Selected alumni profiles.Charles Billmyer ’50, M.S. ’53Barbara A. Goldscheider ’77Stephen P. Fontes ’82Cherry Arnold ’87Rebecca Kelly ’96, M.S. ‘02Catherine Gagnon ’98, M.M. ’03
Class Acts Profiles
Charles Billmyer ’50, M.S. ’53
Engineers aren’t usually celebrities. But on October 28, 2005, electrical engineer Charles Billmyer found himself in the limelight, signing autographs and basking in the kind of attention normally only accorded to stars.
The occasion was the 40th anniversary of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a.k.a. the Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Mo. Billmyer was one of a select group of original builders being honored for their contributions to one of America’s most iconic buildings.
Billmyer had just joined the West Hartford, Conn., firm of Van Zelm Heywood & Shadford when he was assigned to design the Arch’s electrical system. It was an interesting job with distinctive challenges. “The constantly changing shape of the structure and its varying exposure to solar loads presented an HVAC design challenge,” Billmyer wrote in his memoir about the mechanical and electrical infrastructure of the Arch. Other challenges included dealing with storm water, powering the tram system that moves visitors up and down the Arch, and protecting the electrical system from frequent lightning strikes.
After working on the Gateway Arch, Billmyer went on to have a long, successful career at Van Zelm Heywood & Shadford, eventually rising to become CEO and chairman. Today, although retired, Billmyer acts as an unofficial advisor and mentor to the firm’s 80-plus employees.
While the Gateway Arch may be the most famous structure he has worked on, Billmyer takes pride in the electrical systems he designed for other important buildings, including ones at Yale, Harvard, Smith, Trinity, Williams, and Wesleyan, as well as many commercial buildings. One of his favorite sites is the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion at the University of Connecticut, where Billmyer attends basketball games and which is often seen on national television.
For Billmyer, engineering has been a rewarding career. “The most satisfying thing about being an engineer is the creativity involved—you get to take a concept when it’s just a germ of an idea, and see it all the way through until it becomes a reality.”
Barbara A. Goldscheider ’77
Barbara A. Goldscheider’s first published novel, Al-Naqba (The Catastrophe), went from concept to publication in only 19 months. But the historical novel, which came out in the fall of 2005, truly began back in the mid-1970s when its author was studying English literature at URI.
Goldscheider was living in Israel in the ’70s when her then-husband took a sabbatical that brought the couple to Rhode Island and gave her the chance to finish the undergraduate degree she’d been working on at Hebrew University. She had lived through the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and it had left a lasting impression. “When I heard that 2,500 Israeli solders were killed, I vowed not to forget them,” she says.
While at URI, she began a novel called Tongue of Fire set during that war, but she was never able to find a publisher. Still, she says, “I never let it go. It was such a deeply felt story for me.”
Goldscheider spent the ’80s and ’90s living in New England and working for Verizon, but Tongue of Fire stayed in the back of her mind. As an Israeli-American with dual citizenship, Goldscheider has struggled for decades with her thoughts and feelings about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She decided to recast her earlier book, using some of the same characters, but changing the timeframe and storyline. Within months of starting the book, she had found a publisher.
Al-Naqba, which uses the story of a Palestinian scholar, an Israeli military officer, and an American psychology professor to probe the conflict, has sparked controversy. “Some people within the Jewish orthodox mainstream are appalled that I take a balanced view of both sides,” she says. “But for me, personally, the humanity of the Palestinians was essential. I view them not as an enemy but as a people struggling to be birthed who have overwhelming issues.”
At her home in Bangor, Maine, Goldscheider is now reworking Tongue of Fire. This time, she thinks, it’ll make it to the bookshelves.
—Paula Bodah ’80
Stephen P. Fontes ’82
Stephen P. Fontes has worked at the defense contractor Raytheon for 23 years. In the summer of 2005, he was promoted from operations manager of the Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) Naval Integration Center to director of operations, IDS Naval Integrated Operations.
Fontes is now responsible for all operations activity across three Raytheon IDS centers: the Naval Integration Center in Portsmouth, R.I.; the Expeditionary Warfare Center in San Diego, Calif.; and the Torpedo and Readiness Center in Keyport, Wash.
As might be expected, the job entails some travel. Fortunately for Fontes, he spends the majority of his time at the Portsmouth center and approximately one-third of his time at the two smaller centers.
Fontes enjoys his managerial responsibilities, noting, “I like motivating people to improve on their work and seeing them achieve goals and objectives that they didn’t think they could.”
In addition to his job at Raytheon, Fontes is involved in the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, serving on the board of directors and the executive board and chairing the membership committee.
Fontes has also received accolades for a program he developed in collaboration with CCRI and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. The Electronic Assembly Training Course was designed to provide training for entry-level electronic assembly positions at Raytheon.
According to Fontes, the initiative has been a great success. “The program has exceeded all expectations. The first class graduated in July 2005, and we hired over 90 percent of the graduates. The second class graduated in October 2005, and we hired about the same percentage. CCRI currently has a waiting list of more than 60 people for the course.”
While the Electronic Assembly Training Course was initially designed around Raytheon’s employment needs, in the long term it will benefit many other employers around the state.
In his free time, Fontes is treasurer of the board of trustees for the Pennfield School in Portsmouth, which his daughter Gabrielle attends.
