It Takes a “Village” to Organize an Arts Festival

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 30, 2013

Years ago, the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote a book It Takes a Village, attributing the title to an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The book details the impact individuals and groups outside the family make on meeting a child’s needs.

City government does not always have the financial means or resources to organize large community gatherings, successfully. Just as it takes a “Village” to assist parents in raising their children, it takes the commitment of dedicated community volunteers in a “Village,” that is Pawtucket, to work closely with City government to organize and host one of the largest arts and cultural festivals in the Ocean State, maybe even in New England: the Pawtucket Arts Festival (PAF).

The upcoming month-long PAF, organized by Pawtucket’s Department of Planning and Redevelopment, leading cultural and service organizations, as well as community volunteers, is scheduled for September 6 to September 29, at various locations throughout the City.

With more than two centuries of story to showcase, the PAF turns the spotlight on glorious Slater Memorial Park, the Blackstone River and the riverfront, and the city’s contemporary blue-collar urban core, with its restored mills and commercial spaces that now house visual arts and recording studios, galleries and fabricators, as well as two of New England’s most highly regarded theatres, the Gamm Theatre and Mixed Magic Theatre.

The City’s arts festival celebrates a legacy of creativity and innovation that dates way back to 1790, when a young textile wizard from England, Samuel Slater, made the Blackstone River Valley and the City of Pawtucket the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and the place where artisans and craftsmen first gathered.

Now in its 15th year, the Pawtucket Arts Festival is overseen by Pawtucket resident John Baxter. PAF Chairman Baxter, a senior level staffer for the Rhode Island Senate, and his executive committee of 16 volunteers are about ready to see the fruit of their year-long planning.

Performing Arts Chair Mary Lee Partington says, “The performing arts focus of the Pawtucket Arts Festival is aimed at interpreting the region’s innovative and entrepreneurial energy through the state’s resident artists…many of whom perform and introduce new and original material during the month-long Festival.”

Partington notes the range of offerings from classical, traditional, or folk music and dance to Aurea, Opera Providence, and jazz artists Greg Abate and Duke Robillard and their ensembles, as well as theatre at The Gamm and performance art from TEN31 Productions. Pawtucket’s widely-acclaimed arts festival reaches across geography and genres to show the performing arts at work in Rhode Island and among our national and international touring artists.

“We tell Rhode Island’s story through the arts…here, there, and everywhere,” stresses Partington.

Here are some of the major events of the first weekend of the upcoming Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Celebration in the Streets

Next Friday, on September 6, PAF organizers kick off the first ever Blackstone River Party: Taste of the Valley, brought to you by Schofield Printing. The event, drawing thousands to the grounds of the historic Slater Mill Museum and the blocked off Roosevelt Ave., is scheduled from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The City’s largest downtown block party offers food and dessert samplings served by some of the finest restaurants in Pawtucket and the surrounding Blackstone Valley communities. A cash bar is available.

Crowds will gather on the large dance floor under a huge white tent as Rhode Island’s high energy Zydeco band, Slippery Sneakers, begins playing at 6:00 p.m., concluding at 8:00 p.m. After a brief break, headliner Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic take the stage from 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Admission is $10. Children under 12 are admitted free. The event is “Rain or Shine.” Advance tickets can be purchased at the City Visitor Center.

On September 7-8, the performing arts share the stage with visual arts and fine craft when more than 50 artists show their one-of-a-kind work at Arts Marketplace: Pawtucket (www.artsmarketplacepawtucket.com), from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., in the Pawtucket Armory Center for the Arts. Surrounding the 119 year old historic armory, XOS-Exchange Open Studios (www.xospawtucket.com), from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., brings art buyers into the studios of more than 60 artists located throughout four renovated mills in the City’s Pawtucket Amory District.

According to Joan Hausrath, a retired college professor and artist at Riverfront Lofts across from Pawtucket City Hall, XOS Exchange Street Open Studios attracted more than 2000 people last year for its 2-day inaugural event. One of the benefits of having open studios in her neighborhood is that visitors can easily walk from one mill to another – all located within one block of each other, and they are just yards from Exit 29 off I-95, the artist noted.

Hausrath and her fellow organizers of this event invited artists from the other mills in Pawtucket to participate as guest artists, to increase the concentration of talent within the grand, historic structures that provide creative home and work space for these gifted citizens of the arts.

