Jack W. Clark: Perseverance Got Him Where He Is

 jack-clark-in-front-of-his-classic-carJack W. Clark: When Luck Presented, He Ran With It…

 He looks every bit like his alter-ego—that charming, perennially-young  “American Bandstand” icon, Dick Clark.  In reality, Jack Wade Clark is a case study for why folks should never make assumptions about others.

 In his youth, he was seen, by other classmates, as privileged. After all, he was tall, good-looking, the son of a successful builder. But life dealt him blows in his later teen years, when his father’s business went bust; his parents divorced; and his mother suffered a debilitating disease.

That’s when Jack mustered what’s his probably greatest asset—perseverance in the face of adversity.

Today, he’s seen as the epitome of good taste, in summer “dress casual” of polo shirt, Bermuda shorts and boat shoes. And these days (at least for most of the year), he runs his real estate business out of his office at 6300 Post Road, North Kingstown.

But his life’s taken a circuitous route.

Jack was the older child and son of Jack W. Clark, a Pennsylvania native who came to Rhode Island as a Navy Seabee, and Pulaski St. resident, Genevieve (Andruchow) Clark. Following marriage, the couple lived on Manchester St. in Crompton and father Jack parlayed his construction talent into a successful career as builder.

As a member of the John F. Deering (now West Warwick High School) class of 1963, Jack wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life, but he’d acquired skills, working alongside his father in the building trade.

The road ahead was bumpy. His parents’ divorce saw him living with each parent, separately, in West Warwick and East Greenwich, while money was so tight Jack had to scrape financing together for his college education.

That meant he worked any odd jobs he could get.

In his first year as commuter to the University of Rhode Island (in ’64) ,he hitched rides along route 2. He mentally thanks the many West Warwick-ites who picked him up, as they went to their jobs in the Kenyon Textile Mill.

He laughs, too, about the oil delivery person, covered in grease, who stopped for him, no doubt sympathetic to a young man’s standing in the cold, balancing books, his ROTC uniform, and his lunch.

Even hitchhiking proved a boon, for one driver was a supervisor at that same Kenyon Mills Textile Factory, a man so impressed by Clark’s perseverance that he offered him a job, second shift, in his factory. Jack took that job.

With money earned, Jack finally bought his first car (for $75.00,) signaling the end of his hitchhiking.

He graduated from URI in 1968, with a Business Administration degree.

Following graduation, he entered the military, but lucked out, there, too, for he was assigned duty in Korea (rather than Viet Nam,) missing the combat so many of his peers endured.

In that job, he got to handle the books and accounting for a private club called the “Generals’ Mess,’ a posh socializing venue restricted to top brass and their staff.

When he came home from the service, he drove by the real estate office on Post Rd. that was “For Sale,” a business owned by his father’s former realtor—Lee Littlefield.

Jack bought it.

That, too, seemed kismet, for Littlefield encouraged Jack to get his realtor’s license. It made sense:  Jack had a head for business and finance, and he was good with people.

All his many jobs had given him gifts.

The beginning years were tough with the market, at points hitting 21% interest rates. Hardly anyone was buying which meant people weren’t selling, either. That’s when Jack dug quahogs and sold them from a panel truck with a brother-in-law in Connecticut.

In other words, he persevered…Just as he had…always, and weathered the market, becoming a successful realtor.

It’s safe to say: When others made lemonade out of lemons, Jack made chowder out of quahogs.

His wife and partner in his many ventures? Childhood sweetheart Carolyn (Kulas) Clark who similarly grew up in Crompton.  They’d go on to have two children, and Carolyn ran her own successful business as hair-stylist.  Recently, the couple celebrated a milestone–their 50th wedding anniversary.

In the past year, Jack and Carolyn bought a second home in Englewood, Florida, on the west coast, where they go to escape the winter blasts, but they do not call Florida home state.

‘Why Englewood?’

‘Not as busy as many parts of Florida,’ he says.

