The Block Island Times


By B.I. Historical Society | Oct 23, 2014
Photo by: courtesy Block Island Historical Society The Historical Operating Committee met at Executive Director Pam Gasner's house last December. Pictured are Board Member Mary Anderson, and new officers, Treasurer Shirlyne Gobern, and President Bob Champagne-Willis pausing during a technology demonstration by Winter Intern Wade Ortel.

By Martha Ball


In the fall of 1962, Dr. Wade Ortel, his wife Jane, and their two little girls arrived in Galilee on their way to a new adventure on Block Island; their last had been in the recently admitted state of Alaska where Wade had served as Senior Officer at the Kotzebue Hospital in Kotzebue, just above the Arctic Circle. Against all odds, another car with Alaska plates pulled up carrying another family also headed to Block Island, Bert Ball, his wife Jessie and their four children; Bert and Jessie had been living in Anchorage, teaching.

The Ortels were as warmly welcomed as the native son. The island had been without a doctor for an especially long spell when Mary Donnelly was, most days, the town's sole medical provider. Dr. Ortel was a gentle, caring presence with an energetic young family who quickly became a part of the community. He and Jane delighted in music and quickly became a part of a Chamber Ensemble that played Thursday nights at the home of Herb and Maureen Whitman at the bottom of Bush Lot Hill.

Two years later, Bert had been unable to convince his Kansas born wife that the ocean was her friend, and they relocated to another state; the school found itself with no one to teach math and science.

In the summer of 1964 the island had a well-loved doctor but the school again needed a math teacher and so it happened that David Hawkins, newly graduated from Brown, arrived with an emergency teaching certificate in hand to fill that slot. He and his wife rented an apartment carved out of the former boarding house, the Bayside, on the Neck Road, a place that proved almost impossible to heat over the cold winter following. David played the clarinet and was embraced by the Chamber Ensemble, an activity which he recently wrote “greatly brightened my year there.”

After a school year, the Hawkinses, without summer housing and expecting a baby in the fall, left. The Ortels stayed a while longer, their family of two children grew to three before they relocated to Vermont, then West Virginia. They maintained Island ties and returned for several years when they first retired; as many know, their son, Jim, and his wife, Marion, established and remain proprietors of the Island Sports Shop.

Wade and Jane's granddaughter, Brooke, interned for The Block Island Times and their grandson, the teenager a handful of us cannot help but refer to as “young” Wade, is the Winter Intern at the Historical Society, working on various tech related projects including digitizing old photographs and slides and putting them into an accessible system.


continued - see Member Story "The Rest of the Story"

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