Jam Packed First Weekend

Also, on September 7 other festivities include The Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival on the Blackstone River, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at School Street Pier (presented by Schofield Printing); the Lighting of Pawtucket’s New Bridge (4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.); Slater Mill Museum’s new In-OVATION Festival featuring the Duke Robillard Jazz Trio and the Matt Macaulay Trio and more (12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m.). Meanwhile, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, will be offered by Opera Providence, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., at the City Visitor Center, and The Samaritans of RI, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., showcases their intimate fine arts gallery and In-OVATION Festival After Party with Unforgettable September Music at Forget-Me-Not Gallery on Park Place.

Finally, among the new PAF events this year is the Pawtucket Rotary Club’s Food Trucks on the Blackstone (www.blackstonefoodtrucks.com), offering a food fair (and beer tent) on September 7-8, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., near Pawtucket City Hall, to hungry families, art shoppers, and audience attending Slater Mill Museum free musical performances.

On September 8, Slater Mill’s Labor, Ethnic and Heritage Festival, presents one of the Ocean State’s longest-running folk music and heritage-arts festivals. Initiated in the late 1980’s in partnership with the Rhode Island labor community and affiliated unions, the L&E Festival celebrated 25 years in 2012. The Sunday event, from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., shines its spotlight on folk and ethnic music, the artisans of the Community Guilds Studio and gifted regional artists and artisans.

Creative Co-advisor to In-OVATION FESTIVAL and the Labor & Ethnic Heritage Festival at Slater Mill is Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame inductee Ken Lyon, a blues and folk music legend who helped design this year’s music festivals, who lists the L&E lineup with members of Magnolia, The Greg Abate Jazz Quartet, The Eastern Medicine Singers, Joyce Katzberg & Jimmy Warren, Bill Petterson, The Zimmermen (presenting the repertoire of Bob Dylan) and more.

Admission for the folk music festival on the grounds of Slater Mill is free. Admission prices for Slater Mill tours are listed at http://www.slatermill.org. Special preview tours “RI Labor History 1790-1830” by Slater Mill interpretive guide Joey L DeFrancesco of “Joey Quits” You Tube fame, will be offered.

Logistics Co-Chair Paul Audette, a semi-retired businessman who serves as a volunteer festival organizer, has seen the Arts Festival “grow up” and offer more sophisticated artistic presentations. “Programming reaches out to more people in a larger geographic area to showcase Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley region positively,” he observes, noting that this year’s events are more varied and offer something for everyone.

Adds Chairman Baxter, “I continue to be amazed that the Pawtucket Arts Festival, with its limited financial and manpower resources, manages to produce this remarkable event again and again.” Community volunteers and arts and cultural organizations are truly the life-blood of the City’s largest festival, Baxter observes. “Without the incredible support of the City Administration, the local business community, the cultural enterprise community, and these volunteers, the Pawtucket Arts Festival would never happen.”

Keeping Kristine’s Vision Alive

In 1999, Kristine Kilmartin, newly married to her husband Pawtucket Rep. Peter Kilmartin, had lived in Pawtucket for only a few months. The Smithfield native was driving through Slater Memorial Park in early January with her new husband when she asked why the City didn’t take more advantage of its green space. Kristine wondered why the City couldn’t do something like the Scituate Arts Festival in the City’s 209-acre park. The Kilmartin’s turned to Mayor James E. Doyle with the idea of creating an arts
festival. After a month of meetings, discussion, and planning, the City created an 18-person volunteer committee to begin planning the first Arts Festival.

Fifteen years later, volunteers from the community have kept Kristine’s vision alive, annually bringing new life in September to the City’s downtown and to its largest municipal park.

For more details and updated information on the 2013 Pawtucket Arts Festival, go to http://www.pawtucketartsfestival.org.

Herb Weiss, Leadership RI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care, and medical issues. As Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer for the City of Pawtucket, he provides staff support to the Pawtucket Arts Festival organizers.

AARP’s President Romasco Great Rhode Island Adventure

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 23, 2013

AARP’s top volunteer, President Robert G. Romasco, sees a key role for AARP in supporting the nation’s families, which is why he made a quick one-day trip to the Ocean State last week to help kick off the Back to School Celebration of RI, visiting three of the eleven sites throughout the state. Romasco came to endorse AARP Rhode Island’s strong involvement with this ongoing learning initiative. The state affiliate is a long-time Celebration Sponsor and Deborah Miller, Associate Director of Community Outreach, sits on the School Celebration’s Board of Directors.

Programs like Back to School Celebration of RI are important for AARP to strongly support, says Romasco, because of the changing demographics of its membership. Once viewed as an organization representing those in their mid-sixties and older, now aging baby boomers 50 plus make up one of the largest membership constituencies, over 100 million Americans.

AARP does not just serve the needs of these members, but their families as well, their elder parents, adult children and even grandchildren. AARP’s mission statement spotlights its focus, “issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse.”

Years ago, a pair of shoes was seen as a status symbol for young students returning to school. Today it’s a backpack, says Romasco, who says that this annual community initiative gets children excited about going back to school after the long summer recess. “It’s also about helping families to prepare their children to have a successful school year,” he says.

The Back to School Celebration, in its ninth year, began with a modest effort to support children in struggling families. It all started with 300 backpacks. It has grown dramatically to 14,000 backpacks distributed this year, with local companies donating the school supplies for the initiative. Any parent will tell you that school supply costs add up, especially in large families. This assistance keeps back-to-school costs from sinking a tight family budget every fall.

A Jam Packed Schedule

On Saturday, August 17, after opening ceremonies at the William D’Abate School in Providence, Romasco traveled to the West End Community Center in the city to pass out backpacks, working side by side with AARP State Director Kathleen Connell and Phil Zarlengo of Jamestown, a past chairman of the AARP national board. From there, Romasco drove to Newport to observe backpack distribution at the East Bay Community
Action Program. While there, he toured the new facility, which provides community-based health services utilizing an innovative patient-centered approach to medical care.

Said Romasco at the opening ceremonies, “When people want to see how America can work, I say, ‘Let them come to Rhode Island … and see how a community can work together for the benefit of all families and the children who are our future.’”

Romasco concluded his visit with a luncheon in Newport with city officials and community leaders that included a presentation by Newport Director of Public Services William Riccio, who discussed the Broadway Streetscape redesign. AARP Rhode Island, as part of its statewide “complete streets” advocacy (as reported in my May 19, 2012 Commentary), supported the project, which will make Broadway more pedestrian and bike friendly while adding features embraced by retailers and business on the thoroughfare.

Breakfast at the Diner

Around 8:00 a.m., at Pawtucket’s historic Modern Diner on East Avenue, Romasco, 65, sat down with this columnist to explain the issues on the policy radar screen of the nation’s largest advocacy group.

We don’t oftentimes see powerful national leaders who oversee major aging organizations come to the Ocean State. But we did last week. As AARP President, Romasco’s 22-member volunteer Board of Directors approves all policies, programs, activities, and services and oversees a $1.5 billion operational budget for the Association’s 37 million members. The huge nonprofit, nonpartisan organization employs 2,400 employees, many based in every state and in the nation’s territories.

While many of AARP’s volunteer Board Members come up thru the rank and file in local State Chapters, this was not the case with Romasco. In 2005, at age 57, an old friend, who met him 35 years earlier when he consulted for AARP, urged him to respond to an open call for consideration for the top AARP leadership position. When the dust settled he was among “seven lucky individuals” chosen from a pool of 400 applicants.

According to Romasco, AARP brings in seven new board members every two years. “We look at a person’s diversity, not just in ethnicity and where a person lives, but what skills and points of views they bring,” he says, stressing that this creates a “good mix” on the group.

Many would consider Romasco’s appointment a very good choice. The retired businessman is a graduate from Harvard Business School with a Master of Business Administration, who previously received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brandeis University.
During his 35 year working career, Romasco has held senior level positions at a number of prestigious national companies, including QVC, Inc., CIGNA, Inc. and J.C. Penny. Over the years at these companies, he has honed his skills in marketing, branding and organizational change. However, during his long career he did take a one-year sabbatical from his full-time job. “I actually got to see my kids go to school. I got to see them come home from the bus. ”

His presidency at the helm of AARP is very time consuming, “a full-time activity,” he quips. When responding to people who ask him if he is retired, Romasco nods, stating “I just don’t get paid anymore.”

Before becoming President, Romasco served as AARP board secretary/treasurer, and chaired the Audit and Finance Committee. He is a former member of the Board of Directors, of AARP’s Andrus Foundation.

Romasco personally gets it, that receiving a Social Security check can often times mean the difference between eating or not eating. With his mother bringing home a meager wage earned as a part-time seamstress, her survivor benefit check literally put food on the table for the young child and his sister.

His speaking schedule is jam packed, as he travels around the nation sharing his personal experiences as to the importance of Social Security impact on a family’s budget. These visits are used to get this message out: “Social Security is the only lifetime, inflation-protected guaranteed source of retirement income that most Americans will have.”