But they return each spring to Rhode Island to their permanent home, a modern structure designed by a RISD grad that sits near the ocean, in North Kingstown. Proximity to the sea allows Jack his seasonal hobby, harvesting quahogs, clams, and mussels.

He says he could never leave Rhode Island and rattles off his reasons:  ‘The Bay…the hills…the mixture of people of different ages….Fall….the trees.’

This West Warwick native enjoys the real and significant fruits of his labor…

And he recognizes, too, just how fortunate he is…..

clark-jack-in-office

***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current resident..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

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The Real Fabric of West Warwick: Its People: Gary Gallucci

 

This West Warwick native, son of William and Jeannine (Cayouette) Gallucci, gary-gallucci-and-carol-romano-croppedcontemplates where he and his wife, Carol, might live in the future, when they retire. Like many others, they consider southern realms (Florida), possibly renting for a while, before buying.

If anything, Gary carefully studies situations, before he acts.

After all, he didn’t marry until the ripe old age of 32, for that’s when he met Carol (formerly Romano), the woman with whom he has three children.

I met him on Facebook (seriously). And I was intrigued with Gary Gallucci’s committed following, all due to his Facebook posts.

I call him a “Provocateur” in that he writes about a situation and asks readers how they’d respond. In other words, he provokes thoughts and reactions.

Here’s a paraphrased version of his last week’s post: “Your neighborhood’s been hit with a rash of robberies and the last victim was your neighbor who was robbed of a genuine, $40,000 gem-studded necklace that’s been in the family for generations. The neighbor is understandably upset. While cleaning out a closet of your home, in the far reaches, you find a box filled with coins and valuables that you don’t recognize. On the very top layer is the afore-mentioned glittering necklace. What do you do?”

The comments come in and reflect the attitude of each player, from “serious” (“Report your wife to the cops,”) to “sublime:”  (“Pack for Venezuela.”)

Gary’s regulars all weigh in, and the conversation gets lively.

What questions get the most mileage? ‘Politics and guns,’ he says ‘always.’

But while these topics generate intense debate, neither side convinces the other, just like our nation’s electoral debate going on, right now.

In this, Gary’s merely preparing for his next act in life, as fiction writer, one who makes up possible scenarios and characters. He’s flexing his creative muscles, in advance, tapping into what his readers like and playing off their responses.

Once a short term writer for Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times (he wanted the sports column but another reporter already had it), he worked for GTECH for 17.5 years, from 1983 to early 2001 and then  APC/Schneider Electric in West Kingston, for another fifteen years  to present.

That thiry-year combination makes him ‘the only person who has worked that long for both powerhouse companies in Rhode Island.’

His particular job description? Tech writer who creates specific language to go along with the products his company sells. He also facilitates the sales force in their marketing and training.

He says a ‘creative writer can become a technical writer, but a tech writer can’t necessarily be a creative writer.’ He thinks of himself as ‘creative.’

Like his Facebook posts, Gary enjoys conundrums.

But he adds, with impish good humor that ‘perseverance, loyalty, and general lack of interest in finding another job’ contributed to his longevity in his job.

Gary Gallucci grew up on Providence Street, in the Natick section of West Warwick, the son of the West Warwick police chief, in an Italian/French family whose many relatives lived nearby. Family togetherness is what he values most from his West Warwick upbringing.

Now, this West Warwick native lives in Johnston, for that’s where wife Carol lived, when he met her.

But it’s where his life brings him next that most intrigues, for I believe Gary will write his novel and maybe even a series of novels…

He’s merely testing the waters and building audience on Facebook.

He’s taking risks and stepping out, inviting a community to respond.

And his Facebook prompts get a lot of attention.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, here’s Gary Gallucci’s Facebook address, so you, too, can partake in the spirited “conversations”… https://www.facebook.com/gary.gallucci?fref=ts

While we all await his novels.

.  ***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current residents..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

 

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The Real Fabric of West Warwick: Rep. Pat Serpa

serpa, patPatricia Serpa:  ‘I Know a Guy’ Gets New Meaning

We’ve all heard the phrase above and we usually associate it with someone in the Mafia or the Underworld, someone who’s busily at work in nefarious activity, someone who skirts legitimate channels.

