It was a blaring sound, vibrating at an annoyingly high decibel. I looked around the lounge. Strobe lights above the exit signs were flashing.
Around me people carried on as if nothing was happening. They stood five deep at the bar hopeful of attracting the attention of the sole bartender and getting a glass of wine before being shown into the dining room. In the hallway, the four honorees of the evening – medallions hanging from their necks on red, white and blue ribbons – stood ready to be escorted into the room.
No one seemed the least concerned by the fire alarm. It surely had been mistakenly triggered and like one of those honking car alarms would be shut off in short order, or so I thought. I waited for the line at the bar to thin, but nobody was in a rush, and while the threat of a fire may have crossed their minds, a drink with dinner was a priority.
I turned my attention to the raffle table and its display of 11 baskets and boxes containing an assortment of liquors, gift certificates, books and intriguing items. I fingered the sleeve-long tape of blue tickets I bought to help support the purpose of the evening – the 40th annual Cranston Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
My reason for attending Friday was to honor one of the inductees to the class of 2019, Meri Kennedy. Meri is a graduate of Cranston East and a reporter/columnist for the Beacon’s sister newspaper in Cranston, the Cranston Herald. It’s a role she has filled for the past 24 years. She’s never missed a deadline despite some difficult personal medical battles.
A contingent from Beacon Communications was there to honor her, including old timers Rich Fleischer and his wife Joyce, Don and Joyce Fowler and Lynne Taylor. Newer to the staff but by no means newcomers were Herald editor Dan Kittredge and freelancer Kellsie King.
Other inductees were former Cranston Police Chief Michael Chalek; the late Leonard D’Errico, an outstanding athlete, coach and law enforcement officer; Steven Maurano, whose work in education and public relations was recognized; and David Schiappa, assistant principal of special education for Cranston schools.
I looked around the room, the incessant alarm still sounding. A couple picked at the cheese plate. The line at the bar stood its ground while others headed toward the dining room to find their seats. I dropped all my tickets into a container in front of a wine basket and headed toward the Beacon table.
People were chatting, some were already picking at their salads and passing around baskets of rolls. The alarm kept up its throbbing bleat.
“Guess we’re in for extra crispy chicken,” joked one guest as I weaved my way to the table where I found Rich and Joyce. Meri was across the room standing at the door lining up under the direction of Fred Vincent, chair of the Cranston Hall of Fame. It all seemed perfectly normal except for the alarm. But then that didn’t appear to perturb anyone.
At that point, the Alpine Country Club staff in their black uniforms fanned out across the room advising us to get out of the building. They didn’t appear alarmed, so nobody else became alarmed. People rose from their seats, some taking their drinks and politely – no pushing, no panic, and without a break in conversation – filed out the exit doors.
The night air was quite comfortable and soon enough a fire truck arrived, lights flashing, but siren silent. Firefighters in their heavy yellow coats and boots entered the clubhouse. The alarm stopped, and five minutes later we were being ushered back to the dining room. The evening resumed as if this was all quite normal, if not to be expected. Rich and I exchanged incredulous glances.
It was an introduction to an evening not like I’ve experienced in some time, and it is reason to suggest that Warwick – and, for that matter, other communities – should establish halls of fame.
Indeed, there are many high school and college halls of fame that pay tribute to alumni and those of community achievement. The Cranston Hall of Fame recognizes outstanding graduates of Cranston East and West as well as those who graduated when there was only one Cranston high school.
While Fred Vincent, assisted by former mayor Michael Traficante and the Hall of Fame directors, had carefully planned the evening, from the outset there was a sense of community that couldn’t have been choreographed. The alarm didn’t impair the feeling of camaraderie, nor could the sometime temperamental sound system and its humming feedback. Honorees were cheered as they were introduced and applauded as they gave their acceptance speeches. In the course of the evening, some speakers rambled on for too long. Yet that didn’t matter. No one was in a rush to get out, as evidenced even by a fire alarm. There was nothing more important.
It was a celebration of Cranston schools. Inductees talked about their teachers, coaches and mentors, many of who were in the audience. The superintendent of schools and chairman of the School Committee spoke of the achievements of Cranston alumni and their plans moving forward. A pitch was made for a bond issue slated to appear on the 2020 ballot. This was a family rejoicing in its heroes and, in the process, uniting a community.
A Warwick Hall of Fame, not just for those graduates of Toll Gate and Pilgrim deserving of the recognition but also the high schools of the past including Veterans, Aldrich, Gorton and Lockwood offer a rich field of candidates from which to choose. The accomplishments of Warwick alumni, whether with us today or not, reflect on the community. It’s time to pause and to take account.