2006-06-08 / News

Ft. Getty - a jewel of a community

By Michaela Kennedy

Ft. Getty residents, in front, Joyce Bennett, and from left, Francis Edna Handfield, Roger Donnelly enjoy a picnic overlooking the West Passage and Dutch Island. Photo by Michaela Kennedy Ft. Getty residents, in front, Joyce Bennett, and from left, Francis Edna Handfield, Roger Donnelly enjoy a picnic overlooking the West Passage and Dutch Island. Photo by Michaela Kennedy "Here comes trouble! Hide the food!" a few people at the Ft. Getty campground tease each other with a smile, at the same time offering a seat or some homemade cookies. No one is a stranger at the park, and the neighborly hospitality is the best America has to offer. With gorgeous views of the West Passage, West Ferry, and Dutch Island, the campground by the bay has been attracting generations of families for decades.

"I brought up six kids here," says Roger Donnelly, noting that now his grown children bring the grandchildren to visit. A native to West Warwick, Donnelly has been a summer regular for 34 years, since the park was first opened to seasonal campers. "I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it," he says, adding that he enjoys fluke fishing on his boat and golfing locally.

Barbara Seagrave can be seen walking her English bulldog, Bosley, through the park. Bosley stops and smiles, waiting for a pat on the head.

"Most people have dogs here," she says, adding that the campers are "very considerate" about keeping their pets on leashes and picking up after them. Barbara and her husband, Ray, are from Coventry, and used to make short camping visits to the island. They felt an immediate attraction to the old fort grounds, and went on the waiting list for seasonal campers.

"Once you become seasonal, it's a community," Barbara says, noting that this was their fourth year as seasonal campers. Barbara is vice president of patient care services at South County Hospital, and finds her summer commute to Wakefield convenient. She points out that she and her husband have been to many camping areas throughout New England, but laughs when asked why they chose this place as their favorite. "Just look around," she answers, sweeping her hand over the view.

Wade Gosselin and Bill Spadaro give each other a neighand borly helping hand in power washing the outside of their trailers. They met at the local laundrymat 12 years ago, when Bill and his wife, Linda, first became seasonal campers. The Spadaros say they retired to Florida four years ago, but come back to their native Rhode Island every summer. Bill notes that the community is friendly, with a "live-and-let-live" attitude.

Wade says that everyone in the camping community helps each other. He notes that in the 17 summers he and his family have spent here, "not once have the police come for any domestic dispute." He tells the story of how nearby fishermen offered to buy crabs for bait from his daughter when she caught them by the shore as a child. "She would sell crabs for a nickel apiece," he recalls. Now the family enjoys their grandchildren when they visit, and take them kite flying or tubing behind the fishing boat. They agree that all the parents look out for each others' children, so it is a safe and fun place for the kids to feel a little more freedom. "This is a wonderful community," Wade says.

Francis and Edna Handfield, from North Franklin, Conn., praise the summer neighborhood they have lived in for 19 years. "It's a nice community. People take pride in their trailers. They decorate with flowers and flags, and keep their areas clean," Edna notes.

Germaine Tibault, 88, comes from her hometown of Woonsocket, and she has spent 20 seasons on the hill at Ft. Getty. Germaine remembers her first visit to Jamestown before the United States joined the Allied

Forces in World War II. "My husband was stationed at Ft. Wetherill in 1940," she recalls. After many years of visits to the island, Germaine and her husband became seasonal campers in 1987. "My husband only enjoyed four years here," She notes, but adds that she continues to spend summers at Ft. Getty with her son, Mike, who has Down's syndrome. Mike loves to play baseball with his friends, and he also loves the campfires they make every night. "My friends here are like nurses to me," Germaine says, adding that her neighbors look after her by bringing her groceries and medicine. She pays them back with a quick smile and a few witty jokes. Walter and Joyce Bennett are

retired and live in Florida, but they enjoy returning to the island campground every summer. Joyce grew up in Bonnet Shores, so the view across the West Passage to her hometown is a special treasure for her. Walter remembers how he used to ride his bike across the old Jamestown Bridge, adding, "I've been coming here longer than most people who live on Jamestown."

All of the seasonal campers at Ft. Getty agree that the park is a special place, and they offer a deep gratitude for the opportunity to spend summers here and share great experiences with each other. They have come to the park for decades, and most are native Rhode Islanders. All the campers express, without hesitation, their hope for sharing their summer jewel by the bay with generations to come. "All Rhode Islanders should be allowed to enjoy it," says Joyce Bennett.

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