Every year for the past six years, Hannah (16) and Callan (13) Harris have invited a bunch of friends over and together they make dozens of valentines. When they are finished, they pack up and head – this year anyway – to the Green House Homes at St. Elizabeth’s to spread a little Valentine’s love.
This year, the girls made 170 valentines.
While the girls delivered them, one resident sang them a song and another regaled the girls with stories of his 8th grade dance where he met his sweetheart. A third promised to do something nice for the girls if they would please return next week.
George, the man to the left, told the girls, “Well, I don’t know any of your names, but I sure know you’re girls! Thank you for the sweet Valentine!”
“It brings so much joy to the older folks and to the kids,” said Kerry Sweeney, Hannah and Callan’s mom.
This is one in a series of East Greenwich love stories we will be featuring during February in conjunction with our February matching donation drive. Find out more about the drive here. And, if you have a love story you’d like to share – anything from a story about best friends or a child and their pet to love of a special place or business in East Greenwich – email email@example.com.
Heather Polo’s dad, Ken MacDonald, met her husband years before she did. Ken had been leading youth groups from St. Luke’s Church* down to the small village of El Pedregal in the Dominican Republic and he’d become friends with a sunny teenager named Carlos.
Heather had been on the mission trip when she was in high school but that was before Carlos started interacting with the Episcopal camp where the youth group stayed so she didn’t meet Carlos until after she’d finished college and decided to spend three months working at the camp and learning Spanish.
Heather had a teaching degree from URI but hadn’t been able to find a job.
“I was subbing and it was discouraging,” Heather said.
During her three-month stay in El Pedregal, Heather learned about a school in a nearby town, Jarabacoa, that hired American teachers. After some thought, she decided to go for it.
It was a big move. By her own admission, Heather is “not so adventurous.”
But she flourished teaching in Jarabacoa and on weekends she would see Carlos in El Pedregal. Love blossomed.
Heather’s parents knew the two were close but they realized things were serious when they got a call from Carlos after Heather had been teaching in Jarabacoa for more than a year.
With the help of English-speaking friends, Carlos told Ken and Susan how much he liked Heather and that he wanted to get more serious.
A year later, Heather and Carlos got engaged. Their wedding dovetailed with a St. Luke’s mission trip; while most of the missioners travelled back to the U.S., a few – including St. Luke’s rector Fr. Tim Rich, stayed behind for the festivities. Rich officiated at the wedding, which was followed by a grand Dominican party with lots of dancing.
Moving back to the states with Carlos was not easy but that was when the magic of their relationship kicked in.
“Carlos makes everything a little lighter. I tend to think of the next problem or the next thing I have to do. He’s more easygoing and brings me back to earth,” said Heather.
“And we needed that getting through everything to get here. He was always the positive one,” she said. “It’s a lot of stuff. You have to be really committed to your relationship in order to come here.”
When Heather flew to Rhode Island to interview for teaching jobs – she was now a veteran teacher with three years under her belt – she had a job within a couple of days. She is an ESL teacher for sixth graders at Nathaniel Greene Middle School in Providence.
“I called Carlos and told him, ‘I can’t believe they offered me a job!’”
“I know, you’re a good teacher,” Carlos told her.
Carlos and Heather moved in with Ken and Sue at their house on Post Road. It was tough for Carlos at first and he still misses his family, friends and, this time of year, the weather of the DR. But his English is improving and he works two jobs – at a manufacturing plant in Quonset during the week and at Olive Garden on the weekends.
Winter may not be Carlos’s favorite but come spring and summer, you’ll find him two to three nights a week playing slow-pitch softball at Eldredge. Baseball is part of the fabric of life in the Dominican Republic so playing here in East Greenwich suits Carlos very well.
A little over a year ago, Heather and Carlos welcomed Luca into the world.
Carlos said he’s very happy being a dad.
“Luca’s the best!” said Heather of their easygoing, sweet-tempered son.
Heather’s mom, Susan, helps out with childcare but Luca also spends two days a week at a Spanish speaking daycare right across the street from Heather’s school.
It’s working, this bridging of cultures. The long thread of connection has helped.
“I already felt like Ken and Susan were my parents before we got married,” said Carlos.
This is one in a series of East Greenwich love stories we will be featuring during February in conjunction with our February matching donation drive. Find out more about the drive here. Or click on the Donate button below. And, if you have a love story you’d like to share – anything from a story about best friends or a child and their pet to love of a special place or business in East Greenwich – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Full disclosure: I am a member of St. Luke’s Church and have gone on two mission trips to El Pedregal.
If you happen to visit the Public Works department, be sure to take a look at the huge Christmas cactus that sits on a high window sill in the front office, not too far from Audrey Bartolomeo’s desk.