As the Congressional debate heats on Capitol Hill, as to modifying Social Security’s existing cost of living formula thru a chained CPI, Romasco warns that it’s not a minor tweak but one that can substantially reduce the amount of a retiree, a disabled person or veteran’s benefit check. According to AARP calculations, a 65 year old retiree would lose $662 over five years of retirement. After 20 years of Social Security, the benefit cut would amount to $9,139.

A chained CPI is just “bad policy, a bad idea” says, Romasco, one of the nation’s most visible aging advocates. “It is an attempt by Congress to balance the federal deficit on the back of the nation’s seniors,” he charges.

During my breakfast, Romasco tells me that AARP has unleashed one of its largest outreach efforts in its history. Its “You’ve Earned a Say,” initiative educates Americans about the policy debates on Social Security and provides them an opportunity to voice their views and concerns on the ongoing retirement policy debates in Congress. Rhode Island AARP oversees this initiative in the Ocean State (as detailed in my Commentary published Oct. 26, 2012),

Just last week, he says that petitions from 1.5 million people who voiced their opposition to the chained CPI calculations for annual COLA adjustments on 10,000 pages in 15 large boxes were carried to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Romasco says that AARP, through its successful efforts to collect these petitions from 4,000 town meetings held nationally, has enabled citizens to have an opportunity to express their opinions to their elected officials.

He smiles, noting that Congress has certainly heard from the nation’s aging baby boomer and seniors. “Congress certainly cannot ignore us with those delivered petitions.”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Poll Says Americans Shy Away from Wanting to Live to Age 120

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 16, 2013

What if new biomedical advances could slow the aging process and allow people to live into their 12th decade (to age 120), would you want to have these new medical treatments? Although you might take this opportunity to keep death at bay for decades, a new research survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project finds most Americans (56%) say “no” – they, personally, would not want treatments to enable dramatically longer life spans. But roughly two-thirds (68%) think that most other people would choose to live to 120 and beyond.

Released last week, the ten page report, “Living to 120 and Beyond: American’s Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension,” notes that “some futurists think that even more radical changes are coming, including medical treatments that could slow, stop or reverse the aging process and allow humans to remain healthy and productive to the age of 120 or m ore. The possibility that extraordinary life spans could become ordinary life spaces no longer seems far-fetched.”

The Pew Research Center Report’s findings are tabulated from data compiled from a new nationwide telephone survey, conducted March 21-April 8, 2013, on cell phones and landlines, among a nationally representative sample of 2,012 adults. The overall margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Is Living Longer Better?

The Pew Research Center’s survey explores the public’s attitudes toward aging, medical advances and what some biomedical researchers call “radical life extension” – the possibility that scientific breakthroughs someday could allow people to live much longer than is possible today. The findings indicated that overall, more Americans think dramatically longer life spans would be bad (51%) than good (41%) for society.

The researchers asked adult recipients how long they ideally would like to live, more than two-thirds (69%) cite an age between ages 79 and 100. (For this writer, eighty-nine years old is just the ripe old age to shed my mortal coil in this world.). The median desired life span of the survey respondents is 90 years – about 11 years longer than the current average U.S. life expectancy, which is 78.7 years. Just 9% of Americans say they want to live more than 100 years.

According to the researchers, because most people say they have heard little or nothing about the possibility of radically extended lifetimes, and because the scientific breakthroughs are far from certain, the wording of the survey questions focus on the result – much longer life spans – and are deliberately vague about how this would be achieved or how healthy an average person would be at 120 and beyond.

The survey also seeks to put the forward-looking questions about radical life extension into perspective by asking the respondents about their views on aging, health care, medical advances in general, personal life satisfaction and bioethical issues.

According to the researchers, the study’s findings indicate that the U.S. public is not particularly concerned about the gradual rise in the percentage of Americans who are 65 and older. Nearly nine-in-ten adults surveyed stated that “having more elderly people in the population” either is a good thing for society (41%) or doesn’t make much difference (47%). Just 10% see the graying of America as a bad thing.

A Cure for Most Cancers, a Possibility

The findings indicate that the public also tends to view medical advances in general as good thing (63%) rather than as interfering with the natural cycle of life (32%). Moreover, the public is optimistic that some extraordinary breakthroughs will occur in the next few decades. For instance, about seven-in-ten adult Americans think that by the year 2050 there will be a cure for most forms of cancer (69%) and that artificial arms and legs will perform better than natural ones (71%).

Survey respondents expressed skepticism that radical life extension will be possible anytime soon. Only a quarter think that by 2050 the average American will live to be 120 years old; nearly three-quarters (73%) say this either “probably” or “definitely” will not happen. And, if it does happen, many Americans foresee both positive and negative consequences for society.

While forty-four percent of the respondents, for example, say that radical life extension would make the economy more productive because people could work longer, fifty-three percent disagree. Two-thirds say they think that dramatically longer life spans “would strain our natural resources” and that medical scientists would offer life-extending treatments before they fully understood the health effects. And although a solid majority of respondents (79%) think that life-extending treatments should be available to everyone who wants them, most (66%) also think that, in practice, only the wealthy would have access to the new technology.

The researchers found that there some differences among religious groups when it comes to their attitudes about medical treatments that would slow the aging process and extend life by decades. Black Protestants are among the most likely to say radical life extension would be a good thing for society (54%). By contrast, fewer white evangelical Protestants (34%) and white Catholics (31%) say the same. Hispanic Catholics (44%) are more likely than white Catholics (31%) to think these treatments would be a good thing for society.

Ideal Life Span for Some Rhode Islanders

But what do Rhode Islander’s think about living longer, say into their 12th decade.

Kasey Johnson, development associate at Slater Mill Museum, will not seek out advanced medical technologies to extend her life. “Aging is viewed negatively in our culture,” the East Greenwich resident says, noting that those reaching very old age are often times seen by many as a drain on the nation’s economy and resources.

Johnson notes, Americans were not raised to honor or revere their elderly like they do in other cultures. “We end up resenting them for the time and energy it takes us to care for them. I wouldn’t want to live longer, only to be seen as a burden by everyone else,” says the 26 year old.

Graphic designer Neville Lassotovitch, 69, who lives with her retired husband, Peter, 70, and Daisy, their 17-year old beagle, in Barrington, would not mind extending her the years of her life by decades, but only if she was surrounded by her husband, good friends and children. “I would not want to be alone with out them,” she said.

Fifty-one year old Ken McGill, heading Pawtucket’s Board of Canvassers, sees a bright prospect of living a longer life. He has a lot to check off on his bucket list. “Nobody likes to pass on,” quips McGill, who notes that he plans to retire at age 70. “This would give me a good forty years to do all the things I have wanted to do, like traveling to see the world, even moving to Florida,” says the long-time Pawtucket resident.

Finally, like McGill, Keri Ambrosino, of Design By Keri, would “love” to live to the ripe old age of 120 years as long as her quality of life stayed “youthful” and her thinking remained sharp. “Quality of life overbears on quantity in my book,” says the 33 year old West Warwick resident.

Other Reports Released on Radical Life Extension

There is, at present, no method of slowing the aging process and extending the average life expectancy to 120 years or more. But research aimed at unlocking the secrets of aging is underway at universities and corporate labs, and religious leaders, bioethicists and philosophers have begun to think about the morality of radical life extension.

Together with the survey results, Pew Research Center is releasing two accompanying reports. “To Count Our Days: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Radical Life Extension” presents an overview of the scientific research and the emerging ethical debate. “Religious Leaders’ Views on Radical Life Extension” describes how some clergy, bioethicists, theologians and other scholars think their religious traditions might approach the issue.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

The Cowsills to Play the City’s Slater Park Fall Fest

Published August 9, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Some may think that the American musical sensation, The Cowsills, coming to the City of Pawtucket to jam, is as likely as a lightening bolt striking the same person twice. For one of the most successful family musical acts of the 1960s, this pop and rock ‘n roll group who came from Newport, was recently honored at the RI Music Hall of Fame and they are coming back to Pawtucket.

It was obvious to Slater Park Fall Fest organizer, Patty Zacks, that this would be a perfect match for Slater Park. When she watched the Cowsills perform at their April 28th ceremony at The Met, as they were inducted by the Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Music hall of Fame (RIMHOF), that this was a group she needed to present to her Event Planning Committee as a consideration for the Slater Park Fall Festival. The four surviving members (Paul, Bob, John and Susan, including two of their children) brought the house down at the Met, bringing back memories to the aging baby boomers surrounding the stage who danced and swayed to the familiar music they listened to more than four decades ago.

With the decision to book them for the Slater Park Fall Festival, the Comfort Inn, Hope Global, Lens Hotdog Haven, TD Bank, Tunstall Health Care, Webster Bank, all came to the plate to cover the costs of booking America’s musical family.

On September 22, 2013, the Cowills will open for the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance Pops in the Park concert, beginning their 80 minute set at 3:30 p.m, concluding at 5:00 p.m. (In case of rain look for their performance to take place same date and time at Tolman High School.)

