Oral History Biographies

"A Place Apart: the evolving landscape of Touisset" Interviews

 

"Warren:  A Point of View" Interview Series

Don Primiano  Born:  May 21, 1923


Donald Francis Primiano was born on May 21, 1923.  His first home was 51 Union Street; later his family purchased a home at 38 Wheaton Street.  Fishing and quahoging in the Warren River were among the highlights of his boyhood, but his early interest in art (his mother saved paper grocery bags for him to draw on) became his lifelong vocation.  Don served in the United States Army in WWII.  He was veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and was among the first troops in invade Berlin at the close of the war.  His artistic talents were utilized during this time with a series of cartoons depicting Army life.  His war experiences became the inspiration for his later artwork.  As part of the GI Bill, he attended night classes at RISD.  Don opened his own retail art supply business in 1955.  In 1964, the business was moved to its present location.  Don's Art Shop was a retail and lesson space, but also a studio and gathering spot for local artists.  Over the years, Don served as a teacher and a mentor to many aspiring artists. 
Mr. Primiano passed away on January 17, 2016.

"When I opened my business, I eventually got to know a few artists and they used to hang out in my shop and we would help each other out."

Jennie Proto (Rainere)   Born: July 24, 1924


Jennie was born on Davis Street in Warren.  When she was young, her family moved across the river to Driscoll Lane in Barrington.  She left school in 11th grade and found employment as a bandana “splitter” at the S.E. Reins Handkerchief Factory.  She worked in various positions at the company for over fifty years.   Jennie retired from S.E. Reins Co. in 1992 at the age of 67. She was an active member of St. Alexander’s Church, and volunteered at parish festivals and suppers for over forty years.
Ms. Proto passed away on January 31, 2013.

“They were very good to me…very good to me.  There was one time we closed down for six months and, oh, how my heart broke.”

Pat Read (Ogg)   Born: June 3, 1933

Pat’s first home was at 97 Child Street. Later, her family moved to the house on the corner of Linden and Wheaton Streets.  Her childhood memories include skipping home with her father from the train depot, sliding down hay bales in the grain depot on Cole Street, and being part of a large gang of neighborhood kids.  She attended Warren High School and spent her summers as a supervisor for the town recreation program. In 1955, she graduated from URI. She taught first grade at the Joyce Street School. She served on the Warren School Committee from 1987-1992, and is a long time member of the Massasoit Historical Society. 
“Dad always felt that girls should be educated, so there was never any question that I was going to college; I was the first one in the family to go to a four year university.”   
 

Alexander Mikulski   Born: April 7, 1915


Alex was raised in Warren on Cornell Avenue. When he was fifteen, he left school to work on the family farm on Old Fall River Road. Alex’s memories of growing up in Warren include delivering milk to local businesses, swimming in the Kickemuit River, listening to his crystal radio set, and attending “shindigs” at the Polish National Home.   In World War ll, Alex served in the South Pacific as a midshipman from 1943-1946.  He worked as a machinist at Warren Manufacturing Company and served as a police officer for the town of Warren for 25 years.  He also served as a volunteer firefighter for Rough and Ready Engine 5. He was a lifelong parishioner of St. Casimir’s Church.
Mr. Mikulski passed away on January 6, 2013.

“I left school when I was an early age...went right to work...my father needed help and I went right to work.”   

 

 Robert J. (Buzz) Barry   Born: December 15, 1930

Born in Bristol, Buzz moved to Warren at a young age and lived on Water Street and Ellis Avenue.  He stated playing baseball with his brother Jim and a group of local boys who were known as the “Hitless Wonders”; they became excellent ball players and went on to win two state championships for Warren in high school. 

He contributed to the family income by working as a soda jerk at Lanoue’s Pharmacy and Standard Pharmacy.  After graduating from Warren High School, Buzz received a scholarship to attend Providence College. He graduated in 1952. During his last two years of college, he played professional baseball in Canada.  In 1952, he enlisted in the Army and served as a radio operator during the Korean War.  He worked as a teacher and a U.S. Custom Officer in Canada.


“Back when I was 9-10-11-12-13-14, you couldn’t go by a backyard where there weren’t kids playing catch.  We were a baseball town.”  


Anthony DaPonte   Born: May 21, 1923


Born in Providence, Tony’s family lived in Bristol before moving to Central Avenue in Warren.  Recalling coming of age in Warren as “busy times”, Tony attended St. Jean’s School, had a paper route, belonged to Boy Scout Troop 49, and played pick-up baseball with the local gang.

In 1945, his father and two uncles started DaPonte Brothers Furniture Store. In his youth, Tony worked part-time and summers for the store making deliveries and collecting payments.  He graduated from LaSalle Academy and continued his studies at Providence College.  He also received his MAT from Brown University.  A running enthusiast, he proudly remembers Warren’s role as a pioneer in the sport of road racing. In 1960, Tony married his wife Caroline and they raised three sons. He worked as a special education teacher for over thirty years.


“In some families it’s very common for the children to take over the family business, but my father had a value of education—he put that first.”


Madeline Ernest (Medeiros)   Born: April 1, 1930


Madeline was born in Laurel Park and her family later moved to Kickemuit Avenue and Ellis Avenue.  As a teenager, Madeline worked at the Newberry’s and Woolworth’s on Main Street.  In the 1950’s, Madeline found work by modeling for local stores and performing in live television commercials. She married Jim Tom Ernest and raised three children:  James, Jonathan and Pamela.

Madeline started her career as a nursing home administrator at Grace Barker Nursing Home.  In 1984, she graduated from Salve Regina University with a Bachelor of Arts and Science. Working as an administrator in several nursing care facilities throughout the state, Madeline has made advocating to improve the quality of life for the elderly in Rhode Island her life’s work.  She the founder of Park Place, currently the Daniel Child Home.
“We took the bus to Bryant College and had an interview…they told us you are wasting your time, you girls do not need to go to college for accounting, that is a job for men…things were different.”
 

Judy Davidson (Gagnon)  Born: May 29, 1934

 
Born  in Fall River, Judy lived with her family in Warren on Maple, Federal and Water Streets before the family purchased their home at 40 Washington Street.  She lived with her parents and brother, as well as members of her extended family.  Judy's grandparents owned Gagnon Garage and also the local Plymouth dealership.  Her father, Andy Gagnon, was a professional photographer with a studio on Main Street. 
Her many detailed recollections of growing up in Warren during the war years included memories of air raid drills, collecting "hoodsie" covers, using ration books, having war stamp books and attending the victory celebrations after the war. 
After graduating form Warren High School, Judy studied American Studies at Pembroke College, the women's college in Brown University.  During high school and college her summer breaks were spent working as a supervisor at the Liberty Street School and Burr's Hill Park playgrounds. 
In 1958, Judy married Malcolm Davidson and had four children; Anne, Bruce, Andrew and Scott.  
Ms. Davidson passed away on September 3, 2014. 
"In some ways Warren always took the back seat, but it's the blue collar and it's so important...when I look at Warren now from Barrington, I think what an exciting waterfront.  What a place it was and still is."

 


 


 


 


 


 




 

 








 






 












 

 

 



 





 

 







 

 



 

 

 



 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 




 


 




 


 




 



 



 

 
 
 


  






















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