MB Remembers the Blizzard of ’78
This weekend’s blizzard, with 20+ inches across Providence and Rhode Island, led many at MB to recall past snowstorms — in particular, the historic blizzard of 1978 which hit Hope and Lloyd on February 6, 1978 and closed the campus for several days. When it was over, after 33 hours of straight snowfall, the school was blanketed in multiple feet of snow, paralyzing not only Moses Brown but the city and state as well.
The school had a boarding department of about 60 students at the time, all of whom were snowed in, along with a dozen boarding faculty and spouses, additional US day students whose parents couldn’t get to school to pick them up, and several parents who made it to MB to pick up their kids — who then got stuck here in the snow. In such unprecedented circumstances, community members pitched in to help one another. The school chef , Tom Giarusso, made it home to Pawtucket, then recognized that all those people would need to be fed. By then the roads were completely blocked with stuck cars, so he walked back to campus to man the kitchen. Across the street, the Brown athletic field became a landing pad for helicopters to deliver emergency medical supplies, which were then delivered to those who needed them by volunteers on cross-country skis.
Connie Raymond was in her first year as head of the lower school at the time and remembers that the storm arrived with little warning. “There was not a flake in sight as the school day began,” she remembers.
As the school day progressed, the snow fell – and fell. School was let out but many students remained on campus; their parents could not get to the school to pick them up.
“The only course of action seemed to be to take them home!” And so Connie did, accompanied by LS teacher Martina Dalton-Quinn, her colleague and friend. Connie and Martina left the school at 4pm, accompanied by 15 children (representing grades N-6) and Martina’s dog Jezebel. The band started the trek to Connie’s house on Keene Street, a half a mile away. Soon the snow was up to their thighs as they walked and waist high for the children – yet they safely made it to Connie’s home. Her husband George had left Providence College at 2pm and walked in the door at 9pm – to be greeted by the many house guests. He was quite surprised, she recalls. “Children were everywhere!” The Red Cross called at 1am to check on the children. “We cooked up lots of noodle soup and grilled cheese, and ate cereal,” Connie remembers how they fed the assembled masses. They gave the children Raymond family clothes to wear as the week wore on.
Connie remembers at one point fielding a phone call from another MB teacher, Dan Johnsen, calling from a payphone at the market, asking what they needed: “We said dog food, for Jezebel, and M&Ms! Dan arrived on skis and sat with us in the kitchen chatting and snacking. Martina, George and I had no idea how starved we were for adult companionship!” As the week wore on, parents were able to make their way to Connie’s house to collect their children, with the last guests finally departing on Saturday — five days after their arrival.
Upper school faculty members Jamie German (science) and Bruce Shaw (math) were both in their first year at MB that year. Bruce joined with other on-campus faculty — including Nat Earle ’70, Peter Snedecor and his wife Judy Shaw — to help clear a path for an emergency oil delivery. The city said they could plow a path for the oil truck to the front gate, but those on campus would have to get it from the gate to the heating plant. So instead of wielding chalk and slide rules, as on a typical school day, Bruce and colleagues took to shovels and snowblowers to clear the needed path.
With school dismissed, employees who lived off campus set off for home. Jamie walked downtown in the snow to catch her bus home – only to learn that buses weren’t running. So she walked back up the hill, finding shelter with an acquaintance who taught and lived at Wheeler. A few days later, she was able to walk home to Riverside (if you’ve seen Jamie bike to campus, and were impressed by that, it’s all the more impressive to know that she has made that commute in snowdrifts). Despite the challenge, Jamie remembers “how lovely it was; after the storm passed, there were no cars and the air was wonderfully clear.”
Former Director of Library Services Judi Lewis lived on campus at the time. She and her husband Donovan lived in one of the Hope Street houses owned by Moses Brown. When the storm ended, the families that lived here banded together to shovel out 42 inches. “I think the most striking thing that I remember was the eerie quiet with no cars driving by on Hope Street for many days,” Judi recalls. Judi was in a bread baking stage at the time, luckily for her family and neighbors. “This was the advent of ‘the first snowflake means go to the grocery store for bread and milk era’, which continues!” Judi says. “My most poignant memory of the blizzard is of a house three down from us on Hope Street; there was a flute player who sat in the total quiet and played his flute on the porch every evening. It was hauntingly beautiful.”
Richard “Hardi” Parker ’78 was a senior at MB at the time and echoes that feeling of appreciation for moments when the whole world slowed down for a time. “Despite many people being stranded at MB, and elsewhere, there was lots of good sledding, skiing and community work,” he recalls. Hardi lived in faculty housing at Wheeler, where his mother taught. Unable to get their scheduled oil delivery that day, the Parkers took shelter where they could – Hardi’s mom with faculty friends and Hardi to the home of John Saltzman ’79 at Doyle and Elmgrove Ave. John ended up hosting several MB students that week. “At one point, I remember cross country skiing up to Thayer Street to get ‘provisions’ for the house, then skiing back down Doyle Ave. on skinny skis with a heavy pack, filled with breakable items. Most unnerving!” Hardi remembers. “But it was a good time for all of us at John’s house. He was a wonderful host. We listened to a lot of great rock and roll and played guitars.”
Do you have an MB Blizzard of ’78 story? We’d love to hear it. Email email@example.com.
Thank you to Bruce Shaw for the photos and the impetus for this article.