That’s not how Representative Patricia Serpa, District 27, understands the phrase. She says she associates it with an unreported aspect of her job, as when a constituent calls her, desperate to know how he or she can help an addicted relative and Serpa gives the caller the name of an expert who can advise, or when she suggests to another where he or she can go for help in a domestic abuse situation.

“That’s when ‘I know a guy’ can be critical,” she says.

Her support system is a network of people she has established over the ten year period she has served in the legislature.  She knows where and how to direct people, to cut out the confusion such individuals in crisis face.

Serpa doesn’t worry about her recent failing grade assigned her by what she calls the ‘ultra-conservative group,’ Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. She believes  townspeople see her as fighting for them, supporting their hard-working, conservative-leaning  principles.

She believes they appreciate her hands-on involvement in so many areas. And she credits her years as teacher (she retired after twenty-eight years) and more years as school counselor that allow her to work successfully with ‘the bad boys’ of the General Assembly.

Years ago, Pat was a teacher at John F. Horgan Elementary School, and at the end of twenty-eight years, she went on to a two-day-a-week guidance counselor position at Norwood Elementary School in Cranston.  Following that, she became part-time Admissions Officer at Johnson and Wales University for another fifteen years.

Along the way, she served on the West Warwick School Committee for six years.

When asked how she got into the General Assembly, she said former House of Representative from district 27, Norman Landroche suggested she replace him at the end of his term. He believed in Serpa, whereas she feared the prospect of serving ‘with all those men and all those lawyers.’

She needn’t have worried. She’s risen to the challenge over many years.

This daughter of Constance and Adolph Petrarca  grew up in Crompton, on Robinson Way,  went to St. James church and St. James School, and then went on to high school at St. Xavier. Because she felt isolated and ‘socially inept’ as a result of her girls-only secondary school experience, she’s a firm proponent of co-ed schooling.

Her social awkwardness didn’t persist, however:  In 1985, she married former Providence firefighter, Joseph Serpa, and she has a grown son from a previous marriage.

Her proudest achievements while in the House? Her advocacy of those affected with mental health issues and her facilitation of small business concerns. During the 2015 session, Serpa sponsored a law providing coverage for seven days of residential/inpatient services for opioid treatment and in 2014, the General Assembly passed a bill she sponsored, requiring insurers to provide coverage for the treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders under the same terms and conditions as coverage provided for other illnesses and diseases.

She chaired the House Committee on Small Business at a point when it passed a critical utilities tax relief bill, reining in utilities, gas, fuel, etc., and she currently chairs the House Oversight Committee, committed to improving state government efficiency and accountability.

All of which brought up the following:  How to insure a debacle like 38 Studios never happens again.

When asked how a loan to Curt Schilling’s improbable video game venture made it past the legislature, Serpa answered:  “We voted on a loan guarantee we were told would be available to multiple businesses for their improvement and growth. We were never told it was for one business.”

“I wish leaders in place at the time had told us the whole truth.” Instead they ‘were deceitful,’ Serpa said.

She feels all legislators now bear the brunt of that deceit.

In assigning responsibility for wrong-doing, Serpa clearly differentiates herself from nefarious others she mentioned at the outset of our interview…

You know—the usual ones who say ‘I know a guy.’

***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current residents..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

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“The ‘Real Fabric’ of West Warwick: Its People

hughes, dickDick Hughes:  West Warwick’s ‘Renaissance Man’…

“Dye coming,” was the warning Dick Hughes heard as a boy, swimming in the mill river by his home. Boyhood friends would take turns performing sentry duty, calling out to others when a fresh stream of dye waste was released by the mill into the river.  They’d swim to the side until the multi-colored water passed.

He and I joked that it’s amazing he’s lived to this point (Dick’s 96!).

I was excited to see him, for he is one of the men I recall from my childhood, when he was lector at my church, St. Mary’s on Church St. A slender man with crew-cut hair (he said ‘due to many cowlicks,’) he wore black, horn-rimmed glasses.

