Bill Rice, a man of unwavering dedication and passion, has left an indelible mark on the town of Wrentham. As the former director of Wrentham Recreation and former principal at King Philip North Junior High School (now King Philip Middle School), Bill's tireless efforts have touched the lives of countless citizens and shaped the attitudes and work habits of the youth.
"He's definitely the most dedicated individual I've come across in my time in town government," said former Wrentham Selectman Stephen Langley. "He's got this easy-going nature, and people innately trust him. Everyone will always go to bat for Bill because he makes everyone feel like they're a long-lost friend."
Born on September 6, 1947, Bill grew up at 388 Franklin Street, right across the street from Lake Archer. He attended the Wrentham Public Schools, and being a sports enthusiast from the start, he became an integral part of King Philip Regional High School's sports teams.
Pursuing his higher education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Bill earned a degree in History in 1971. Little did he know that his return to Wrentham would not only shape his own life but also have a profound impact on the town.
In September 1971, Bill embarked on an illustrious teaching and coaching career at King Philip. Over the next thirty-five years, he played various roles, from teaching social studies and special education to serving as assistant principal, athletic director, and ultimately becoming the principal of the King Philip Middle School. "Bill Rice actually is the heart of King Philip," former KP School Committee Chairwoman, Clare Sullivan, said when Bill retired in 2006. Bill had been brought back to the Middle School as the 1966 building was undergoing a $26.5 million renovation/expansion project. With the building project going on with school in session, there had been concerns of parents and some teachers. "We felt he would be the perfect person to be a spokesperson for the middle school," Sullivan said, noting his connections to the three KP towns. "He helped give the school system a person who could talk to them and alleviate their fears. It was one of the decisions everyone was unanimous with, and sure it was the absolute right decision to make. It served us very well." Sullivan added.
In the 1950s, Bill, like many young people in Wrentham, took swim lessons at the Winter’s family cottage on Lake Archer. This would lead him to later serve for fourteen years as a lifeguard, water safety instructor, and director of the swim class program at Sweatt Beach, where hundreds of Wrentham children learned to swim under his guidance during the Red Cross month-long swim lesson program.
On July 1, 1980, Bill assumed the role of Director of Recreation for the Town of Wrentham. It was a significant day as the grass seed was planted at Sweatt Field, marking the beginning of a new chapter under Bill's leadership. For the next twenty-three plus years, until his retirement on May 1, 2003, Bill served as the recreation director, leaving a lasting impact on the Wrentham Recreation Department.
Throughout his tenure, Bill was instrumental in the ongoing development of the department. Yet, he always acknowledged that the success of all projects and events connected to Wrentham Recreation was made possible by the collective efforts of many dedicated individuals. Among those who played crucial roles were Doe Duffy, Bob Bogardus, Dan Sullivan, Leon Pisani, