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Tell Me Your Story: Humble not chicken to tout Rhode Island

November 20, 2011

If the holiday season is approaching you know it’s time for another of Roberta Humble’s tributes to Rhode Island.
Since 2000, the longtime CCRI English teacher and first woman president of the North Kingstown Rotary Club has produced three books and two games extolling the virtues and quirks of our little state.
This year, in a burst of enthusiastic energy, she’s launching both a book and a game.
The game – in which players earn points by using as few clues as possible to correctly identify a Rhode Island place, person or thing – is the latest in the series that’s gotten progressively more challenging.
Called Rhode Scholar, it follows Rhode Test (2009) and Rhode Side (2000).
“It’s the hardest game,” Roberta admits. “Rhode Test was so popular it sold out; Rhode Side sold out and we made more. Sixty percent of Rhode Scholar is National Register [historic] buildings and villages; 40 percent is cities and towns, buildings, sports and people.”
Astonishingly, she has identified more than 16,000 Rhode Island sites that are on the National Register of Historic Places – and that’s one of the purposes of the game. While it’s meant to be fun, it’s educational, too.
“People need to know these things,” she states. “When I make presentations, people are actually bowled over by their own state.”
Having so much of which to be proud, Roberta says “gives us ammunition when people say bad things about Rhode Island.”
It seems she has spent much of her life finding good things to say about the nation’s smallest state.
Born in Westerly, she fell in love with the official state bird, the Rhode Island Red chicken, as a child and that set her on a crusade to champion the charming and unique qualities of Little Rhody.
“My grandfather raised poultry that [he entered in shows] at the Westerly Armory. He let me show a trio – two hens and a rooster – and I won the blue ribbon. I still have it. Every Thanksgiving weekend, there would be a show of turkeys, chickens, ducks, rabbits and other animals. Television hadn’t really taken off yet and, for three days, this show was the big social event.”
The book, her fourth, is titled Little Rhody & The Other 49. It’s based on a speech Roberta gave to the National Secretaries of State in July of last year at a dinner in Warwick when the group held its annual meeting in Rhode Island.
It is the latest volume in a bibliography that began in 2000 with the seminal collection The Historic Armories of Rhode Island, co-written with Col. Howard Brown; The RIght to Crow (2006); and Rhode Island’s Friendly Faces (2007).
Informative and often hilarious, the book does a state-by-state comparison of each others’ outstanding elements with something similar in Rhode Island. Maine, for instance, is noted for its lobsters, toothpicks and blueberries while Rhode Island has grinders, New York System wieners, Awful Awfuls, Del’s Lemonade and Caserta’s Wimpy Skippy sandwich.
In Louisiana, we learn, there’s a law that declares biting someone with natural teeth is simple assault but biting someone with false teeth is aggravated assault. In our own town of Foster, there’s a law on the books decreeing that any dentist who extracts the wrong tooth must have the same tooth removed from his own mouth – by the village blacksmith.
A personal favorite is the link between Montana’s T-Rex dinosaur and the Rhode Island Red. After analysis of the dinosaur collagen, it was found the animal was a close match to chickens. The book’s images include close-ups of dinosaur and chicken feet and a computer-generated bit of art in which a chicken says to a dinosaur, “I’m from R.I. Where are you from?”
Permissions to use images of products and brand names was “tricky” Roberta says.
“I sent [everyone] a hard-copy letter and followed with e-mails and calls. A snooty Ivy League college was one refusing to participate; the Roger Williams Park Zoo failed to come through and Seth MacFarlane, the RISD grad who created the wildly-popular Family Guy TV cartoon series, wanted a lot of money to use images from the show.
She wound up acquiring 150 permissions.
Roberta is planning a sabbatical in which she’ll visit other states and make presentations about Rhode Island.
“I want to get Rhode Island out there so everyone knows we’re great,” she says. Meanwhile, her hope for state residents who read the book and play the game is that “they’ll get some joy out of it.”
So far, sales of her books and games have raised nearly $65,000 for the Westerly Armory Restoration group which she founded and still heads. The organization rescued the structure from ruin and has lovingly brought it back to glory as a museum and public gathering place, as it was in Roberta’s childhood.
It is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been named a Save America’s Treasures site.
The new game costs $12 and the book is $14; Roberta will be signing books at The Other Tiger, in Westerly, on Dec. 7 and at Twice Told Tales, in Cranston, Dec. 10. All of the Rhode Island books and games are available on the website.

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at


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