Now, fifty years later, Dick’s still trim and still sports an engaging personality.

He met me in the second floor hallway, of his residence, leaning against the yellow wall, with a smile of recognition that widened as I approached.

Right now, this West Warwick man lives in Brookdale Assisted Living, in Coventry, where he is an active senior male in a facility where women outnumber men, probably fifty to one (my assumption.)

He chose Brookdale, after he checked many out. What did he discover along the way? Since facilities are constrained to fill their space and residents needing less supervision are in short supply, folks like him rank high on the preferred list.

In short, he could negotiate his rate, within reason.

Dick has a daughter, Cheryl Hart in California, and a son, David, who lives in Foster. Both adult children are from his sixty-one year marriage to Elsie who died in 2001. Elsie worked in the West Warwick mills, first, as engraver of floral designs on rollers and later, during the war, as stapler of camouflage material onto chicken wire netting.

The couple married in 1941 but Dick soon was drafted and became a photographer for the US Army. He learned to aim his camera through the belly of a fighter jet, mapping topography of the United States and many of his photos ironically ended up, at Warwick Mills, in West Warwick.

Somehow, Dick was always doing something that involved his hometown.

As a young man, Dick got his pilot’s license, only to give it up when he became a new father and couldn’t justify the $8.00 fee for renting the private plane he flew out of the Coventry Airfield.

Following his Army stint, he went into the US Post Office and maintained a route in Arctic for the next many years, retiring in 1975.

Then, Dick did service of a different nature:  In 1978 he was elected to the Town Council but said “I was naïve.” Disappointed with the in-fighting and political divisiveness, he said:  “It was tough getting anything done.” He never pursued another term.

He thinks, today, West Warwick would be better off if it had a strong town manager.

Later, under Mayor Mike Leveque, he became part-time Recreational Director, and credits Marilyn (Wegrzyn) Morin and Judy (DiChristofaro) Ouellette….whom he said ‘helped him inordinately.’ In this capacity, he got public works to donate a truck filled with playground equipment for recreation fields, a truck aptly named the “Rambling Rec” (an inside joke in that the truck was a “wreck.”)

And, for years, he was an integral member of “Coventry Players,” singing and performing in musicals.
But women, don’t get too excited, for Dick Hughes, at 96, has a lady friend….Ruth McGinley, a woman he met many years ago, through Ruth’s daughter, Kathy, when Kathy worked alongside Dick when Dick directed CYO plays.

Kathy was in charge of props and technical aspects.

One day Kathy said: “You seem to enjoy my mother’s company. Why don’t you ask her out to dinner?”

And the man who never seemed to let grass grow under his feet waffled.

It took him two whole weeks to ask Ruth out.

They’ve been going together ever since (Ruth has her own residence at Brookdale.)

So, aerial photographer, career postal worker… husband… father… performer…pilot …dedicated town servant…and valued friend.

West Warwick’s Dick Hughes continues to lead a fascinating life.

***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current residents..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

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My Newest venture–Guest Speaking

colleen kelly mellor--guest speaking poster with 5 locationsDates and venues will be published on this website soon and fact I’m doing guest-speaking is pretty ironic, since I froze–many years ago– in front of my “Problems in American Democracy” class, in high school. I suffered severe public-speaking phobia that I had to overcome or never succeed in my profession. You see, as teacher, I had no choice. Now, I love guest-speaking and engaging with my audience, so I hope to see you at one of my presentations…..

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Coming Home: Martha Reynolds McVeigh

The ‘Real Fabric’ of West Warwick:  Her Peoplemartha reynolds

West Warwick resident Martha Reynolds was single until the age of 36, when she met and married Jim McVeigh. At that point, she took on her husband’s name, figuring “McVeigh” had a nice ring to it—especially when added to Martha. That was before the Oklahoma City bombing, of course, when another McVeigh (Tim) became a household name. Even so, Martha’s quick to point out:  McVeigh “the bomber” is no relation.