Bartolomeo likes it that way. After all, she’s known that plant for just about 50 years.
She grew up in Cranston and she’d often go grocery shopping with her mother at the local Stop and Shop. One day, just before Thanksgiving, there next to the produce department sat some tiny 2×2 inch pots holding Christmas cactus plants. Young Audrey wanted one. Badly.
It was so small, one can imagine Audrey’s mother breathing a sigh of relief her daughter hadn’t asked for anything more extravagant.
“My mom said, ‘OK, we can get that,’” recalled Audrey. “I was 5, 6 years old.”
Of course, Audrey’s mother ended up taking care of the plant. It grew and grew.
“When my mother passed away, it ended up in my hands and I’ve been nurturing it since,” said Audrey. It came to live at Public Works, where it gets lots of sun and seems completely happy.
And, for Audrey, it’s a touchstone – a beautiful link to her mother, who once upon a time decided a little plant was just the thing for her daughter.
This is one in a series of East Greenwich love stories we will be featuring during February in conjunction with our February matching donation drive. Find out more about the drive here. And, if you have a love story you’d like to share – anything from a story about best friends or a child and their pet to love of a special place or business in East Greenwich – email email@example.com.
It’s the kind of one-two punch that wakes up even the soundest sleeper. “Fire!” shouted with an urgency from down the stairs of your rambling, all-wood apartment house, followed an instant later by the unmistakable smell of smoke. I’ll never forget that primal fear I felt early on Oct. 27, 1976, in my third-floor attic garret at 66 King Street in East Greenwich.
It happened again Saturday: same place, same freezing outside temperature, and almost at the same time of day. I suppose that, like the tides lapping at the shore of Greenwich Cove, just beyond the nearby 180-year old King Street railroad bridge, fires in old, ramshackle apartment houses are regular occurrences.
But that doesn’t ease the sheer terror you feel as you’re clambering out of your bed on a 24-degree morning and trying to remember basic fire-escape rules. You jump into some clothes while trying to keep your head low. Smoke is quickly filling the place you have called home for the past 18 months, and is blurring dawn’s grey light.
You shuffle to the locked door leading to the stairway, gingerly placing a palm on it. It’s definitely warm. Urgent shouts of “Get out!” are now coming from more than one voice down below. So you push open the door amid a flood of smoke, generated by tongues of flame, beginning to engulf the stairway. You crouch forward and run like hell down the twisting two flights of stairs, bursting through the front door and gulping gloriously fresh air once you’ve made it safely to the street.
Only then, still catching your breath, do you begin to hear the wonderful sound of sirens screaming north on Main Street and then east on King. The fire horn atop the station adds to the early-morning cacophony, sending volunteers to the scene of the conflagration with its numbered blasts.
Any first apartment packs a lot of memories. After snaring my initial post-college job, reporting for the Rhode Island Pendulum under publisher Bill Foster in 1975, I knew I had to find a cheap place to live. I’d grown up in East Greenwich, just off Middle Road near the new high school, but my parents had absconded to Connecticut while I was away at college. Somehow I learned that Joe Zenga, Jr., whose family ran Zenga’s Restaurant on Main Street for decades, was also a landlord who had bought 66 King Street in 1967 (and he still owns it today). So we met and I signed up for one of its two third-floor apartments for the princely sum (for a starting weekly-newspaper reporter, anyway) of $90 a month.
The old house was built by East Greenwich blacksmith David Pinniger, according to local historian Bruce C. MacGunnigle. Seems fitting that the guy who built it also worked with fire.
My cozy charmer was L-shaped, looking west up King Street toward the courthouse, and north into a back yard with a big tree. It was cramped, sure, but not as cramped as the turning stairway you had to climb to get to it. High-school pal Steve Tessitore and I had to amputate a pair of legs off my oak desk to get it up there. The desk was heavy—it began life at the Providence Public Library—and we grunted and groaned as we threaded it up and around the sharp stairway corners. We plopped it into place on the third floor after reattaching the legs with some metal mending plates.
The only space for a bed required a person to slide into it sideways: if you suddenly awoke mid-nightmare, you’d hit your head on the roof-sloped ceiling. There was a gas heater standing at one of edge of what passed for the kitchen-living room. Such a heater reportedly sparked Saturday’s fire. Mine, which I recall as more of a mini-furnace, would ignite with a mighty “whoosh!” when I turned it on. But that was rare, because I had to pay for the heat. Luckily, my Pendulum rounds meant I wasn’t there much. I never trusted it.
