Women’s History Month stories

Making Block Island a better place to live
Thu, 03/26/2020 - 6:00pm

March is Women’s History Month, a time to honor and celebrate the contributions of women in society.

Block Island is benefited every day by the work of a diverse and hard-working group of women: the majority of high-level island positions are held by women. The Block Island Times has been honoring the contributions of these women with a month-long series, the last of which is this week. This week’s edition will be focused on women in the continuation of health and wellness, and town and government positions.

We asked the following questions: 1) What brought you to the island? 2) What is your background? 3) What does it mean to be a woman on Block Island? 4) What has been your proudest achievement? 5) What words of encouragement would you give to other women?

Danielle Duffy:Founder and Director of Elevation Studio

Growing up near mountains, the ocean was an element I always loved on beach vacations. Block Island combined the opportunity for ocean, summer income and the magic and adventure of traveling to a new place. I was happy to start living on Block Island in the summer of 1992. I have lived on the island both seasonally and as a full-time resident ever since; I guess I was hooked!

It’s a blend, a tapestry, like so many of our stories here. I have been a food server, florist, clothing store owner, yoga studio owner, DJ, muralist, sign-painter, café owner, grassroots non-profit member, and crafter/artist. My background is as creative as my island offerings have been.  

I think the biggest thing about being a woman on the island is the ebb and flow, and the connection that exists between the seasonal life, the ocean, and a woman’s instinctual rhythm. Women tend to be creatures of change, creative expression, community, adaptability, fluidity, and perseverance. I feel that island living requires a very special balance of these qualities due to the extreme nature of its high and low seasons. We can allow ourselves an opportunity to be in a “flow-state” if we choose, aligning to our true nature as women.          

My proudest moment has been creating Elevation Studio as an intentional movement space in 2005. I had been teaching classes since the late 90’s on various available floors around the island, as well as other instructors like Robin Lewis and Kelly Walsh. It was time to dedicate a space for the purpose of group classes specifically. Creating Elevation allowed there to be a space for soul-seeking, health, education, connection, nurturing, support, fun, and really the list goes on and on. With Elevation’s many locations over the years it has continued to grow and grow, providing a safe space to all those who have ventured through the door!

I would encourage every woman to spend time knowing herself. Self-study is incredibly important, not just for herself, but for all those she loves, guides, teaches, and connects with. In the curious path of self-study, we come to know our lessons, our stories, our essence, and our embodiment. Take the time to reflect within. The more a woman embraces her shadows as equally as her light, the more internal questions will be answered on their own. It’s work, but women aren’t afraid of that! I encourage every woman to allow her true nature to be known, expressed, and shared. This world needs these expressions to exist. Women are the threads who create and weave together the communal fabric of life. 

Mary Donnelly: Registered Nurse

In the late fifties, my husband John who worked for the Telephone Company was asked if he would be the telephone man on Block Island. We were living in Warwick at the time with our four children, Michael, Patty, Mary Ann and our youngest at that time, Marguerite. We thought it would be a big adventure so off we went to the island. We fell in love with the island community. John was the only telephone man so we got to know everyone. Everyone was so welcoming and wonderful to our family. Our love for those island families now includes their grandchildren and great-grandchildren! We are so lucky.

John was the only telephone man on an island that also needed a nurse. Rhode Island is a small state, and soon news made it to Providence that the new telephone man on Block Island was married to a nurse. As a graduate of St. Joseph’s School of Nursing, I had worked as a nurse in R.I. Hospital. On the island, I received a call from the Department of Health asking me to be the State nurse on the island. I was also the school nurse and worked with Dr. Goldberg who was the doctor at that time.

