This is Jean McMillen interviewing Denise Rice at her home at 55 Woodland Drive, Lakeville, Ct. The date is January 3, 2012.
JPM:May I have your full name?
JPM:May I have your birthplace and birth date?
DR:I was born in New York City on October 21, 1939.
JPM:May I have your parents’ full names?
DR:Raymond Martin Steffens and Lillian Anita Bleau Steffens.
JPM:Do you have siblings?
DR:I have one sister Cheryl Lynn Steffens.
JPM:Did you have children?
DR:I have four children: Jacqueline, Shelly, John Jr. and Raymond.
JPM:Tell me about your education.
DR:I went to Holy family School in Greylock, North Adams, Mass. k-8, and then I went freshman and sophomore years to St. Ann’s Academy in Marlborough, Mass. junior and senior high school years were spent at St. Joseph’s School in North Adams, Mass. I went to North Adams State College for one year where I met John Rice. We were married in 1959.
JPM:How did you happen to come to this area?
DR:Coming to this area was a blessing. My husband John has a new career with Farm Credit-Federal Land Bank. The office he was assigned to was in Litchfield, Ct. We knew we could move within a 30 mile radius of Litchfield. We spent months looking for a home. Lo and behold we found one in beautiful Lakeville, Ct.
JPM:What a nice thing to say.
JPM:Now I know you did several different jobs in the community. Tell me about Little Scholar School please.
DR:That goes back quite a few years. Raymond was, I believe 2, and Jeanne Wardell ran the Little Scholar School in Lakeville, and needed an aide. It worked out very well because I was able to bring Ray with me. I worked with Jeanne for 2 ½ years.
JPM:Did you do other jobs before you became Tax collector?2.
DR:Actually I went from Little Scholar to Salisbury Central. The new program at that time was the preschool program, and Mary Anne Polowa was the kindergarten teacher at the time. She was designated as the prekindergarten teacher. At that point Ray was going into kindergarten, so I applied and received that position. Before Jeanne Wardell’s Little Scholar, I drove school bus because that also fit into my stay-at-home-mom concept of having four small children. When John and I moved here, three of my oldest children were going into school so I just basically had Ray at home during the day, during the school year. I also baby sat at that time for Anne and Jack Lloyd’s baby twins who had reached an age for babysitting. Anne was going back to her nursing position at Sharon Hospital.
JPM:How many years did you work at Salisbury Central?
DR:Well, I became Tax Collector in 1973. I think I worked at Salisbury Central until 1972.
JPM:How did you become Tax Collector?
DR:That’s also very interesting.
JPM:That’s why I asked you.
DR:It really wasn’t a position that I sought. At that time it was an elected position. My husband and I had become involved with the Republican Party; not when we moved here; we both were unaffiliated. At that time we were independent. We were wooed by a member of the Republican in the town of Salisbury. They said that we couldn’t be independent and we should join the Party so we joined the Republican Party, not just for the=====but we did. It’s funny that Bill Barnett, I believe, was in his last year as Selectman at the time. He said to me,”You will be Tax Collector.” I said,” Really.” and lo and behold, I was. I was appointed on November 1, 1973, and elected on Nov. 7th. That’s the story of how I ended up being Tax Collector.
JPM:You did it for a number of years, didn’t you?
DR:I just retired on Sept. 2, 2011, after 38 years. I really enjoyed all of those years having worked with four or five first selectmen. It wasn’t always a happy time, but basically we kept politics out of the building. I believe it made for a very good working atmosphere for all of us.
JPM:It makes such a difference to have a team rather than divisive.
DR:Basically we are working for the people who are paying our salary. That being said, if you can enjoy what you are doing and try to have a smile on your face, some days are tougher that others, but in the end you are the winner because at the end of the day you go home feeling good that you have helped someone or just having a good work day.
JPM:That makes a great deal of difference.
DR:It really does.
JPM:I can’t think of a time when I have gone into the Town Hall, where I haven’t been helped or given advice; no matter where I go everyone has been very helpful and very pleasant. It makes me feel good that I’ve got someone that I can ask for help, and I will receive help. So as a member of the community, and not an official, I think you have done a wonderful job.
JPM:You’re welcome! Now I also remember that you are the organist at St. Mary’s. How did you get that position?
DR:Well, we moved to Lakeville in 1966. My son Raymond was born in 1965, and he was 9 months old when we moved here. We moved here in August of 1966. Having lived in the area of Williamstown, Mass., and I was organist at St. Paul’s Church in Williamstown. There was an organist here in Lakeville, when we moved here. After a year and a half, the organist left. Father Noonan who was pastor at the time through conversations knew that I had been an organist in Williamstown and asked if I would be interested. I said yes. We were active; the children being in the CCD program and my husband John was involved with the finance committee. It was pretty easy and has been very enjoyable for me to play the organ. At the time there was no junior choir, but one was formed. Throughout my children’s elementary school years, we had close to thirty avid singers, I would say from k -8.
DR:So it was a lot of fun, too. At that time Father Joe Forte became the pastor and who was really quite knowledgeable in music. He was quite an asset to St. Mary’s Parish and was really involved with the music program.
JPM:Were you the only organist at that time?
DR:Fortunately no because we then went to three masses over the weekend. I was in great awe of the other organist who was Denise Restout. She was the companion of Wanda Landowska who was the renowned harpsichordist. Denise taught harpsichord and piano (and clavichord Ed.). She could work the organ like nobody else. It was a great honor to be in her company. She was very laid back and never really thought of herself as talented and gifted which she was. She promoted all of Wanda Landowska’s works and wrote books. I was quite honored to be friends with her. Father Joe used to say that in order to be an organist at St. Mary’s, your first name had to be Denise and your last name had to start with R.
JPM:And wasn’t he good about it! Are there other activities in town that you have participated in?
DR:Well, running on the Republican ticket, I was on the Republican Town Committee. At one time I was Vice Chairman and later Chairman, but am no longer on the town committee. My husband John was on the Board of Finance. I was Treasurer of the Bissell Fund Board, and I am still Treasurer of
Salisbury Family Services. I belong to the Women’s Noble Auxiliary and am Assistance Treasurer of the Auxiliary Board. I am also on the St. Mary’s Financial Board. Both she and John enjoyed participating in the community and watching its growth over the years.
JPM:Would you tell us a bit about the Bissell Fund.
DR:The Bissell Fund was started to help pay all medical bills for those in need or distress. Applications are sent to the Town Social Worker Patrice McGrath. Now it is administrated by the town; it used to be administrated by a committee. Salisbury Family Services also helps people in need with other necessities such as fuel, rent or food. This is a community who wants to help those in need.
JPM:is there anything you would like to add to this interview?
DR:What a good question. Yes, one of my children still lives in town. Jacqui, who teaches math at the high school, is giving back to the community in many ways; one of which is as Crew Chief of the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance.
JPM:Thank you for your time and all the many things you are doing to help Salisbury remain at wonderful community.