|Ronald Russo ’59 Lorraine Bloomquist ’66, M.S. ’68Margaret O’Connor ’71, M.A. ’76Jim Fritz ’88Tony Monahan ’83, M.S. ’90Laurel Hazard ’91|
Class Acts Profiles
Ronald Russo ’59
Ronald Russo has always loved baseball. As an engineering student in the 1950s, he tried out for the URI baseball team, but his skills at that time weren’t considered good enough for him to make the cut. However, he says that he “has been working at it every since.”
After graduation from URI, Russo joined the Navy as an aviator. He continued to play baseball as his military career took him from the Antarctic to New Zealand and eventually to his current home in the Washington, D.C., area. He formed teams and played games at every opportunity.
Today Russo, now a semi-retired real estate developer, spends most of the winter months in Key West, Fla., training every day both in the gym and on the field for the more than 100 baseball games he plays every year.
Russo first discovered Key West 35 years ago while flying training missions for the Navy Reserves. He began to purchase and develop property in the area. Eventually he sold most of his real estate holdings but maintained a vacation home that he visits regularly. The Florida weather is great for winter training, “There are all sorts of opportunities to play baseball here, and I take advantage of them all,” he says.
Russo participates in tournaments and leagues all over the country and around the world, traveling as far away as Moscow, Russia, to play baseball. While he admits that at 68 he’s “generally the oldest guy out there,” he feels that he remains competitive.
In addition to meeting many people who share his love of the sport, he has also met some famous players and shared the field with them. A couple of years ago he played with Cal Ripken Jr. “It’s fun to relate to guys that you have idolized your entire life,” says Russo.“ You sit down with them and discover that they are just like the rest of us.”
— Sharon DeLuca ’85
Lorraine Bloomquist ’66, M.S. ’68
Lorraine Bloomquist is a teacher, philanthropist, community volunteer, and writer. A semi-retired former exercise science professor at URI, Bloomquist divides her time between assisting residents in her South County community and teaching the freshman seminar, URI 101: Traditions and Transformations that includes a community service component.
She was herself a non-traditional student at URI, returning to college after she had married and started a family. Bloomquist, who earned an Ed.D. at Boston University in 1974, was a full time member of the physical education faculty from 1967 through 1994. She recently received the Honor Award from the Rhode Island Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
The joy she experienced in her work is apparent when she speaks about her former students and their accomplishments. Many are teachers and professors, and one, Tony Monahan ’83, became an artist. “To watch my former students and follow their successes is wonderful,” she says.
A high energy retiree, Bloomquist spends much of her time volunteering with St. Andrew Church in Charlestown. She participates in fundraising for many church programs and says that visiting hospitalized and elderly community members is one of her most rewarding activities, “I really enjoy that,” she says.
Last year, she traveled to Honduras with other church members as part of a mission seeking to establish a relationship with a sister church there. She also travels with her five grandchildren to such exciting locations as Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Sweden.
Apart from teaching, Bloomquist has many other links to URI. In 2005 she established an endowment to benefit non-traditional women students at the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education. Her latest gift was a very special dress—her mother’s 1926 wedding gown, which is now part of the URI Historic Textiles and Costume Collection.
Bloomquist will be the first to say that she has enjoyed a fulfilling life; what makes her such a standout is her commitment to helping others achieve fulfillment in their own lives.
— Sharon DeLuca ’85
Margaret O’Connor ’71, M.A. ’76
Ever since she earned her degrees in elementary education and social sciences, Margaret O’Connor has loved her work. The Warwick native spent 34 years teaching in her home-city’s school system. “I had a blast,” she says. “I loved teaching.”
So what persuaded her to retire? A call from the past. O’Connor remembers passing the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in Saunderstown, R.I., on her family’s summer drives to the beach when she was a kid. She knew the famous 18th century portrait painter’s birthday was December 3rd. “So is mine,” she says, “so I always felt a connection.”
Eleven years ago her then fifteen-year-old son volunteered at the historic site as part of a high school requirement. He was too young to drive, so it fell to Mom to get him to his work.
O’Connor did more than give him a lift; she got involved herself, acting as a docent, fundraising, chairing committees, and ultimately becoming president of the board of trustees. When the organization’s executive director left last year, O’Connor’s first thought was, “Now we have to search for a replacement.” Her second was, “’Why not me?’ I felt too young to retire; I don’t play golf, and I’m not one to sit around.”
At a time when visits to historic sites are declining nationwide, O’Connor hopes to reverse the trend at Gilbert Stuart. Her plans include an increased focus on marketing, improvements to the museum’s Web site, and hands-on programs for children.
Her new approach gets underway in May as the museum re-opens for the 2007 season with a host of interesting events. “Old Mill Day, our opening day, will be held on Sunday, May 6, from 1-4 p.m. We have a crew of millers who will modify the workings of the on-site water-powered Hammond Gristmill so that the mill stones can grind corn for the first time in almost 100 years,” says O’Connor.
For a list of other events, check the museum’s Web site at gilbertstuartmuseum.com.