As author, Martha uses her maiden name—Reynolds—and in her world, name recognition is important, for Martha is a best-selling author with six books to her credit: the “Chocolate” trilogy (40,000 downloads) and “Chocolate for Breakfast” (her debut novel) remain her most popular (available at  MarthaReynoldsWrites.com and Amazon.com).

Her books are ‘real life fiction,’ meaning there’s just enough woven in of the ‘real’ to make those who know her wonder: “Which is fact and what is made up?”

But her storyline is pretty interesting.

Her Mom was West Warwick native, Joyce Handy, daughter to Earl R. Handy.  The family first lived in a little house on Ames St., in the Fairview Ave. region and eventually moved to the grand turreted home on Fairview Ave., when the family became more financially comfortable.

Joyce would go on to marry John M. Reynolds, a man who was ten years older than she and who worked for the Providence-Washington Insurance Company. They went on to have three daughters, one of whom was Martha.

In the 1950’s, Grandfather Earl Handy who never finished high school but who had significant life skills took his business acumen and opened his own real estate and insurance company out of the little house on Phenix Square that is now Williams’ Barber Shop.

His business flourished.

In her own right, Martha graduated from Providence College and became a fraud investigator for Sheldon Whitehouse’s Attorney General’s office, after working years in the banking industry.

She and husband Jim bought a home in Warwick, off Tollgate Rd.

In 1996, they both decided (ahead of the current housing trend) that they wanted to be ‘maintenance-free.’ With that, they bought a condo in Governor’s Hill, West Warwick, an area they liked for its convenience, affordability, and aesthetic appeal.

And Martha continued working for the AG’s office until 2011.

Today, she’s retired from her investigator work and is employed one to two days a week for Hospice, while she continues to market her books, all six of which are available through Amazon.

As such, she continues the entrepreneurial tradition of her family.

And today’s connection to Williams Barbershop in Phenix, the little setting where her grandfather first began his business as realtor and insurance salesperson?

Martha’s husband, Jim NcVeigh (not Tim) now goes to that barber as customer.

Martha Reynolds’ life truly has gone full circle.fairview ave with tower

(House is the turreted one on Fairview Ave. where Martha’s Mom grew up and little house is Williams Barber Shop, former setting for Martha’s grandfather’s real estate and insurance business.)williams barber shop

_______________________________

***Got someone you’d like me to interview for this series? Email me at ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in Subject line.

P.S. Ironically, I just discovered the house is up “For Sale.” Click on the main pic and then click on each of the directional symbols to give yourself the full tour of Martha’s mother’s home…http://www.trulia.com/property/3237697255-37-Fairview-Ave-West-Warwick-RI-02893#photo-26

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

 

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Notable West Warwick People in All Walks of Life…

Sports is what most people associate West Warwick with. They know of legendary football player-turned-coach, Monk Maznicki or professional baseball catcher, Mike Roarke.

But most don’t know other ‘greats’ from West Warwick who continue to inspire.

Bill Gadoury attempts to give closure to families of America’s MIA’s. Today, he works for the US Embassy in Laos and is interpreter for heads of state, like John Kerry and John McCain. Below, Gadoury (in his younger years,) is seen working with a recovery team, as they comb the jungles of Laos for those still missing.     gadoury

Dr. Lawrence Porter is professor, author, and former Dean of students at Seton Hall. As eminent scholar, “Larry” was sent to China as the Holy See’s representative, along with the head rabbi of NYC and the top Protestant minister of North America. porter, larry

James Miller lives in Brooklin, Maine, where he’s General Manager and publisher of “Wooden Boat magazine,” a position he’s held since 1984.  miller james

Mike Clarke learned Spanish and took his drummer talent to blistering heights, by becoming ‘substitute drummer’ for international singer Jose Feliziano (of “Feliz Navidad” fame.) Now, Clarke (to the right of Jose) travels worldwide, as drummer, appearing in impressive concert venues.clark, john--jose feliciano

Dr. John Kelly, former Wizard star athlete, graduated from Brown University and then Yale Medical School. He went on to serve many years as chief neurologist at George Washington University Hospital. An ALS center was recently named for him.kelly john

