Housing Board: Kay McManus
For architectural consultant Kay McManus filling a post on the Housing Board offers the opportunity of joining her professional background with her sense of responsibility to the island community.
“I grew up learning it was important to give back to your community whatever you can, drawing from your own talents,” McManus says.
It’s a satisfaction she’s already had a chance to engage in. She was appointed to the board last spring when Rev. Dan Barker left his post on it when he and his wife moved off island. Now, McManus is running unopposed for election to the board.
She says being on the seven-member board has offered challenges in the shape of the learning curve she has faced getting to know town ordinances, and working closely with the Planning Board when it comes time for decision-making. The work is engrossing and important, she says.
McManus was born on another island —Staten Island, New York — where her family has roots going back five generations. From her great grandmother to herself and her daughter, all were born on Staten Island. Members of her family were very long-lived, she notes, as her grandmother lived to well into her nineties, while McManus’ mother is currently 91. She first came to Block Island in 1977 to visit a friend and felt an immediate affinity for the place.
Earning a B-Arch
McManus earned a bachelor’s in fine arts from Barat College in Illinois. After having children she returned to school, majoring in architecture with a minor in art history at Pratt Institute, and graduated with a bachelor’s in architecture, known as a B-Arch.
It was a demanding program, normally requiring a student to complete 175 credits in five years. However, “with two young kids,” she says, “I took two five-hour classes twice a week,” taking eight years to complete her degree. She adds, “When I put the kids to bed, then I took out my books.”
Throughout those years, she and her family spent summers on the island. She has two children, Cynthia and Daniel McManus, who have spent many summers working on the island.
The family incrementally increased the length of their stays at rental homes, from two weeks, to a month, and then in 1986, McManus and her family bought a home on Spring Street. She has lived here full-time for six years now.
McManus practiced architecture in Manhattan, first working for Mancini Duffy, an architecture and interior design firm, and later Canon Design, an architecture and engineering company, for which she worked in both New York and Boston. Both companies were in the top 50 architectural firms in the country. Though most of her work was in corporate design, McManus did architectural projects for hospitals and universities, as well.
Active in the island community
After her stint in Boston, she moved to Providence, where she did independent consulting. Since taking up full-time residence on island, McManus has served on the Block Island Residents Association (BIRA), sung in the Ecumenical Choir and been a member of the Farmers’ Market, for which she bakes and makes jams. Also a watercolorist, McManus has been a member of the Arts and Crafts Guild and the Spring Street Gallery.
Currently, she is an independent architectural consultant and is taking a digital design class at Rhode Island School of Design, which she finds an interesting medium “to play with.” Coming from a family of high achievers, she explains, “It keeps my brain challenged.”
Of her decision to settle on island, McManus says, “It’s 180 degrees from life in the city.” She stops to reflect for a moment, and adds with a smile, “When I lived on Staten Island and later in Boston, I took a ferry to work each day. I guess I just can’t get away from ferries.”
She loves the feeling of extended family she has found here. “People are always willing to help.” She especially likes the atmosphere on the Monday and Thursday boats during the off-season when she says the cabin feels much as if most of the island “has gathered in someone’s living room.”
In registering her candidacy, she had to sign her full name, Kathryn McManus — so don’t be confused, it’s still Kay.