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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Memories of old Rhody vivid for 100-year-old couple

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. – January 11, 2012 –
She remembers climbing the tower in Davis Hall to ring the bell after a Rhody football victory.

He remembers that “almost no one had a car, and so when you were dropped off in September, you didn’t get home until the holidays.”

But what Elizabeth (Rodger) and J. Albert Newton Jr. remember most is the beauty and intimate feel of the Kingston campus of Rhode Island State College (now URI) in the 1930s.

Elizabeth, now 100 years old, and Albert 99 and three-quarters, have memories of their college days that are as fresh as any senior who graduated last spring from URI.

Now residents of Horizon Bay in East Providence, the two grew up and met in Pawtucket, swam for Pawtucket (now Tolman) High School, and spent what they call the best years of their lives on the Kingston campus.

“I would walk around town, and take in just how picturesque the area was,” said Elizabeth, who still proudly displays her framed varsity letter certificate, and a photo of Albert and her wearing her varsity letter sweater. She was honored for scoring 150 points from 1929 through 1933 with the Rhode Island State College women’s basketball team. She also played field hockey at what the couple affectionately calls “state.”

Elizabeth, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 1933 in business education, and Albert, who earned his degree in 1935 in general science, recalled their graduation days. Albert graduated a few years later because he took some time off and attended prep school. Albert said there were only 600 to 700 students in the entire college at the time, with only 180 in the senior class of 1935, so there was no trouble fitting everyone in 800-seat Edwards Hall for commencement.

It was a time when freshmen wore beanies, and Rhody students cheered for the Rams against Providence College in football and basketball. It was also a time when women students were required to be back in their residences by 7 p.m. or face sanctions. Students were also on campus until June, so they organized their schedules to make room for frequent runs to the Narragansett beaches.

The couple spoke with pride about their great-granddaughters, Lindsay and Lauren, who graduated from URI. Lindsay studied in Australia as part of the study-abroad program.

Asked if they could imagine studying overseas as part of their college programs, Albert respond, “Oh God, no. To go to another state even, was unusual. There was no transportation. You can’t imagine what it was like.”

Plus, the country was still in the grip of the Great Depression.

“Well, you couldn’t replace or reproduce what we had down there, because it was so small. And all that’s different today. You did the best you could to find out what to do, but I didn’t have any trouble doing that,” he said with a smile and a pat of Elizabeth’s leg. In March, the couple will have been married for 75 years.

“I had been chasing her since we were 12 years old,” said the former member of the college Glee Club and fraternity brother of Beta Phi, now Phi Gamma Delta.

Both have great memories of watching legendary coach Frank Keaney’s teams play their “firehorse” brand of basketball in Rodman Hall. Albert said the 1,500-seat arena was always full and noisy.

“Keaney was something,” Albert said. “He coached football, basketball and baseball and taught all the freshmen chemistry courses. He was a very entertaining teacher.”

Elizabeth, who played basketball for Keaney’s wife, Winifred, remembered a far different game for women. She played a position called side center, during an era when the women were restricted to certain sections of the court.

“She was very good and very quick,” Albert said of Elizabeth.

As far as what remains important about the Rhode Island State/URI experience, the couple had a few brief, but valuable observations.

“I would say friendship and learning to live with others would be most important,” Elizabeth said.

“I received a quality education. I would say, don’t let your classes interfere with your college education,” Albert said with a wry smile as he alluded to the importance of activities and fun outside the classroom.

STILL FUN AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: Elizabeth and J. Albert Newton relax in their apartment while talking about their wonderful years at Rhode Island State College, now the University of Rhode Island. URI Communications and Marketing Photo from video by Jim Karpeichik.