During their opening act the Cowsills will play tribute to the decade of the 60s. While playing their own hit tunes, that will also play scores in tribute to their two deceased brothers Bill and Barry. Look for songs of the Partridge Family and other great songs musical hits from the 60s to be played.

Coming Home Last April

Looking back, Bob Cowsill says being inducted into the RIMHOF was just a blast. “It was such an uplifting, positive experience,” he said. “We had friends and relatives in the audience and it was very special for us to have them there,” especially seeing our fans.

As to the honor of receiving RIMHOF’s prestigious recognition, “When your home state comes calling and wants to recognize something that you accomplished in your life, well it does not get better than that”, notes Cowsill..

Cowsill actually had heard about the upcoming Pawtucket Arts Festival, noting that “we had great hope that we would return to perform. It is the same way a baseball team prefers to “play at home” that’s sort of what if felt like coming back to Pawtucket, a home where there would be many family members and friends scattered throughout the audience, he noted.

The Rhode Island Years

The Cowsills grew up just an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, on Aquidneck Island, where their names are still carved into a tree on the family homestead. The band was founded by four of the Cowsill brothers (Bill, Bob, Barry and John) in 1965. Within two years, it would encompass the entire family, with brother Paul, sister Susan, and their mother, Barbara (called “Mini-Mom” by her children) coming on board. Their father, Bud, became their manager. (Bob’s twin brother Richard is the only sibling who never joined the band.)

The Cowsills later became the creative inspiration behind the 1970’s television show, The Partridge Family, still in syndication today. In 1969, a twenty-something Michael Eisner, who would later become Disney’s CEO, came to visit the Cowsills’s at their home in Santa Monica, California. “He checked us out and quickly realized we were just musicians not actors,” Cowsill remembers. Wes Ferrell and Tony Romeo who wrote “Indian Lake” for the Cowsills would ultimately pen “I Think I Love You” for the Partridge Family theme song,

Even with the Cowsills not getting a central casting call to act in the upcoming television series, the Partridge Family, “the family angle just continued to evolve,” says Bob, stressing that it should not be considered “premeditated.” When it became difficult to interest musicians on Aquidneck Island to join the fledgling band, Cowsill notes that it became obvious that the younger siblings were the answer to filling the empty slots.

He notes that the group’s first big career break in 1964 came after playing in the basement disco of the MK Hotel, 38 Bellevue Ave., in Newport. From this performance came an invitation to play on the Today Show. Their 20 minute performance caught the attention of singer Johnny Cash and the group signed their first recording contract with his JODA Records label, releasing their first single, “All I Really Want To Be Is Me,” in 1965.

Taking on Simon and Garfunkel

Cowsill recalls how his group’s first single was pitted against “The Sound of Silence” on a WPRO radio contest. When the votes were tabulated, the Newport band “won by a landside,” with their family and friend’s overwhelming the switch board with their votes. Over forty five years later, he still laughs when remembering the Cowsills’ victory over America’s most recognizable musical duo, Simon and Garfunkel.

From the late ’60s into the early ’70s, the Cowsills appeared on many popular television shows, among them: The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Johnny Cash Show. They even hosted their own NBC TV special called “A Family Thing.”

Cowsill remembers singing with Johnny Cash, especially the spiritual tunes sung by the great Country Western singer. He says that getting booked on The Ed Sullivan Show was like climbing to the proverbial mountain top. “It was live television back then. If you goofed up, you goofed up. There is a lot of pressure with the whole country watching you,” he says.

“Bewilderment,” says Cowsill, thinking about his two performances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The group had contracted to appear ten times which would have put them on Sunday’s most popular show more times than The Beatles. But a fiasco over a microphone that was accidentally turned off between Sullivan’s son-in-law and Bud Cowsill resulted in the cancellation of the remaining eight shows, he said. “Dad was just a hot head, he just crossed the line one too many times. In this situation it just cost us appearing on eight Ed Sullivan Shows.”

Before the young Cowsills had their first hit record, they were hired as one of the headliners, along with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, The Byrds and The Beach Boys (all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) for Soundblast ’66 at Yankee Stadium in New York. “We were in pop wonderland. It was just unbelievable. Somehow, my father worked magic and got us to Yankee Stadium for this show. We were not famous at the time but apparently good enough to play for the crowd.”

“I still can’t believe we got this gig,” the aging Cowsill said. “I am 16 years old and playing in Yankee Stadium with these nationally recognized musical groups. At sound check, he and his brother Paul sat on a bench in the dugout just watching everything. “My jaw must have dragged on the floor,” he said. .

A Gold Record to Remember

In 1967, the Cowsills first MGM release, “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold record. This song would ultimately reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in Cash Box and Record World.

