Pontiac was proud of those who served in World War II

The decade of the 1940s was a time of many changes in Pontiac, as well as in other Warwick villages. By the end of that decade, village life centering around the mill was more a memory than a fact. From 1941 until 1945, change was slow as World War II remained prominent and any major changes had to await the conclusion of hostilities and the return of the young men and women who served in the armed forces.

The Warwick News

It was during this time that the Warwick Defense Council published a small newspaper, the Warwick News, to inform those in service of events at home. This, the editors said, was an attempt to give, "...a whiff of the old home town atmosphere...." Mayor Albert P. Ruerat, whose Christmas letter in 1943 made Warwick aware of the desire of service people for news, wrote another letter in the News which notes, "...Life is still going on much the same, although it makes a difference, you know, when all the young life and gaiety of a town is taken away in one fell swoop."

Ruerat, a keen judge of human emotion, went on to say, "But if there is a change it is a change for the better in this way: that just as you have come to appreciate and understand the old home town better from your separation from it, so the folks at home, through separation, have come to understand and appreciate you better and better."

Becoming “city conscious”

Ruerat, in later years, felt that one of the major contributions of his twelve years as mayor was to make Warwick "city conscious." He said, in a 1986 interview for the Warwick Beacon, "When Warwick became a city, there were 19 separate villages. It took a lot of doing to get them to think not of their individual villages, but the city."

Eventually, the combination of the experiences of Warwick's service people and the decline of the textile industry eliminated the predominant role of the paternalistic villages. The newsletter, published during the war years, helped to bring about the idea of a city consciousness as it reported news from all areas, from Pawtuxet to Potowomut. Basically, however, it divided the news according to villages. It noted that Pontiac residents were stationed around the World. Sgt. Clifford E. Fish and Cpl. Norman W. Johnson were in England. Pvt. Earle Fish, Jr., was in the Southwest Pacific and Cpl. Robert H. Hockenhull was in Guam. In addition, S/Sgt. Albert E. Hockenhull was in the Aleutians and Pvt. Frank Johnson was in Italy. The Warwick News also reported on the whereabouts of others such as: William M. Crowther, Albert J. Black, Elizabeth Hockenhull, Robert T. Lussier, Mortimer W. Freeman, Willis P. Freeman, William A. Henry, Albert C. Fish, Edwin Gilkenson, John William Moran, John Parker, James Lofgren, Ivor Lofgren and Richard Stanley Melvin.

Pontiac’s Pride

During the 1940s, Pontiac still could not decide whether it wanted to become part of a full fledged city or remain a small village. She took fierce pride in the accomplishments of her native residents such as artist Mario Izzi, jewelry designer George Brickander and Roy F. Nelson, who rose from a poor family in Pontiac to an important position with the Texaco Company. Roy, who received all A's and was president of his class at Warwick High School, received a scholarship to Brown University. This was when the high school was at the site of the Trudeau Center on Post Road, south of Apponaug, and very few villagers had an opportunity to go on to education beyond high school.

The 1940s heralded the end of the Depression and new patterns emerged in working and living conditions. High wages during the war and the rapid growth of the automobile industry following the war did a great deal to alter old neighborhoods in cities such as Providence. The dream of owning an automobile and a little house with a white picket fence in the country was no longer an impossible dream. As a result, many moved from Providence to Warwick, which became one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Her population increased from 28,757 residents in 1940 to 43,028 in 1950. As a result, new demands were made upon the city as it grew into a major suburban entity.

The story of Pontiac and Warwick will be continued.

 Mayor Ruerat (standing-second row, far right, next to portrait of FDR) and the City Council in 1946 when major decisions were being made following World War II.

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