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Kristen Cyr
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Historical documentary ‘Miracle on Promenade’
to be shown at Greenwich Odeum June 11

June 2, 2015

Aerial view of Promenade Street home of RIJC. This aerial photo shows the former factory building on Promenade Street that was the first home of what then was known as Rhode Island Junior College. A new documentary film exploring the history of the college from its start in 1964 to 1980 will be shown at the Greenwich Odeum this month.

After three internal previews for a substantial collective audience, CCRI is inviting members of the public to enjoy a trip back in time. "Miracle on Promenade," a historical film documenting the college's early years, will be screened at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 11, at the Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main St., East Greenwich.

"I think one of our interview subjects, Jim Flanagan, son of founding President Dr. William F. Flanagan, said it best: CCRI is one of the most important pieces of the historic fabric of Rhode Island, and we would like to raise awareness of that importance," said Ellen Schulte, public relations officer in the Department of Marketing and Communications, who co-produced the film with Norman Grant, the department's videographer.

The film was clearly a labor of love for the pair, who spent hundreds of hours viewing, re-viewing, cataloging and editing historical footage, to say nothing about the fresh interviews that they conducted to piece together the hour-long film. Made as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the college, "Miracle" covers the time period from 1964, when the college began as Rhode Island Junior College, until 1980, when the name was changed to Community College of Rhode Island.

Construction of the Knight Campus.Since that time, the college has grown to encompass four campuses and two satellites and boasts an enrollment of nearly 18,000 each year.

That left a lot of ground for Schulte and Grant to cover, but the pair said that during the excavation of historical footage and interviews with new subjects, the story clearly started to take shape: The foundations of the college itself represented quite a compelling angle.

"I'd run across things in my search and tell Ellen, 'You have to look at this!'" recalled Grant of the historical treasure hunt that the film's construction took them on. "Right to the end, we were finding things."

Some of these are crackly black-and-white archival footage, vintage shots from WJAR's coverage of the college in the 1970s and footage some of the college's original faculty unearthed. Some footage – newly added since the preview screenings – came from Ed Madonna, professor and chairman of Mathematics, who appears alongside Sondra Pitts, a member of the first graduating class, and Bob Silvestre, former vice president for Academic Affairs, in Grant's touching introduction to the film. Audiences at the Odeum will be able to view for the very first time this 8mm remembrance of the college's second commencement exercises.

Although the film's story – like the college's – includes the import of the construction of CCRI's first permanent campus in Warwick, the building is by no means the only star of the feature.

Postcard of Knight Campus."It didn't matter about the building. It was all about the students," said Lela Morgan, another former vice president for Academic Affairs who got her start in the old building on Promenade Street, in an interview in the film. In a nice bit of symmetry, Grant and Schulte placed present-day interviews alongside an interview with a Morgan outside of the Knight Campus megastructure on its opening day in 1972.

Former students and alumni have expressed the impact of the college on their lives to Schulte and Grant after the three preview showings – a result that leaves both feeling proud. "People have come up to me and said, 'I was a student here – this brings back so emotion for me.' I felt we balanced the history with the emotional ties and a little bit of humor, too. I felt that we had accomplished what we set out to do," said Schulte.

Audiences will hear testimonials from some of the students the college has affected, including Screen Actors Guild Award-winning actor and Broadway star Lin Tucci '71 as well as members of the first graduating class Pitts and Anne Riccitelli '66.

Among the faculty, staff and supporter interviews included in the film is the last recorded interview with Lila Sapinsley, former chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of State Colleges, who died in December.

"You can tell she genuinely loved the school," said Grant of Sapinsley, with Schulte adding that meeting and interviewing the tireless advocate was "a treasure."

Although the film itself comes to an end, the impact of CCRI will continue to accumulate long after the theater lights come up – and "Miracle on Promenade" will serve as much as a time capsule for those treasures as any historical document.

The screening at the Odeum is sponsored by the CCRI Foundation. General admission costs $10 and student admission costs $5. Tickets may be purchased at the Odeum box office or online. Any proceeds from the event will help fund student book scholarships.

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Last Updated: 8/25/16