Ann Hood, current resident of Providence, is author of eight novels and a short-story collection.  Her work has appeared in such periodicals as Good Housekeeping, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, and The Paris Review.hood ann

Major General Reginald Centracchio was Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard who oversaw training, equipping, and deployment of 3,500 troops in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.Centracchio

Alice Gibney presides as PresidingJustice of the RI Superior Court and is one of the first women appointed to that court. She led the court’s mediation program for fourteen years.gibney alice

The above are an eclectic mix… just like the town (West Warwick) that produced them.

But it’s well-nigh time others got journalistic focus and I’d like to give them that.

With that, I ask you readers to recommend others raised in this town who’ve gone on to most productive lives. They don’t need to be famous. Examples are:  the teen who works several jobs to help contribute, financially, to his family; the young child dealing bravely with a devastating disease; the mother who started another career in her 50’s because she hated the mind-numbing job she had; the older man who devoted his senior years to serving the less fortunate; the long-haul trucker who’s driven his Harley motorcycle cross-country; the West Warwick teacher who tutors struggling students “free” after school  every day.

Consider these folks like CNN Heroes– only they’re Kent County People (West Warwick or Coventry-ites who’ve moved away are eligible, too.) You can even suggest yourself.

What will they have in common? Their lives are inspirational.

I’ll flesh them out (with their permission, of course) and make them come alive.

These people are the real ‘fabric’ of West Warwick.

Email me at ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line and tell me why you think your candidate deserves attention.

Be brave—Drop me a line.

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Where Are They? Past Members of Our Class No One Knows About…..

valley-country-club-2015-single-class-1-membership-1-1996392-regular“Whatever happened to So-and-So?” we’d ask and no one seemed to know. In fact, our sleuthing reunion detectives (and we had some really good ones,) couldn’t find these class members—no matter what.

I was on two reunion committees, but since husband and I lived away, in North Carolina, through a meaty time of reunion preparation (those intervening winter months when all members of the class are contacted and information is disseminated), I never did a lot.

Oh, I tried. The most I could contribute was in setting up the board of all of us attendees, with names and pictures from our high school yearbook. Of course, those pictures were of little help on the night we arrived for the reunion, since most of us have changed so much during the years from our 17-year-old selves.

If we wore our high school photo and name on a button on our clothes, that night, it was often met with hesitation and then disbelief when a former classmate encountered one of us and began the conversation, “Oh, hi….Wow! We haven’t seen one another in years.”

Translation?  “Wow! I would’ve never known it was you if not for your name tag.”

Actually, some of us considered that we may have seen one another, over the years, in the Mall…in restaurants…wherever…we just didn’t recognize each other.

At the Reunion committee meetings, we’d discuss where the celebratory event would be held (with decided preference to keep it in West Warwick, in support of our own,) what band or DJ would be hired; what menu we should offer; and our classmates.

It was hoped that we could contact all but that never happened.

As the years ticked by, we needed to cull that list, since each year saw a passing of some.

Then ‘many’ as the years advanced (and some classes planted trees in their honor, along the hillside of West Warwick High School.) Our class of 1963 never did that, perhaps anticipating that there’d be a forest for each class eventually.

But some of our class have never responded to reach-out attempts over the years. It was as if, with graduation, they got their “get-out-of-town” pass and left—never to return.   They seemingly never had curiosity, either, about the rest of us…how our lives went…what we did or didn’t do.

Some who were “stars” in our high school years went on to average lives, while others who were nondescript rose to national and international fame.  Some who were voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” fulfilled the destiny we assigned. They went on to become the doctors…the entrepreneurs…the academics who’d make a sizable contribution to our society, just as we all thought they might.

Who are the most interesting? Those who never stood out in high school but waxed brightly with advanced years.  They found their voice and star power much later.

Some came to Reunions and we’d offer later “Oh, Buzzy Bankowicz…Wow!  He became a financial whizz and now he lives on a posh estate in the south of France. He’s just in town to visit family and to come to this Reunion… a first for him.”

