URI’s past, future alumni help preserve historic Westerly armory
KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 13, 2005 -- An armory is a building for storing arms and military equipment and often serves as a headquarters for military reserve personnel. But if you ask University of Rhode Island senior Patrick Poole, or URI 1968 alumna Roberta Mudge Humble, they’ll tell you that an armory is so much more. Both are board members of the Westerly Armory Restoration group, an organization dedicated to preserving the historic landmark for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
Currently the armory serves as a function hall, military museum, and meeting space for the Westerly Band. Last year, approximately 28,000 people visited the armory for events, meetings, shows, and tours.
Poole, a history major from Pemberton, N.J., interned with the group last year. He came aboard in the midst of an ongoing fundraising campaign to support a restoration and expansion project, which includes restoring the masonry, replacing the historic crenellations, and bringing the building into compliance with the state fire code.
His primary responsibility was to assist the group in matching $298,000 from a “Save America’s Treasures” grant. To do that, Poole helped organize a 200-person spaghetti dinner, and spoke to the Westerly Town Finance Board in support of a town stipend. The group needs to raise $50,000 more to match the grant or face losing it.
The board sponsors a youth leadership program for those under 21 who want to help the armory in any capacity. “It gives kids a better appreciation for what’s been here It’s important to know where you came from,” the URI student said.
“This has been a really good experience. I feel like I’m doing something important with Rhode Island history,” said Poole, who hopes to pursue a master’s degree in history at URI and continue his work with the restoration executive board.
Growing up in Westerly, Roberta Mudge Humble, spent much time at antique and poultry shows held in the armory. Each Thanksgiving weekend her grandfather, William Mudge, would show his chickens at the town poultry festival. After joining the Rhode Island Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and serving as the liaison to the 169th MP Company at the armory, she realized that someone needed to step in on behalf of the building and restore it. “I couldn’t believe it was in such poor condition,” she said. “I stood in the doorway and promised the building I would restore it. It is, after all, an old soldier, deserving of respect.”
The Warwick resident founded the group in 1993 and serves as its president. When not teaching English and writing courses at CCRI, Humble spends an average of 20 hours each week doing community service. She co-authored the book The Historic Armories of Rhode Island, which includes information about Rodman Hall, a former armory located on the URI Kingston campus. Rodman Hall is a significant armory for Humble’s family. Her parents Robert Mitchell Mudge and Claire Wordell Mudge, both members of the class of 1937, met there when Rodman was used for Rhody basketball games.
Surprisingly URI has a number of other connections to the armory, evident in the museum exhibits, which feature three generals.
One of Gen. Leon J. LaPorte’s uniforms is on display. LaPorte, a four-star general and 1968 URI graduate, is a commander of the United Nations Command, Republic of Korea/United States Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea. His numerous awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star. The late Brig. Gen. Elliott R. Thorpe, who spent 32 years in the U.S. Army, attended URI (when it was known as Rhode Island State College) for one year in 1916 before heading into the Army. URI’s War Memorial Student Union built in 1950 was funded largely through his efforts. Also, a uniform that belonged to Lt. Gen. Bruce Blount, URI class of 1950, is on display. Blount is the first URI alumnus to rise to the rank of three-star general and served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
For more information about the Westerly Armory Restoration group or how to get involved with fundraising, contact Roberta Mudge Humble at 401-596-8554 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
URI University of Rhode Island 1968 alumna Roberta Mudge Humble stands in front of URI’s Rodman Hall with senior Patrick Poole. The two are hoping to preserve the Westerly Armory. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.