Denomme remembered as ‘hands-on’ leader
Former North Smithfield Town Administrator Arthur Denomme, in public service for decades, died last week at age 90
NORTH SMITHFIELD – The town’s second Town Administrator, Arthur Denomme, was being remembered this week by those who worked for him as a handson town leader who wasn’t above getting his hands dirty fixing what needed to be fixed.
Denomme died on Oct. 31, at the age of 90, after an illness. He was the husband of Lucille (Morel) Denomme with whom he raised their five children, Pauline, Paul, Gail, Marc and Arthur, while living on Williams Street.
At the Municipal Annex Town Clerk Debra Todd and Constance Klockars, a recording clerk, recalled how they had started out working for the town while Denomme was town administrator between 1973 and 1987. Denomme was elected after serving on the Town Council while the town’s first town administrator, Carl Sandberg, held office. Sandberg filled the post after it had been created under the town’s new home rule Town Charter in 1968.
Denomme came to the job after service with the U.S. Navy and a work career the included running the machine shop at the former French Worsted Mill in Woonsocket, and stints working with area trucking companies like St. Germain Transport Ltd. and Nelson Transportation.
He also served as a member of the North Smithfield Volunteer
Fire Department, where he would become a captain, and with the North Smithfield Ambulance and Rescue Corp. for which he would serve as chief and later a member of its board of directors.
It was that background in the mechanics of how things worked that made Denomme a frugal town administrator who not only kept spending on budget but also found ways to acquire needed town vehicles at reasonable costs or fix them when that could generate a savings for the town.
“He was very nice to work for, I liked him very much,” Klockars recalled on Monday. A town employee for 34 years now, Klockars said it was Denomme who had hired her and brought her into town employment. Back then, town offices were in the Memorial Town Hall on Main Street in Slatersville, and even the Town Council had a meeting space in an upstairs section of the building.
Denomme wasn’t above fixing lights when told of a problem with one, Klockars said and she also remembers taking on painting projects with the administrator when needed.
“Arthur was a great guy, he was very personable,” Klockars said.
Todd, who has worked for the town 32 years, was also hired under Denomme’s administration and had been saddened by the news of his passing. “I know he had had some medical issues over the past few years and I feel bad for his family,” she said.
After his retirement from public service, Denomme had continued to be a regular visitor to the town’s offices when paying his taxes or stopping in for something with Lucille, Todd said. “He’d stopped by and say hi and always remembered us. He was just a nice man, and he and his wife, Lucille, were both nice people,” she said.
Denomme had worn many different hats during his town service beyond that of Administrator. He returned to the Town Council from 1989 to 1993 and he was also a member of the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, a past member of the town’s Zoning Board of Review, and a member of the North Smithfield Kiwanis Club – just to name a few.
There was also his management of the town’s Highway Department, a role he handled with expertise during winter storms when he might take on driving a plow truck, or during the Blizzard of 1978 when he found ways to get the town’s buried roadways operating again.
That part of Denomme’s service to the town was recognized in December of 2016, when current and past members of the Town Council, local administrators, and former Town Solicitor Paul Baillargeon teamed up with Public Works Superintendent Ray Pendergast to dedicate the town Highway Barn on Quaker Highway in Denomme’s honor.
Former Town Council President Ron Renaud, one of the town’s young Republicans who had learned the ropes of their offices under the senior Denomme’s guidance, recalled that time during the dedication ceremony.
“Arthur taught me a lot more than just being in politics,” Renaud told the gathering. “He taught me how to be a person who deals with other people,” Renaud said.
The town’s current town administrator, Gary Ezovski, also recalled Denomme’s impact from the days when he had been just a young member of the Sewer Commission.
Denomme had asked him if he was ready to handle the controversy that would come along with developing a new sewer system for the town, Ezovski explained.
“So he cared. He cared about people and he cared about his town,” Ezovski. Denomme, he added, was a town official who “did his job every day.”
On Monday, Baillargeon recalled how the town was much different when he first got to know Denomme, first as a Little League coach with other town notables such as Frank Pacheco and Harold Monroe, and later, while he worked a summer job at the French Worsted Mill.
“They were coaches in Little League so they got to know the kids who grew up in town and stayed to help the town evolve over the years,” Baillargeon said.
After his own service with the military and earning his law degree, Baillargeon returned to work for the town as town solicitor, first under Sandberg and then for Denomme through his time as administrator.
In those days, local residents managed their own town finances by voting at the Annual Financial Town Meeting, sessions that could draw between 300 to 600 people and considered all types of town spending and hirings.
The Town Council was up on stage at the high school with the town administrator, the school superintendent and the School Committee and the Town Budget Committee as town moderators like Scott Keefer ran the meeting and managed the votes.
“Arthur ran that whole system,” Baillargeon said while explaining how Denomme was able to maintain cooperation between all the participating groups to get the town’s work done.
“He worked on all the problems and if he didn’t have the answers he found out who in town government did,” Baillargeon said.
It was very possibly his approach to dealing with people that helped the town move forward together on problems in those days and Baillargeon said he has seen other periods over the years when that was not the case.
“He ran the town efficiently and was probably the most effective Administrator I have seen since I became involved in town government in 1970,” Baillargeon said.
“It’s a tough loss,” Baillargeon said of Denomme’s passing. ““He was a great guy, absolutely,” Baillargeon said.
Arthur Denomme was a native of Woonsocket, but he would eventually become known to many as “The Mayor of North Smithfield” due to his decades of holding a series of public offices in the town, including town administrator.
In 1980, Call cartoonist Larry Champagne depicted Denomme, center, along with Woonsocket Mayor Gerard J. Bouley and Cumberland Town Administrator Frank Stetkiewicz, as leaders of the ‘Spirit of the Blackstone Valley.’