One year later, the band scored another near million-selling hit with the song “Indian Lake,” reaching No. 10 on the charts and in 1968, the band hit No. 1 again with their version of “Hair,” a three-million seller which brought them a nomination for 16 Magazine’s Best Group of 1970. “Hair” was banned from Armed Forces radio in Viet Nam for being too controversial, noted Cowsill, stating that “we were amused at the time because our brother, Richard, who was in Vietnam reported back that they were playing it everywhere!”

The Cowsills would become spokespersons for the American Dairy Assn. (ADA) with their “Milk Song” appearing in commercials and their images in print ads promoting milk. The group would be referenced in trivia game questions and twice on David Letterman’s Top Ten List.

In 1969, The Cowsills became the first rock group to record a theme for a television show, “Love American Style.” Their melodic sound has also been featured in movies such as “The Impossible Years” and “Dumb and Dumber” and other TV shows including “The Wonder Years” and “The Simpsons.”

Recently, a feature-length film, “Family Band – The Story of The Cowsills,” which documents the rise and fall of the group was featured on cable TV in March, running for five months. The Showtime documentary took eight years to produce. “The strength of the move comes from the story line itself,” Cowsill said, stressing that it drove the hour and a half documentary. Many of the viewers saw their families in his family’s drama, he said.

Today, Cowsill and his siblings John, Susan and Paul, plus two of the band member’s sons, continue to play concerts across the country at casinos, fairs and music festivals, and this year on Sunday, September 22 at 3:30pm – they will perform for us at Slater Park. For more than 27 years, the sixty-three year old musician has been playing at Pickwick’s Pub in Woodland Hills, California, every Friday night, once again performing the songs of the Beatles and The Byrds. During the day, Bob Cowsill coordinates medical conferences across the country, providing medical coding services to emergency departments, and assists in developing and installing software for use in emergency rooms.

For more information about the Cowsills, to leave a message on the group’s guestbook, or to sign a petition to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit: http://www.cowsill.com.

Raimondo Rolls out Educational Initiative to Financially Empower Rhode Islanders

Published in the Pawtucket Times, August 2, 2013

Everybody has been hit hard over the years with the economic downturn in the Ocean State. The statistics are startling about the impact on Rhode Islander’s pocketbooks. According to the Office of the General Treasurer, two-thirds of Rhode Islanders reported some difficulty in covering their expenses and paying bills. Startling the average borrow in our state has $13,221 in credit card debt, the 5th highest amount in the nation. Almost 47% of the Ocean State’s homeowners are “cost burdened,” that is home ownership costs more than 30 percent of their income.

During her first term, overcoming strong opposition of union groups, Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, working with Governor Chafee and leadership in the General Assembly, successfully redesigned Rhode Island’s state-administered public employee pension system. Now the Smithfield native, and mother of two, who graduated from LaSalle Academy, Harvard University and Yale Law School, who became a Rhode Scholar at Oxford University, goes into full gear to financially empower the state’s residents to make informed disciplined choices to achieve their financial goals.

Raimondo’s interest in financial empowerment came from her memories of growing up in a modest-income family, and a house with three kids and her grandfather. “My family had to become very smart about saving and budgeting,” she noted. By financial juggling and hard work, she was able along with her two siblings to attend college. According to Raimndo, getting a good college education allowed her to climb up the career ladder and eventually run for General Treasurer.

Building a Prosperous Financial Future

Recognizing that everyone could use a little free help understanding and managing their finances, last October, Raimondo, in partnership with the Providence-based Capital Good Fund, kicked off their financial empowerment initiative to provide guidance, though the Rhode Island Financial Coaching Corps, to provide free financial help to Rhode Islanders balance their home budgets, managing debt, building up credit and plan for their retirement.

According to Raimondo, becoming financially secure and taking care of your family can become tricky with the huge number of financial products available today. One can become confused with the different types of mortgage and banking products available, especially the proliferation of pay day loans, credit cards and reverse mortgages, she says. “If people are not careful they can be hit hard by hidden fees or hidden risks by choosing the wrong product,” she says.

Recently, Raimondo took her Smart Money Tour out on the road visiting local libraries, farmers markets and senior centers, “right into the community,” she says, noting that it might become a permanent initiative if it proves to be successful. At these locations treasury staff, through an online computer data base, (treasury.ri.gov/unclaimed) also helps people locate their lost or abandoned property for free. Unclaimed property includes items such as long forgotten bank accounts, stocks and dividends and life insurance claims. During the last fiscal year, Treasury returned more than $8 million to over 8,000 Rhode Islanders.