Rhode Island’s done well with folks rising to stardom in the media, as evidenced by TV host, Meredith Viera,  Deborah Messing who became a full-blown television mega star or Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Conservative talk-show panelist on “The View” and later commentator for Fox News.

But it’s the West Warwick stars some of us really want to know about…and some of those ‘stars’ don’t need to be the TV or professional variety. They can be the ones who successfully led a really difficult life, raised wonderful children, did a lot for their town because they recognized its formative influence on them.

Those might be the real ‘stars’ of any class……

(Photo above is a stone arch of the Valley Country Club where we held our last Reunion.)

P.S.  I’m coming to the end of my feature stories appearing in Kent County Daily Times weekend edition. But I’d love to write about YOU, so if you’d like to be the subject (or you know someone who’d  like or deserves spotlight), write me at ckmellor@cox.net. Put “Kent Times article” in Subject line.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivator/speaker and freelance writer whose work appears in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator on her 30-year career as teacher, in the Providence Journal. At present, she completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about a Rhode Island couple living in one of the ‘hottest retirement towns in the US’ for nine years (and answers why they returned to Rhode Island.) Her second book, “In the Shadow of Princes,” tells the story of her childhood, growing up in a milltown, in a highly-competitive family. 

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Mondos and Colleeges

 

future nurses 1963Mondos…and Colleges (pronounced “Col-leeges”)    Photo of Future Nurses is from ‘63 Chronicle (Deering High School) yearbook. I’m in back row, far left.

Yep, if you ever watched “Happy Days,” you knew there were at least two major groups in any high school, in the 50’s and 60’s—the Mondos with their slicked back hair, motorcycles, and basic indifference or outright contempt of education (think of Fonzy as lead player) and the Colleeges, that other group slated for college.

And then, too, were the kids that didn’t fit into any category.

When I was in John F. Deering High School (now called West Warwick High School), from 1960-63, we girls who were even offered a college education considered the two fields that were open to us—nursing and teaching. It probably explains why I was a member of both extra-curricular groups in high school “Future Nurses” and “Future Teachers.”

I’d go on to become a teacher, a career I continued for 30 years.

I don’t even know if they have those same clubs today.  I do know one thing:  They wouldn’t be the only offerings for young women who consider their futures. Today, there’d be ramped up efforts to get girls into the fields of mathematics and science, a decided difference from my day, when it was thought only boys had a penchant—and ability– for the ‘more serious’ subjects.

My father was actually a proponent of that belief, frequently saying:  “Girls can’t do math.” I resented his thinking that told me I was expected to fail in this arena.

Yes, girls in my era were supposed to be in training for their real jobs, as wives and mothers. If married women worked, their employment was supposed to last until the kids came along. My mother was of this group. She involved herself in PTA, church functions, and charitable collections, while she did all the domestic duties of raising four kids, keeping the household clean, and providing dinners nightly.

But as older daughter, I was expected to help with those domestic tasks. Each Saturday I accompanied her to the Phenix Laundromat where we pumped quarters into the washing machines, enabling us to do endless loads of wash. Considering there were 6 of us in the household, with two boys in all sorts of sports, there was a ton of dirty clothes. As a result, Mom and I spent hours in this weekly enterprise—all because my father refused to buy a washing machine.

My older brothers never had to help in laundry…dinner preparation…setting or clearing the table…or even cleaning their room. That was my job, too.

Ours was a household of the belief that boys and men were designed for loftier pursuits, while women were to facilitate men’s goals.

We went on only one family vacation in our entire growing-up years (which deserves its own column.) Disney and family cruise vacations were not yet the American way.

We kids all brought our lunches to school, in paper bags. If Mom ran out of bags and she thought to use a clear plastic bread bag, we balked. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to appear with see-through temporary lunch enclosure that told everyone what we were to eat—tho’ it was no different from theirs:  tuna, peanut butter and jelly, ham, on white bread, with fruit.