My fire 42 years ago had a more careless cause. It began shortly after 6 a.m., accidentally set by a fellow tenant smoking in his second-floor bedroom. It took four EGFD trucks, a brigade of firemen, and 1,200 feet of hose hooked up to a pair of hydrants, 20 minutes to douse the flames. “Dispatcher Fred Cookson and Deputy Chief Joseph Lawrence suffered burnt hands while putting out the blaze,” the Pendulum reported in its next issue. Thankfully, no one else was injured.
I also penned one of my few editorials during my 30 months at the Pendulum for that edition. “From purely a personal point of view, it’s reassuring to know that the Town of East Greenwich has dedicated policemen such as Thomas Joyce and Stephen Vander Pyl, who at considerable personal peril made sure the apartment building was vacant after arriving on the scene,” it read. “The 33 volunteers who extinguished the fire are to be heartily congratulated, for doing such a fine job on the coldest morning of the approaching winter. And, from a purely selfish point of view, we’d like to thank the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Fire Station One for brewing the best cup of coffee we’d tasted in a long time.”
A day or two later, I returned to the apartment, which was reeking of smoke but otherwise OK. But the walls and ceilings of the stairway leading to it looked like the blackened inside of a creosoted chimney. On the outside of my Apt. #6 door hung one of those 1950s’ IBM “THINK” signs, given to me by my father (as suggestion or a joke, I never knew). It was now a charred ruin.
As a Pendulum reporter, I got to tour the fire-damaged place with Fred Miller, the veteran and much-beloved chief of the East Greenwich Fire Department.
“What’s this?” he barked at me after we’d entered my apartment. It seems my west-facing sleeping quarters on the top floor got so hot on summer days that I had installed an air conditioner in the only window leading to the fire escape that I might have needed to save my life. It was a big and bulky unit, which used to cool the Pendulum’s darkroom. Bill Foster had given it to me—I deemed it a bargain—but only then realized how much it might have ended up costing me.
Five of the seven residents, including me, had to come up with new living arrangements. King Street was just beginning its renaissance. One month before the blaze, in fact, Gilbert Hempel, running the town’s 300th birthday celebration from the old East Greenwich jailhouse at the foot of King Street, praised Zenga for slapping a fresh coat of paint on the place. “The eastern end of King Street,” Hempel said, “stands a very good chance of being upgraded.”
For a week I moved into to the Foster home on Howland Road, where Bill’s wife, Jane, generously and repeatedly laundered my clothes to minimize their smoky scent.
Zenga’s flat, while no palace, at least fit into the budget of a rookie reporter making $125 a week (before footing the weekly tab run up at the Kent Char-Broil, that is). But in late 1976, the fire seemed to have wiped out much of the town’s cheaper housing.
I had to move to Apponaug.
Top photo: The author lived in the apartment with the fire escape on the third floor at 66 King Street. That’s his 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger Special, bought in 1976 from East Greenwich’s Moone Motors for $2,400.
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A weekly article that lists happenings in East Greenwich and nearby. If you have something you’d like to add, send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, Dec. 4
Exploring Mindfulness Meditation – Meditation at East Greenwich Free Library on first and third Mondays. No experience necessary; all are welcome. Free. 6:30 p.m. at the library. For more information about this program or the Friends of the Library, contact: email@example.com.
Town Council meeting – The agenda includes a report from interim Fire Chief Chris Olsen on his first month on the job and, in her report, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan will be recommending a salary structure for department heads and nonunion employees as well as providing an update on a meeting with the Personnel Board. There will also be a work session on the town manager search. The work session starts at 6 p.m. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center.
Tuesday, Dec. 5
School Committee meeting –On the agenda, the will be updates of the website, the fund balance, and the sewer bill. In addition, there will be discussion of recent enrollment projections and the current budget versus actually spending. In the library at Cole Middle School starting at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 6
Lunch on the Hill – If you are looking for some good food and company, stop by the dining room at St. Luke’s Church on Peirce Street where you will find both. A free lunch is offered every week, sponsored by various local churches and restaurants – a different church-restaurant combination each week.From 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Planning Board meeting –The only item on the agenda is a continued discussion of the “Coggeshall Preserve” condominium proposal for 62 South Pierce Road.The board meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 9
POSTPONED/Annual Stone Ridge Candlelight Tour – Many of those who live on Stone Ridge Drive will be lining their curbs and walkways with luminaria lanterns. This is a tradition spanning more than 30 years – last year the neighborhood was lined with more than 3,700 lanterns. From 5 to 9 p.m. Postponed to Sunday, Dec. 10.
Sunday, Dec. 10
Annual Stone Ridge Candlelight Tour – Many of those who live on Stone Ridge Drive will be lining their curbs and walkways with luminaria lanterns. This is a tradition spanning more than 30 years – last year the neighborhood was lined with more than 3,700 lanterns. From 5 to 9 p.m. .