Cherry Arnold ’87
He’d kiss piglets and make guest appearances on Providence, the NBC show set in Rhode Island’s capital, to showcase his beloved city.
Adored by many and feared by some, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci’s meteoric rise and disgraceful downfalls dominated headlines far beyond Rhode Island’s borders for over 25 years. To capture the story of this brilliant, conniving, larger-than-life politician, Cherry Arnold convinced him to grant her exclusive access to film his day-to-day activities for a documentary that would span his 30-year career.
In his final embattled year as mayor, Arnold captured him at meetings and special events and, ultimately, at his departure from Providence as he left to serve a 64-month federal prison sentence for criminal conspiracy. In observing Cianci, whose bravado characterized his career, Arnold was surprised by his insecurity.
“He’d give speeches at events and walk away mumbling that he wasn’t good enough.” This was a well-hidden aspect of his personality. When running city business, Cianci was “controlling.”
After 13 months, Arnold had shot 105 hours of video for Buddy, a critically acclaimed documentary that won Best Documentary at the 2005 Boston Film Festival and Best Documentary Audience Award at the 2005 Rhode Island International Film Festival. For 2006, Arnold is scheduling a spring theater run and hopes to release the DVD by the end of the year.
Interestingly, Cianci is not among the thousands who will watch Buddy. Prisoners at Fort Dix cannot receive videos, but he and Arnold have exchanged correspondence: “He knows all about it and wrote to thank me for being fair to him.”
Although immersed with the film’s festival tour distribution, Arnold is also focused on post-Buddy projects, including documentary-style videos for the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association and Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education.
An English major who previously produced print and television advertising in New York and headed on-line marketing for barnesandnoble.com, Arnold is now happily ensconced in filmmaking and adheres to a simple philosophy: “It’s important to follow your passions and do what you really love instead of what you think you should do.”
For more information about Buddy, please visit www.buddycianci.com.
—Maria V. Caliri ’86, M.B.A. ‘92
Rebecca Kelly ’96, M.S. ‘02
It could be your great-grandmother’s attic with its treasure trove of silk ball gowns, satin shoes, and tortoise-shell-handled fans from the turn of the last century. But this network of rooms in the basement of The Breakers is no place to play dress-up. This is the climate-controlled lab where Rebecca Kelly, a research associate and dress historian with the Preservation Society of Newport County, oversees interns from URI’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design as they identify, catalog, and repair a stunning collection of clothing from Newport’s glory days as a playground for the wealthy.
As an art history major, Kelly always had an affinity for historic objects. When she discovered the costume collection in Quinn Hall, she began to see the path her career would take. A couple of classes on textiles cemented her plans, and an internship with the Preservation Society led to her current position.
During her internship, Kelly worked on cataloging the clothing at Kingscote, one of the Preservation Society’s Bellvue Avenue properties. Last year she was curator for “Portrait of a Newport Lady: The Fashionable Woman in 1900,” a display of the clothing worn by Gwendolen King Armstrong, who lived at Kingscote. “It was fun to watch people’s reactions to the exhibit,” Kelly says. “Seeing the clothing displayed really personalizes it. The gowns are beautiful, but they mean so much more when you hear the story behind them.”
Now that the exhibit is over, Kelly is working on plans for long-term preservation of the Society’s many interior textiles. While visitors to the mansions may be awed by the gilt and marble, Kelly notes that textiles are a large part of the Society’s collections.
As much as she loves the objects she works with, the history behind them is just as compelling. “I love textiles and fashions arts, but working here, I’m getting to be more of a social historian, too,” she says.
—Paula M. Bodah ’78
Catherine Gagnon ’98, M.M. ’03
While traveling in France with friends two summers ago, Catherine Gagnon heard the beautiful melodies of alp horns wafting in the breeze. It was August 1, Switzerland’s Confederation Day (Independence Day), and French musicians of Swiss descent were celebrating with music.
Gagnon, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in music education, explained that alp horns are rudimentary wood instruments. “They’re what you hear in a Ricola commercial,” says Gagnon. “I met the musicians and they let me try the alp horn. It was my first opportunity to play an authentic folk instrument.”
It was love at first note. Gagnon, who plays the French horn, contacted Alain Prouvé, a furniture maker who devotes three months each year to alp horn production. The following summer, she returned to France to choose one among three Prouvé-designed instruments. “I got to ‘test drive’ them on a rooftop, and I attempted to play URI’s fight song.”
While practice makes perfect, Gagnon can only hone her craft while abroad. At over 12 feet, the alp horn does not travel easily, so it remains in Europe. During a recent December trip, she practiced in preparation for the annual alp horn festival in July. Prouvé invited her to participate in the four-day event.
In between European practice sessions, Gagnon maintains a hectic schedule as a teacher and executive director of the Ocean State Music Collaborative. By day, she teaches at Somerset (Mass.) Middle School. Alternatively, by night, weekend, and any other time she has a free moment, Gagnon offers private instruction and is the managing director of the collaborative. OSMC is an umbrella organization for professional productions, the Ocean State Youth Orchestra and the Soul Food project, an outreach program that brings music to the less fortunate.
Of her broad range of responsibilities, Gagnon says she is grateful. “Professional musicians of any type have to piece together their life to be able to work in the field. It’s all a pleasure, and I’m pretty fortunate.”
—Maria V. Caliri ’86, M.B.A. ’92