—Paula M. Bodah ’78
Jim Fritz ’88
For 14 years, Jim Fritz ’88 has been captaining charter trips on his 60-foot yacht based in the Virgin Islands, something he never imagined he would be doing when he graduated from URI with a degree in civil engineering.
The path from engineer to charter boat captain began when Fritz was laid-off from his job as a project manager in Connecticut and decided to relocate. “I hopped in my van, packed up everything I owned, and headed south,” he said. After examining a directory of consulting engineering firms, Fritz plotted a trip along the Atlantic coast.
With little money and no job, he lived out of his van, sleeping in motel parking lots and using recently vacated rooms to shower, shave, and dress for interviews.
Fritz felt that a mailed résumé was too easy to ignore; instead, he would apply for jobs in person and ask for the company president or CEO by name. Although top managers were impressed with his initiative, firms in the South were not hiring at that time.
Finally, after three months on the road, Fritz received his first job offer in Atlanta. The company wanted him to start immediately, but he turned down the offer in order to explore other options farther south.
Ultimately, he spent what little money he had on plane tickets from Florida to the Virgin Islands, where he landed a job as a design engineer.
It was there that Fritz met the owners of a boat he would later rename Flamboyance after the brightly colored Caribbean tree. The owners were looking to get out of the chartering industry and encouraged Fritz to buy the boat. Unsatisfied with his new job, Fritz was persuaded. He purchased the boat, got his SCUBA instructor certification and his captain’s license, and began offering crewed charters.
In his first year he chartered 17 tours, and the business has steadily grown ever since.
To learn more about Fritz, his boat, and his charter service check www.Flamboyance.com.
—James Acone ’08
Tony Monahan ’83, M.S. ’90
“Doing art saved my life,” declares Tony Monahan. A self-taught artist, Monahan was hospitalized years ago with a rare muscle disease that deprived him of the use of most of his fingers.
“I convinced the occupational therapist to let me rip paper instead of playing with clay,” he recalls. The result, “Eighty-one Squares of Braille” (2003), which Monahan claims a blind person can see more easily than a sighted person, now hangs in the Helen Keller National Center in New York City. The challenge for two-dimensional photography is capturing the depth and texture of Monahan’s “paper structures.”
His favorite motif is the turtle, as featured in “Carapace Awakening,” an exhibit held this past winter at URI’s Library Gallery. In “Turtles All the Way Down” (2001), evoking Native American mythology, the earth balances on a stack of turtles in all the colors of the rainbow. In other works, the planets—and sometimes the sun—become turtles swimming in outer space. Their carapaces, and the individual scales comprising them, are sculpted with layers of paper, as on a relief map.
Monahan’s wife, Lisa Wilson Monahan’86, and daughter Marisol generously tolerate the countless hours he devotes to art. Because he no longer uses paint to color his paper, he often spends years just collecting the right materials before starting a piece.
While working on a Ph.D. in education from a joint URI/RIC program, Monahan lectures on teacher education and coordinates the student teaching program in URI’s Department of Kinesiology, which includes physical education, exercise science, and health fitness.
As for the role of art in earning a living, a note accompanying the library show declared the works “not for sale.”
“To make it and to share it is what’s meaningful to me,” says Monahan, who is discussing with officials at his daughter’s elementary school the possibility of creating an art piece that he will donate to the school. “If I have this God-given talent, it’s my job to make people smile.”
Laurel Hazard ’91
As a child, Laurel Hazard saved her quarters so she could stop at the market for candy on her way home from Peacedale Elementary School, “I lived to spend that twenty-five cents,” she said.
Hazard is recreating that memory for today’s children at Village Market Foods in Peacedale Flats, around the corner from where she used to buy candy.
Her URI marketing degree shows in the old-fashioned market feel of the store, from the iron bookracks to the stenciled baskets on the shelves. The store salutes Hazard’s Narragansett Indian heritage with Indian folk art on the walls.
She targets Peacedale residents, offering necessities like Tase-Rite meats, fresh produce, groceries, candy, and kettle corn. “There are many people in Peacedale who don’t drive,” Hazard said. “We’re in walking distance for them and offer everything they need to make a healthy meal.”
Hazard’s family talked about running a small store for 15 years. Then the right space opened up by the Peacedale rotary. Renovations took 10 months and included installing a hardwood floor, painting the ceiling, and sponging the walls an earthen yellow-gold color.
“We painted the walls ourselves. After about an eighth time painting one wall, I thought, ’What are we doing?’” Hazard said. Thanks to a grant from the Peacedale Neighborhood Revitalization Committee, she also renovated the storefront, adding an awning over the door and hand railings on the steps.
Hazard family members staff the store, which is open seven days a week. “I have eight brothers and sisters, and family all over Peacedale and Wakefield,” said Hazard, who also continues to work at Watch Hill Care and Rehab in Westerly and run an Internet bookselling business.
“I want to help local people out,” she said. “I love the old-time traditions and hope we’ll create nice memories for the kids today.”