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
Recycling is OFF this week. Yard waste will be picked up through this week.
Register for email updates from the town – Sign up through the town’s Notify Me system and you can receive anything from a weekly email listing meetings and events to targeted emails about specific boards and commissions you are interested in. In addition, you will be notified in case of emergencies (i.e. parking bans, other important information). Click here to get started. And, for those who signed up before August, revisit the link if you have specific topics about which you’d like more information.
December Holiday Meals – The town’s Senior Services offers holiday meals to needy residents. The deadline to sign up is Wednesday, Dec. 6. To see if you are eligible and to register, contact Carol Tudino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-886-8638.
The weather gods blessed the Main Street Association of EG’s 7th Annual Turkey Trot, with relatively mild temperatures for the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run. And more than 500 people signed up to participate.
The top finisher was Bronson Venable, 27, of Warwick with a time of 15:16. Top female finisher was Coco Arcand, 16, of Sutton, Mass., who completed the run in 18:43. For all the finish times, click here.
Proceeds from the Turkey Trot will be donated to the Cultural Organization of the Arts (COA), a local nonprofit dedicated to bringing arts programming into East Greenwich public schools. On Saturday, the MSA also made a $500 donation from its general fund to the Gianna Cirella Foundation, which was established in the wake of the death of Gianna Cirella, daughter of EG Deputy Police Chief Skip Cirella, earlier this month.
It was so cold Saturday morning, North Kingstown cancelled its Veterans Day Parade. But despite the 39 degree temperature at 10 a.m., the East Greenwich Veterans Day Parade stepped off as usual from Academy Field, making its way to the war memorial on First Avenue, down Main Street and ending at Town Hall.
Grand Marshal Lucy Amat, WWII veteran, has not missed an East Greenwich parade since started as chaplain for American Legion Post 15. And the cold wasn’t going to stop her from missing this one.
American Legion Post 15 Commander John Holmes served as master of ceremonies.
Fire officials approved the Odeum’s new sprinklers the morning of Oct. 20. That night, the theater was showing the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. With the sprinkler system approved, suddenly the theater could reopen ticket sales – the state fire safety board had capped the number of people who could attend movies at the Odeum at 200, well shy of its 410 capacity. That day, the theater sold an additional 70 tickets, and the fire safety board approval meant the theater’s bar could open too. (Without sprinklers, the state had prohibited alcohol sales and had limited attendance for movies but not for live music performances at the theater.)
Beyond the symbolism, the sprinklers were just one more step in an ongoing effort to update and improve the theater, thanks to capital grants from the state Council on the Arts (RISCA) and the Champlin Foundations.
RISCA has awarded grants to the Odeum for the past two years. The first year covered renovations to the theater’s lobby, and making the bathrooms ADA compliant. The sprinklers were started too – while the ceiling was open the indoor plumbing was installed. This year’s grant from RISCA covered what Odeum board president Dan Speca call “safety and convenience” fixes. The sprinklers were hooked up to the water main on Main Street and a lift to the second floor was added, bringing the theater into ADA compliance. The lift allows the balcony to be reopened, adding another 80 seats to the theater’s capacity. But the second floor needs work and the Odeum board is hoping RISCA will fund a third grant in 2018 to fix it up, adding bathroomsand a gathering space.
Meanwhile, the theater now has two full-time employees, production manager Molly Pritchard (EGHS Class of 2009) and general manager Shana Vanderweele Ortman (who comes to the Odeum from San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall), as well as a handful of part-time employees. Along with the theater’s board – as a nonprofit it’s run as by a board of directors – many volunteers help out too. Volunteers have been played an important role since the Odeum first opened and Dan Speca said new volunteers are always welcome.
Meanwhile, the theater keeps booking (and renting – you can rent the theater!). Last spring, Judy Collins performed to a sold out crowd with her still-amazing voice. Upcoming shows include Darlene Love and Aztec Two Step in November and Hot Tuna in December, as well as an intimate new concert series called Odeum Onstage, where performers and the audience will share the stage. Only 60 tickets will be available for those shows, the first of which features Richard Barone Dec. 7. The theater’s next big movie event is a showing of The Last Waltz Nov. 21, about The Band’s remarkable last concert.
“It’s all about the shared experience,” said Speca. That and the array of dining options on Main Street turn a night at the Odeum into a real night out. Speca says patrons are always telling him how easy it is to see a show at the Odeum, especially patrons from East Greenwich.
“Once you come to a show, then we’re on your radar and you come back,” Speca said.
The Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, Aug. 31, headline screamed out:
REYNOLDS PLEADS GUILTY TO FIVE MURDER COUNTS!