It means everything to be a woman on Block Island. It means being a part of a community, both young and old. It means volunteering and giving, joining in, going to meetings, doing your part to help others in our community. It means hard work but you’ll love almost every bit of all of it, and have lots of fun while doing it because you are with our neighbors and friends. I love being a member of our Saint Andrew parish and being a member of our Ladies Guild. I love doing the work of the Mary D. Fund, and so proud of our wonderful Mary D. Ball, first Sunday of August at the Sullivan House! I am proud to be a member of our American Legion Auxiliary, I love my Lunch Bunch friends and playing Mexican Train, seeing my preschool friends, going to the Library programs, bird watching with Marg from the car, watching the boats come and go, seeing our neighbors the Littlefields and Cheryl Blane with grandson Luke. Amy and Steve with Hanna and Emma on Old Town Road, trips to Cathy Payne’s farm to see Bailey and baby lambs, and seeing all of you out and about on our beautiful island.

I raised my seven children on the Island, and that they all went and graduated from our Block Island School. But we had great sadness and loss along the way. We lost their father, my husband John, so long ago. Michael, Patty, Mary Ann and Marguerite were teenagers. Kathleen, Liz and John were very young children. It was such a sad, difficult time for us but our community was there for us and again with the heartbreaking loss of my son, John, and now the unimaginable loss of my daughter Kathleen. No family is spared loss and heartbreak. Our hearts go out to all who have known that heartbreak. Block Island is so caring and thank God for our faith. Work also got us through difficult times. I am very proud to be a nurse and to be a part of the building of our Medical Center. I am very proud to have worked over the years with our Rescue Squad. I am also grateful to them for them rescuing me! I am so proud to have done the work of the Mary D. Fund for so many years. I am very proud of all my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am proud and thankful for my daughter Marguerite who does the work of the Mary D. Fund for me as she has for a very long time. She works so hard everyday for the Mary D. Fund and our community. She loves helping others and finds ways everyday that amaze me. She started our scholarships and reaches out to parents about preschool. We meet with islanders in our office to help them deal with the challenges of island life. We see and help with all kinds of need. We welcome our new families and help them with medical and educational needs. Lately, Marguerite has worked with Alison Warfel at our Medical Center to provide wellness for our island senior citizens like me! She knows, loves and respects everyone. She has done such great work for others for a very long time. I couldn’t be here without her. Marg always tells me we are a team, and we are so blessed and so lucky to have each other and all of you.

Support one another. Listen to each other. Have a good laugh with each other especially in the middle of all your hard work. Share what you have learned and all the good advice you have received from others. Be kind to one another, and make sure you include as many as you can in all our island activities.

Kate McConville: Interim Harbormaster

I came out to the island for an internship with the Committee for the Great Salt Pond in 1995, after graduating from the University of Rhode Island. And I just fell in love with the island. Twenty five years later, I am still on the Pond.

I worked with the Committee for the Great Salt Pond for two or three summers, giving educational tours of the Great Salt Pond and doing water quality testing. I also started working seasonally for the Harbors Department. In the Fall of 1998, I joined the Rescue Squad. It gave me such personal satisfaction giving back to my community and helping others. It was then that I also met the Spier family, who gave me the opportunity to work on their construction crew. And there I learned a trade that allowed me to eventually go out on my own doing tile work.

I have worn many hats during the last 25 years, from bread girl at the Manisses, construction, boat yard crew, 911 dispatcher, tiler, oyster farmer, Captain of the Rescue Squad, and babysitter. And for every opportunity, I am grateful; ones that I may not have been given in a big town. Being part of the Rescue Squad has been so rewarding. I have made some of my best friends through the Squad. I love helping people and I love giving back to a community that has given me so much. I have a beautiful home and an amazing job. 

My proudest achievement as a woman on Block Island is that I am in the role to become the first female Harbormaster on Block Island.  I will be head of one of the busiest departments in the town.  This is an opportunity I am really looking forward to, and yes I am smiling about it. The life I have created for myself is simple. Marriage and children were not in my cards, but I have had amazing relationships and have been part of so many children's lives growing up.

My mother gave me a very strong work ethic. I work hard for what I have and I am proud of it. I encourage them to take an opportunity that they might not be the most comfortable with, to be open to learning new skills. And believe in yourself as much as your friends believe in you.