We went to a Pawsox game last week. It was the first time in two years, which was not deliberate. We’ve been going for years, but for some reason, last year each time we planned to go, it always rained, or it was too hot, or something came up; and before we knew it, the season had quickly slipped away.
In less than two years the Pawsox will also slip away, moving to Worcester due to total negligence, apathy, and the time-honored tradition of passing the buck by people who are supposed to govern us. But this is not a rant about state politics, this is about taking advantage of what’s there while it’s there and not assuming it will always be there ... like the Westerly Armory.
It’s easy, and to some degree human nature, to take people and things for granted. We all do it until they’re no longer there. Rebuilt in 1901 after a wood-framed structure from the 1800s burned down, the armory has from the beginning been an integral part of Westerly’s history. Rocky Marciano boxed here, Ella Fitzgerald sang here, and local residents enjoyed both the one-lane bowling alley in the basement, as well as a rifle range. Automobile shows were held within the brick building, along with dances, book sales, antique shows, and the like. The Scouts met there, a legion of dewy-eyed couples were married in the drill hall, and many remember the annual poultry shows featuring hundreds of turkeys, chickens, rabbits, ducks, and guinea pigs, all vying for the prized ribbons.
Although no longer the home of the National Guard, our armory is owned by us — the Town of Westerly — and therefore should consistently be afforded maximum financial support and maximum resident support. It is not to be taken for granted!
Say “Westerly Armory” around town, and the name Roberta Mudge Humble immediately comes to mind, for she is synonymous with the building on Dixon Street, as imposing as the edifice itself. A graduate of Westerly High School and a former CCRI college professor, Humble has no military background, but is fiercely tied to the Westerly Armory. It was she who grabbed the reins of a building sorely neglected and in complete disrepair. It was she, supported by a dedicated restoration team, who has brought the armory back to life, and at no small cost either. She is perennially fundraising, additionally contributing all profits from her many books and games about Rhode Island written throughout the years.
Now, the armory is a showplace. Windows have been restored, an insulated ceiling was installed, air conditioning was added, rest rooms were modernized, doors, roofs and electrical have all been restored, and the sleeping giant that had become little more than an eyesore has become a vibrant place once more, just waiting for people to come and learn, appreciate, and enjoy its history.
In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” images of old, dead ballplayers emerge from the ether, slowly taking form and coming onto the diamond. In less than two years in Pawtucket, images of the Pawsox will take the reverse route, sliding back forever into Rhode Island’s yesteryear as they make the trip up Route 146 toward Worcester.
Never will this happen to the grand old lady we call the Westerly Armory. It’s been around for 118 years. It is not only a place of celebration, but a library, a museum, a building dedicated to memories, honoring our military, and providing us a legacy that should be continuously supported, both financially and by our participation. It serves as a constant reminder of who we are and what we have always stood for. When your family needs a good-size space for a wedding reception or party, think of the Westerly Armory and its 6,000-square-foot drill hall that may be decorated elegantly, so the venue will both add to and be remembered as much as the event itself. Support the quilt shows and concerts by America’s oldest civic band, the arts and crafts events, and anything and everything this armory continuously endeavors to present for this community. Better yet, become a member (westerlyarmory.com); membership starts as low as $25, and may just be the best deal in town!
This is the people’s armory, and often times if you take people for granted, like old ballplayers, they may just fade away.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.