CONFESSED SLAYER OF DUSZA FAMILY AWAITING MENTAL TESTS AT CRANSTON PRISON !
Edwin Reynolds, 27, confessed slayer of a family of five (again no mention of unborn baby), today languished in a Providence County jail cell under special guard awaiting the arrival of alienists, who will conduct mental tests.
The emotionless father of three, whose estranged wife described him as a guy “who wouldn’t even kill a chicken,” pleaded guilty to five counts of murder. He was arraigned before district court judge James W. Leighton, in the council chamber of the East Greenwich Town Hall (since razed for a parking lot) on Main Street.
He maintained an icy nonchalance as he stood charged with the slaying of his former friend, his friend’s wife and their three children.
The judge ordered a plea of innocent given as he held the rubber plant worker for a Grand Jury hearing Oct. 23. Reynolds confessed that he beat Dusza to death and then used a chair, axe, rope, silk stocking, necktie and his hands to take the lives of the rest of the family after he learned that Mrs. Dusza told her husband of the affair she was having with Reynolds.
Then, to cover up his crime, he saturated the home, where he was a boarder, with gasoline and turned it into a funeral pyre. HIs capture came when his collie dog led police to his hiding place in a Quonset hut.
His estranged wife, Betty Reynolds, 28, expressed a wish that he never “be turned loose on society again.” She wanted him dead to her children so they would never know the horrible thing their father did.
She said she would stick by her husband to a point but it was also learned she was making plans to move out of East Greenwich to another community.
Still later: DRAMA PACKED COURTROOM EPISODE LASTS 8 MINUTES !
While a curious, but restless crowd gathered around the entrance to the Town Hall (I was there just one week shy of my 8th birthday). As I said I remember my Grandmother Ucci being particularly agitated. My house was down the alley just the other side of the police shed behind the Town Hall. There was a door in one of the stalls that opened up on my backyard. Reynolds stood there, flanked by two police officers, one local, one a state trooper and was brought in to be arraigned on five counts of murder.
In the drama packed courtroom the episode lasted 8 minutes with police and news reporters as witnesses as Judge Leighton read five warrants charging Reynolds with murder. Reynolds pleaded guilty to each count.
When the legal proceedings were complete, Judge Leighton left the courtroom, and cameramen were given time to take pictures of Reynolds standing at the rail flanked by the two police officers. He was still wearing the soiled white T-shirt and dungarees he had on when captured. He calmly leaned against the rail and stared as flashbulbs popped from all corners of the small room. He made no comment and kept the same dead-pan expression throughout the proceedings.
Before he was taken out, police went out and moved the agitated crowd back enough to give a wide path from the courthouse to the waiting cars. Waiting to take the mass murderer to prison to await trial. When Reynolds appeared the crowd shook fists and yelled at him. As he was put into the car the crowd broke and surged around the vehicles. Some to get a peak, and some to scream their thoughts at the killer at least one more time.
Edwin Reynolds was given a life sentence but just a year or so ago, he either died, or was released from prison.
He was 92 years old.
Writer’s note: Interesting things I learned from this story were:
1. The fact that the baby’s death was not noted as another person killed by Reynolds as today it would have been included and he would have been charged with 6 murders.
2. The newspapers back then were a third again wider than today’s paper.
3. Though the headlines were big and multiple this was not spread all over the front page.
4. The reporting was succinct, factual and not sensationalized.
5. I always thought it was Dooser and could never keep straight which was the murderer and which was the family.
Longtime EGHS disciplinarian was both loved and loathed
By Mark Thompson
If you think the turmoil now roiling East Greenwich is unprecedented, you weren’t around when Domenic Iannazzi became the lightning rod that polarized the town for more than a decade. “Dom” Iannazzi, who taught, coached and principaled in East Greenwich from 1951 to 1978, died Monday, Oct. 9, in Providence of cancer. He was 94.
He was a black-and-white guy in an increasingly Kodachrome world. A tad different—some would say odd—Mr. Iannazzi gave strict orders to his family and friends against announcing his death, publishing an obituary, or holding a funeral or memorial service.
But that wouldn’t be fair to the man, or to the town where he spent 27 years schooling its children, in life as well as math and sports. Love him or hate him—and Mr. Iannazzi had students in both camps—his death should not pass unexamined.
Besides, he’s no longer around to give me detention.
While he may have been a lifelong bachelor, his legacy is in the hundreds of East Greenwich students he taught, coached and disciplined during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s.
I know. I was there.
His presence in town can be gleaned by how often his name surfaced in the weekly Rhode Island Pendulum newspaper over the decades: 10 times in the 1950s, 123 in the 1960s and 127 times in the 1970s—more than twice a week for 20 years.
