Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Acclaimed textiles preservationist endows scholarship fund at URI

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 14, 2004 -- Internationally known for her work in restoring treasured textiles and for establishing guidelines on clothing designs for the disabled, Evelyn Siefert Kennedy Commentucci also has strongly woven her support for her alma mater.

The president and founder of Sewtique, Inc. and of Promote Real Independence for the Disabled and Elderly (PRIDE) Foundation both in Groton, Conn., Commentucci has established an endowment at the University of Rhode Island to help students who share her passion for textiles, textile science and the fine arts.

"I feel that my success is largely based on my experiences at the University as a student and as an alumnus," said Commentucci who earned her bachelor's degree in textiles and clothing, Magna Cum Laude in 1969 and her master's in 1972. "I believe in giving back and want to provide funds to help a student travel, to study a special area of textiles, or to enhance the educational experience."

Having served on the URI Foundation Board of Trustees since 1985, Commentucci knows well that income from her endowment will help generations of students. The "Evelyn Siefert Kennedy Commentucci Scholarship" will be awarded to students majoring in textile sciences, fine arts, or Italian Studies. The award will be based on financial need and presented in honor of her husband, Frederick, with preference given to students of Italian heritage. Having made a provision for the University in her estate plan, Commentucci also is a member of URI's 1892 Society.

"Mrs. Commentucci has never stopped 'giving back' to the University," said Alan Axelrod, URI's assistant director of planned giving. "From her involvement with the work of our students and faculty to her work with the Foundation, her warmth and support have been a constant treasure. We are proud and appreciative of her continued interest."

"When I matriculated at URI to finish the degree I had started earlier in Connecticut, I lived out-of-state, was married, and had three children. During the winter intersession a serious ski accident resulted in a severely broken leg," she explained.

Commentucci said that following the accident, her orthopedic surgeon challenged her when she said she could not continue with school.

"He retorted with 'your leg is broken, not your head,' and I responded and returned to URI with enthusiasm," she recalled with a laugh. "Without exception, everyone at URI went out of their way to help. I completed my undergraduate degree, despite the cast, which later became a full leg brace that I wore for two more years."

Commentucci said after receiving her bachelor's degree, Dean Beverly Downing of the then- College of Home Economics, and Dr. Virginia Carpenter, head of the Textile Science Department, collaborated and awarded her a one-year grant to work towards a master's degree.

"That grant combined with total faculty support really made the difference," said Commentucci, who also serves on URI's Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design (TMD) Department Advisory board. Reviewing her personal experiences as a disabled person as an undergraduate and her research as a graduate student her thesis focused on clothing design for the elderly and disabled, which later inspired her to start P.R.I.D.E Fdn. in 1978.

Through her industry research, Commentucci successfully tailored Sewtique's focus well beyond the boundaries of the general sewing studio of fabric and sewing machine sales, opened in 1970, to become the highly specialized preservation and restoration resource it is today.

Commentucci is well known in the classrooms of Quinn Hall as her work and expertise are often cited by professors. Less than a year ago, the 25th anniversary of her thesis defense was recognized with an exhibit of fashions for physically challenged children and adults. In April 2004, she was named one of the first inductees in the department's new "Alumni Wall of Fame."

Commentucci is an accredited appraiser of personal property with the International Society of Appraisers, has been recognized as an expert witness on the Care Label Law with the Federal Trade Commission. She earned a research citation from the Eastern Regional College Teacher Association and is the author of two published manuals on assisting the physically challenged with clothing issues. She is a member of the International Fabric Institute and the Costume Society of America.

She has become a leading resource for reporters on issues relating to the restoration and preservation of apparel and fabrics. Her work has been profiled in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

"Whenever I'm invited to talk about textiles to students or to professionals in the field, I always say that there's far more to know about fabric than just sewing. It's one of the most important and constant things in our lives," she said. "From the beginning of life to the end, textiles surround us. We enter this world wrapped in a receiving blanket and end (usually) in a coffin where fabric surrounds us. Throughout our lives fabric defines our personality and those wrappings continue to shape individuality."