Supporting Common Goals

According to Executive Director Andy Posner, of the Providence-based Capital Good Fund, he met Raimondo during her campaign for Treasurer and found a kindred soul. She had similar interests in bringing financial literacy to Rhode Islanders and a desire to fight predatory practices (pay day loans that have interest rates of 260 percent and rent-to-own centers where consumers ultimately pay more than the product is worth).

Capital Good Fund trains volunteers, for the Empower RI initiative, in financial coaching techniques and provides them with curricula to use either in one-to-one sessions with employees at companies who contract for the service or to those interested in getting help, learning about this assistance at community events or through newspaper coverage or social service agencies.

Since the inception of the program over 200 Rhode Islanders have been helped, says Posner. Currently, the Financial Service Corps, has 17 active volunteers, he added.

Joining the Financial Coaching Corps

Jerry Leveille, a Burrillville resident, jumped at being a volunteer with the Financial Coaching Corps after reading the mission of Empower RI, “Moving Rhode Island forward – one person at a time – through financial empowerment.” The 68-year old retired banker, who served as a senior vice president and lending officer, had worked for over 51 years at Warwick-based Greenwood Credit Union.

Filling out the application at the Capital Good Fund, he was accepted, trained and now has worked with two clients.

In one case, Leveille stated that 83-year-old widow learned the art of balancing her checkbook after the death of her husband, who had managed the family’s household account, paying the bills for over 58 years. The woman still coping with the recent death of her husband only needed a couple of sessions to learn this financial skill.

Meanwhile, Leveille says that a 62-year old woman who worked for a large Rhode Island company for over 30 years made a personal decision to retire. She would later learn that this financial decision would reduce her income by a whopping 40 percent. This was combined with mortgage problems. The single older woman owed more on her family homestead than its market value. She could not get her out of state mortgage company to lower the eight percent interest rate or allow her to extend payments.

Before coming to Leveille “her only choice was to walk away from the mortgage or continue to work,” he said, noting that if this occurred the lender would most likely suffer a $60,000 loss. “As a volunteer I was not going to talk her out of retirement, it was not my role to do this. Ultimately, the Financial Coaching Corps. volunteer would refer his client to Rhode Island Housing who is in the process of negotiating a lower interest rate on her behalf.

“We must be very nonjudgmental when we work with our clients,” says Leveille, noting that humans do make mistakes they regret when making bad financial decisions. “We are there to be helpful. It is what it is and we try to find the appropriate solution,” he says when counseling client.

Cumberland resident, Randy Sacilotto, who serves as Navigant’s vice president of business and community development, joined Raimondo’s effort to ratchet up the state’s financial literacy knowledge. Sacilotto, with 21 years working for the credit union, also brings to his clients the expertise he gained from training to become a certified financial counselor, accredited by the National Credit Union Foundation.

Sacilotto, 52, has met with two individuals and one couple, teaching them how a household budget works and another couple on tips on refinancing their home.

Working on budgeting, Sacilotto told his clients to track the spending of “every penny,” for two to four weeks. Write everything down, he says, because you will learn where your money is spent.

“We don’t always actually know what we spend on things,” he says, and if you track your results, cutting spending on things you don’t need can allow you to put your money into more important things, like saving for a house,” notes Sacilotto.

Finding Satisfaction in Financial Problem Solving

Emerson Gardner, a retired manager of the New York-based Bank of America’s International Banking Office, brought this experience and working in the City’s AARP Money Management Program, to the Ocean State in 2010. Two years later he would join Raimondo’s Financial Coaching Corps.

One of the original volunteers, Gardner is already working on his fifth client (their ages range from early 30s to their 50s). “Any time you help a person get their credit rating up or confront their debt problems it begins with creating a budget,” he says, noting that people need to learn how to live within their incomes.

While Gardner’s clients profit from his expertise gleaned from his banking days and a Masters of Business Administration received from Harvard University, he benefits, too. “I get satisfaction in helping clients solve their problems.” The retiree likes the flexibility of the program, allowing him to decide who to take and when to schedule the counseling session.

“For a person who has financial skills and the time to give because they are retiring, it is a great thing to do,” quips Gardner.

Those interested in volunteering for the Financial Coaching Corps, or meeting with a financial coach should visit http://www.fcCorpss.org.

Pawtucket’s Smart Money Tour is scheduled for August 30, 2013, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the City’s Leon Mathieu Senior Center, 420 Main Street, Pawtucket RI.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based write who covers health care, aging and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com