Then he pretty much vanished from its pages, and the town.
Newcomers have no idea who he was. But it speaks to what the town was like as it grew from an insular bayside village into a bedroom community, with newcomers from far away who didn’t care for his approach, or his attitude.
Mr. Iannazzi was one of the few teachers in East Greenwich who hit the EGHS trifecta, beginning his career in town teaching at what had been the old East Greenwich Academy (Swift Community Center is all that’s left). He moved on when the Cedar Avenue high school (now Archie Cole Middle School) opened in 1956. He moved again to the current high school in 1967. He helped launch the town’s Citizen Scholarship Foundation, donated trophies to EGHS athletes and cash to EGHS scholars, supervised school dances, and served as the faculty adviser to the student council. And he coached lots of students, especially those who played football for the East Greenwich High School Avengers.
But that’s not what East Greenwich kids of a certain age remember. I met Dom Iannazzi 50 years ago this fall, and like most freshmen—who also feared sophomores, juniors and seniors—the high school’s assistant principal was the avenging Avenger. “Dom I’m-a-Nazi” we called him. He was a taciturn, difficult man, who embraced “tough love” for those under his wing. Some kids thrived; others rebelled. “He breathed fire. He ate raw freshmen for breakfast. He never slept and was stored in a closet at night,” Bruce Mastracchio, class of 1960, wrote of Mr. Iannazzi’s reputation several years ago.
“I am sure he will give them hell where ever he goes,” a former female student said after learning of his passing. “I remember seeing him make girls kneel on the floor to check the length of their skirts,” she recalls. “Luckily I didn’t have to do that.”
“I know many wanted to make him a saint, but I wasn’t one of them,” says Alan Clarke, class of 1958. “If you were one of `Uncle Iron’s’ brotherhood, the slaps you got on the back of your head were love taps. If you were not in his band of brothers, he was a big pothole on your road to adulthood.” Many students found him uncaring and and even mean. Most would “get him” after a while but sometimes, Clarke adds, it was too late to save their grade point averages. “I felt his classes were a bit too much like Army basic training, and there was time enough for that ahead,” he remembers. “He wanted something I didn’t want to give him.”
Mr. Iannazzi had grown up in Providence and Johnston, earning degrees from Providence College and Northeastern University. He started his teaching (and coaching—football and hockey) career at La Salle Academy in Providence and Johnston. In January, 1951, he was hired as a math teacher at East Greenwich High School at $2,900 a year, along with coaching the junior high baseball and basketball teams.
In the spring of 1963, 12 years after coming to East Greenwich, he was tapped to serve as assistant principal at the high school, which by then was on Cedar Avenue. At the same School Committee meeting—on April 11 of that year, a date which lives on in infamy—Lou Lepry was promoted to be assistant principal at the junior high. Both served as the schools’ disciplinarian, and I felt the wrath of each back in the day. Mr. Iannazzi was Mr. Lepry, without the charm.
It didn’t take long for Mr. Iannazzi’s iron hand to generate ire among some of the high school kids’ parents. In January 1966, 50 parents complained about high school discipline, or the lack of it, in a petition to the School Committee. “The hearing came as a result of at least two different incidents in the cafeteria, one involving disobedience towards Mr. Iannazzi and the other involving blows exchanged by the vice principal and a student,” the Pendulum reported on its Jan. 13, 1966, front page.
“Mr. Iannazzi has proved to my satisfaction that he is not capable of applying discipline,” a Middle Road resident who launched the petition told the panel before 150 townspeople. Iannazzi, with his typical deft political touch, told the committee that the high school cafeteria had become a “blackboard jungle” until he set up a “student corps” to enforce lunchtime rules there. Principal Rufus Brackley declared, “I am behind Mr. Iannazzi 100%,” but grumbled that he would have appreciated it if the concerned parents had come to him, instead of his bosses on the school board, with their complaint.
Bill Foster, the editor of the Pendulum, came to Mr. Iannazzi’s defense on the paper’s editorial page that same week:
“As a disciplinarian, Mr. Iannazzi has helped create a high school environment that is the envy of other school systems. And the delight of many parents who feel that teaching and discipline go hand in hand. In performing his work, however, Mr. Iannazzi has demonstrated many `controversial’ characteristics. One is a short temper. Another, a vocabulary which can hardly be described as that of the suave politician. And on occasion, a lack of tact has irritated parents involved in disciplinary action. Still, as we review the 15.years he has taught in our system, we can’t help but come to this conclusion. What Mr. Iannazzi has done right so far outweighs what he has done wrong. East Greenwich might do better to treat him to a testimonial than harangue him with a hearing.”
