Looking Back

Remembering Mrs. Lambrecht

Former RAs gather to remember Mrs. Lambert, and hold her picture, at a reunion in September 2019 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Lambrecht passed away in 1995, but the group’s family-like bond has remained. The former RAs still get together every couple of years. Their last reunion was in September 2019 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Left to right: David Cordeiro ’67, Sandra (Tierney) Cordeiro ’68, Joan (Bottino) McMillan ’66, Tom Dombrowsky ’65, David Burns ’67, Nancy (Banas) Burns, Rick Chandler ’67, and Jane (Teague) Chandler ’66.

In the 1960s on college campuses, house mothers still functioned as stand-in parents, enforcing rules and curfews, keeping the peace, and looking out for their students’ well-being. A group of Browning Hall RAs share their memories of one very special house mother whose dedication inspired a lifelong fellowship, which they honor to this day with regular gatherings to remember “Mrs. L.”

Deborah Whipple Lambrecht came to URI in 1960, after her husband passed away. A widowed woman in her late 50s with no children, the house mother job offered her a place to live, a steady income, and, in many ways, a family.

“Mrs. Lambrecht was—to nervous, insecure college freshmen like me—like chicken soup to a cold: an unexplainable comfort.”
– David Cordeiro ’67

It was 1963 when David Burns ’67, an ex-Marine and avid outdoorsman, began a job as head RA in Browning Hall. The Browning RA staff included Tom Dombrowsky ’65; Rick Chandler ’67; the late Tom Rylands ’66; Peter Van Dyke ’64; and David Cordeiro ’67. Many of them were in URI’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and came from military families or, like Burns, had already spent time in the military.

“Mrs. Lambrecht treated all of her boys with affection and listened when they talked,” Burns recalls. “Each evening we gathered in her apartment. She reveled in having us there and laughed at our hijinks. We were the boys she never had.”

“I remember being in her apartment with a group of RAs watching the Beatles arrive for their first U.S. tour and appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show,” says Van Dyke. “Her apartment was a home away from home for us.”

Deborah Whipple Lambrecht
Deborah Whipple Lambrecht

“She was—to nervous, insecure college freshmen like me—like chicken soup to a cold: an unexplainable comfort,” says Cordeiro. “All the dorm residents admired and respected her, especially her RAs. She was a great cook, and she was conscientious about running a tight dorm.”

Lambrecht, whose husband had run a bait shop, was no stranger to hunting and fishing. During trout season, she and her RAs, many of whom hunted and fished, would share pan-fried trout for breakfast. During hunting season she cooked game dinners. And if an RA found time for a hunt between classes, but didn’t have time to clean their game, they’d leave the catch in her refrigerator, and she would clean it for them.

Later that year, Lambrecht was hit by a car, suffering major injuries and requiring a series of surgeries. Burns and the other RAs persuaded the director of housing to allow them to run the dorm in her absence. They took turns staffing the office between classes. And, as a group, they continued to gather in her apartment in the evening.

After a long recovery, she returned, using a wheelchair and a walker to get around and do her work. “I believe that knowing she had us to return to helped her in her recovery,” says Burns. “Regardless of what she’d been through, she never lost her cheerfulness, and we never lost the friendship we had with her and with each other.”

After graduation, many of Lambrecht’s RAs served in Vietnam. Before they left, Lambrecht asked them to check in with her once they returned. She needed to know they were OK. Thankfully, they all returned, and, tellingly, they all checked in as she’d asked. •

– Dawn Bergantino ’94

Photos: courtesy David Cordeiro, 1962 Grist