Drinks were always individual cartons of white…chocolate…and coffee, the only item we bought in the lunch line, usually.

In our day, it was considered a decided treat to buy hot lunch at school.

In future times, buying hot lunch at school would become anything but “cool,” as the trend reversed.

Then, the “cool kids” brought their lunch…

But never, still, in a bag designed for something else.

Are these your memories? Did you grow up in a family that assigned separate roles for girls and boys? How did that affect later decisions?

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker, freelance writer, and author to children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com). She is also a regular commentator in the Providence Journal.  She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about her husband’s and her nine years in the retirement town of Asheville, NC. She’ll also tell why they returned to Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.

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To Me, He Looked Like Elliott Ness of “Untouchables” fame…

     coach kelly (2)dad as coach

Oh, you know—the good guy…the one who went after the mob…the thugs…the ones selling the booze, shady women, drugs or other illegal substances in the period of the Depression. Yep, that’s what I thought.

To me, my Dad, John J. Kelly, looked like the actor Robert Stack, who reincarnated the crime-fighting  Federal agent, Eliot Ness, in a role Stack played from 1959 to 1963 in the ABC drama series  “The Untouchables.” In each program, he and his federal  agents  routed the bad guys like Bugsy Moran, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, while we in the television-watching audience cheered them on.

The picture I have of my Dad in his overcoat and brim hat confirmed my impression.

But really, he wasn’t battling the mob…He was doing something far more important to all of us in West Warwick:  This photo depicts him as coach of the West Warwick Wizards’ football team, before the legendary Monk Maznicki took over that role.

But before his teaching career, my Dad was quarterback with the Lippitt Tigers in a semi-professional football league.

My father maintained his coaching position, along with being a chemistry and physics teacher, until he became vice-principal and then principal of John F. Deering High School (now West Warwick High School. ) He also ran the film projector for the school in a day when audio-visual department was catch-as-catch-can, not the assigned, full time teacher position schools would enjoy in later years.

On Friday evenings, he’d bring home the projector; set it up; and we’d watch National Geographic films that had made the circuit to our school.  It’d be a divergence from our usual family watching of my Friday night favorite show–“I Remember Mama” where my most prescient memory is that of the pocket door Mama pulled out of a wall to close off the parlor when she wished a private adult talk.

I thought a door disappearing into a wall so cool.

On those Fridays, Mom made popcorn and we kids got our one Coca Cola or Pepsi drink of the week. Then, we’d hunker down to watch aboriginal tribes in far-off regions.

A little known other “fact”? My father had been significant in bringing the teachers’ union to West Warwick. It was the era when teacher unions were the exception, viewed as almost heretical .  He pushed for them in that (according to him,) ‘good teachers often lose their jobs when political winds shift,’ and he didn’t want to be part of the sacrifice play.

For teachers’ jobs were often political plums, doled out to loyal foot-soldiers who supported the ‘right candidate.’ West Warwick was known as a political town, so his advocacy for good teachers keeping their jobs was important.

I remember accompanying him on errands for Mom, about town, when I was still pretty young.  He’d introduce me as his daughter to Miss So-and-so and the teacher would smile and ask me if I were going to be a teacher, too.

I’d later ask:  “But why are they all ‘ Miss’ (as in ‘unmarried’)?”

And he’d tell me that they’d all lost their fiancées or boyfriends in the war.

I remember thinking that all these women were the unluckiest group, ever, who’d all lost their men to World War II combat.  As a consequence, they never made it to the altar.

I’d not know—then– that there was another, perhaps bigger, reason why these young female teachers remained “Miss.”

That knowledge would come to me when I entered the ranks of teacher, myself.

 

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivator/speaker and freelance writer whose work appears in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator on her 30-year career as teacher, in the Providence Journal. At present, she completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about a Rhode Island couple living in one of the ‘hottest retirement towns in the US’ for nine years (and answers why they returned to Rhode Island.) Her second book, “In the Shadow of Princes,” tells the story of her childhood, growing up in a milltown, in a highly-competitive family.  Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.

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