This early confrontation led the next week to the first letter from a former student to the Pendulum championing Mr. Iannazzi. “Mr. Iannazzi is by far one of the best teachers that I have ever had the privilege of encountering,” wrote Gail Graham, a 1957 EGHS graduate who received her bachelor’s degree from Pembroke College (which became part of Brown University in 1971), and a master’s from Stanford University, before becoming a high school teacher in San Francisco. “I remember him as being a strict disciplinarian, but never once as being unfair never mind `dictatorial,’” she wrote. “He expects much of his students and for this I think the students are grateful.” She suggested he might want to apply for better-paying jobs in California.
But Mr. Iannazzi was nothing if not stubborn, so he stayed put. That spat was only a warmup for what was to come. Three years later, he took a year’s sabbatical from East Greenwich High School (gym teacher and coach Nick Carcieri filled in). While he was continuing his studies at the University of Utah, he said he was stunned to receive a letter from the School Committee telling him he would be teaching math at the junior high school when he returned.
“When I entered into the Sabbatical Leave Agreement with the School Committee, I entered it in good faith. But, I wonder, did they?” he said in a letter to the Pendulum, as news of his long-distant demotion surfaced. “It is a known and public fact that I was to return to the School System in the same capacity that I was in prior to my leave. On January 20, 1969, only four months after the opening of school, I received the notification that I was being relieved of my duties as Assistant Principal. At the present time, it is almost impossible for me to do or say anything in my behalf, for I am almost 3,000 miles away.”
An avalanche of letters supporting Mr. Iannazzi tumbled into the Pendulum. One was addressed to the School Committee: “You are charged with providing the best possible education and guidance for the young people of East Greenwich, yet you are humiliating and, in effect, dismissing one of the most gifted and devoted teachers to be found anywhere,” wrote Robert Bergeron, Jr., a 1960 EGHS grad. He recalled dawdling his first two years of high school until he came to Mr. Iannazzi’s attention. He “felt I was capable of doing more and, with the support and cooperation of my parents, began to exert pressure. I resented it fiercely.”
But Bergeron’s resentment eased when Mr. Iannazzi began picking him up each school morning, along with another student, for 30 minutes of private tutoring before the school day began. “Then, in his senior year,” Bergeron remembered, “he gave up his free period every day to teach us college calculus.”
It must have worked: Bergeron graduated from Brown and went on to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Had I never known Mr. Iannazzi,” he added, “I doubt that I would be in teaching, or in mathematics.”
The following week, Jeffrey Lord conceded in another letter that he had been a “disciplinary problem” as a freshman in the class of 1968 when he first met Mr. Iannazzi. “However, I grew to love the man in my four years at EGHS,” he wrote. “I remember him once telling me: `It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have that counts.’” Lord went on to serve as president of the high school’s student council in his senior year before heading off to the University of Rhode Island. He was killed in a crash in Narragansett a year after writing that letter.
In the same edition, Charles Keyes, the School Committee chairman, weighed in. The committee had discussed reassigning Mr. Iannazzi “for some time,” given that he was “extremely well-versed in mathematics,” Keyes said. The panel was forced to demote him long-distance when they realized he had to be informed of their decision to do so “before March 1st to conform to legal interpretations of the State Board of Education regulations.”
So they sent him a letter.
The committee had planned to keep their action quiet until they met with Mr. Iannazzi personally, but he had no intention of keeping their secret. “We feel it most unfortunate for him and for the youngsters that so much publicity has been given to the subject,” Keyes added.
“The School Committee is fully aware of Mr. Iannazzi’s interest in many youngsters in town . . . of the good work he has done for them . . . of his community projects and the benefits this town has received from them . . . and of his dedication to teaching,” Keyes concluded. Nonetheless, the committee felt it had to act “to improve the overall operation of a growing school system.”
But four months later, after a three-day hearing sought by Mr. Iannazzi, the state ordered him returned to his high school job in time for the 1968-69 school year. “By their own testimony,” the Pendulum grumbled, “the School Committee revealed little first-hand evidence to back up their action.”
Mr. Iannazzi was back at work, and I can attest that his bruising battle to hang on to his job hadn’t worn him out. I remember being summoned to his office in late 1970, along with several cowering classmates. Someone had burned down the temporary, and tiny, ramshackle snack bar at the football field the night after the last game of the season (the Avengers lost to the North Kingstown Skippers, 15-0). Our class of 1971 had built the 6-by-8-foot structure to help raise money. The arsonists also torched the heavy-timber football sled that Avenger gridironers pushed around the practice field. It was that second conflagration, no doubt, that most ticked off Mr. Iannazzi.
