life will take place on Thursday, May 16 at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Anglican Church at 19 Invergordon Avenue, interment at Minden Cemetery. All are welcome.