Born in 1952, Rene McKinstry grew up in the neighboring town of Hamilton. While growing up 20 minutes from Oxford and attending a junior high school a few minutes away from Uptown, Rene felt deeply connected to the town.
“My address was Hamilton, and even as a child I knew that I didn’t want to be from Hamilton,” she said. “So, when people asked me where I was from, I said that I was from Oxford. Who would want to be from Hamilton when you can be from Oxford?”
Shortly after graduating high school in 1970, Rene left Ohio for Southern California, where she married her first husband.
After living out west for a few years, Rene moved back to the Midwest where she lived in Cincinnati, and then a commune in Charlottesville, Virginia during the early 1980s where she learned how to weave hammocks and milk cows. Rene decided to live in the commune after six years of being a single parent, struggling to make ends meet. Finally, after fifteen years, she returned to Oxford and married her current husband, whom she had known from high school. Upon returning, she immediately sought work at Miami University.
“I wanted to work at Miami because I had been a secretary my whole adult life and the university used to offer free health care and tuition for you or your children,” Rene said.
For the next fourteen years, Rene did clerical work, mostly in International Programs at MacMillan Hall. Within this department, Rene bonded with many students, both those that came in for assistance and those that worked underneath her.
“Most of the kids that I met were great students,” Rene said. “They were top notch, world travelers usually.”
She described a work environment that was very much laid back and relaxed, and many of the students told Rene that she was the best boss they had ever had.
“I wasn’t that much into protocol. I was sort of a surrogate mother to many of the students,” Rene said.
After putting a lot of work into Miami, Rene left in 2015. The office was about to be restructured and Rene did not want to work under yet another new boss.
When Rene wasn’t working at the university, she was working as an activist. Since she was 17 years old, Rene has been protesting multiple movements, such as the Vietnam War in the 60s and the building of power plants within the area. Although Rene is currently on a break from activism, she hopes to get back to protesting soon.
“I’m pretty much open to protesting just about anything that needs protesting,” Rene said. “There has always been something to be mad about. But, I can’t see myself staying at home forever and never protesting again. It’s sort of in my DNA at this point.”
Rene still has her black armband from protesting the Vietnam War.
Today, Rene’s music trio is what occupies the majority of her time. From rehearsals to performances, she remains busy.
She is a member of a musical group called Sirenz that has been performing around Oxford for 15 years. The group focuses on playing well-known songs that typically cater to the older generations, especially those in the nursing homes and senior centers for which they play. The band plays many songs from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, including those by the Eagles and the Beatles.
When it comes to Oxford itself, Rene and her husband, Scott, sometimes play around with the idea of leaving. However, with her music and her husband’s elder mother both in town, Rene is not sure that she can ever commit to moving.
“I don’t know how I could give up the musical part of my life,” said Rene. “There’s also a sense of security here, having people that you know here and there. I talk to everybody; nobody is a stranger to me.”