As I reported for the high school’s underground newspaper (The Subterranea—get it?), we “were called into the office of famed disciplinarian here at EGHS. He stated his case in the following manner:
“The remnants of the destruction must be cleaned up before Weds., the 25th of Nov. OR ELSE:
“—Seniors will lose their deserved privileges until the `fourth of July (1971)’.
“—If any student planning to graduate in 1972 is found to have been involved in this dreadful act of arson he will also lose the glamour of having senior privileges next year.
“—These recommendations have already been sent to our almost-retired superintendent, Mr. Cole, and he has backed Mr. Iannazzi fully in his endeavor to suppress any more such `Tom-Foolery.’”
I have no recollection what happened in the wake of that meeting. But I’ll never forget that I thought I detected a twinkle in Mr. Iannazzi’s eye as he scolded my classmates and me.
The next time Mr. Iannazzi ran into a buzzsaw, I had long since graduated from East Greenwich High School, gone to college, and returned to East Greenwich to help Bill Foster put out the Pendulum. By the time I got back, in mid-1975, the powers-that-be were trying to push Mr. Iannazzi out of the high school once again. He favored stern discipline, but his superiors, along with the School Committee and many parents, did not.
Some students sensed the that the old paradigm that once pitted pupils against a united team of parents and school had broken. “Mr. Iannazzi will have to deal not only with a student but with his parents as well,” one told the Pendulum in December 1975. “It’s the parents who say, `What are you doing to my poor, little Golden Johnny,’ and all Mr. Iannazzi’s doing is to try and do his job.” A second agreed. “The parents just won’t believe it when they’re told that their poor, little Golden Johnny just blew up the bathroom.”
Relations between Mr. Iannazzi and his superiors frayed to the breaking point following a fire at the high school, where blame for a failure to sound the alarm bounced between him and the principal at the time.
In 1976 Mr. Iannazzi was tapped to serve as the “assistant to the superintendent for business”—basically, a glorified bean-counter. How a man who had been lauded for years as a teacher, coach and disciplinarian could be assigned to pinch pennies remains to some a mystery for the ages. “I am sure that I will miss working with the kids,” he said shortly before assuming his new position, “but I do think that perhaps it is time I had a change.”
Mr. Iannazzi was replaced by a young school administrator from Yonkers, N.Y., who was paid $19,500 in his first year for doing the job that Mr. Iannazzi had earned $18,150 during the last of his 13 years. “It sure does upset me,” said Mr. Iannazzi, never one to trim his sails as a storm brewed. “I’d be on that job for 13 years and then a new guy comes in and gets more in his first year that I did in my 13th?”
He wasn’t the only one upset. “I was told by a member of the School Committee three years ago that they were going to get Mr. Iannazzi out of the high school—by creating a position of business manager, or something,” Mike Romano, a beloved EGHS drama teacher, said at the time.
Some parents wanted Lepry to take Mr. Iannazzi’s high school post, but he declined. Lepry chose instead to fight for his job as principal at what was then known as East Greenwich Junior High School. The same forces trying to oust Mr. Iannazzi from the high school were trying to push Lepry out of his job there.
Things went downhill after Mr. Iannazzi left the high school. “The kids may have hated Dom while he was here,” one teacher told the Pendulum after he had moved on to the business office at Hanaford School, “but at least they respected him. The hate’s still there for the current administration, but there’s no respect.”
It was obviously a time of turmoil in the East Greenwich school system. Lou Lepry survived; Mr. Iannazzi didn’t.
When Mr. Iannazzi left East Greenwich for good in 1978, the School Committee decided the system no longer needed a business manager.
Mr. Iannazzi spent the final decades of his life quietly working for the federal government at Fort Knox, Ky., refereeing high school football games, and taking care of relatives as they aged, in California as well as Rhode Island. “He didn’t want anything publicized,” an old friend confided of the man’s life, and death. “But he often spoke of the students he knew in East Greenwich. He knew how strict he was with them, but felt they needed it—and he was proud of how many did so well.”
One of those was Bob Bergeron, that East Greenwich high graduate who had gone on to Brown and M.I.T. thanks to Mr. Iannazzi’s help. He ended up working for New Jersey’s Bell Labs—in math, of course—for 30 years. “Besides my parents, there is no one who had a greater influence on my life,” Bergeron said Sunday, Oct. 15. “He helped me learn how to get joy out of working hard.”
Bergeron and others say Mr. Iannazzi never expressed any bitterness at how he had been treated by the East Greenwich school system. But perhaps that was just part of his fervent lifelong desire for privacy. He spurned all honors, avoided photographs, and basically didn’t want to be remembered.
So it’s no surprise that Mr. Iannazzi didn’t go to his grave. Instead, he chose to be cremated.
That means there’s nowhere to go to thank him, or curse him, for his years in East Greenwich.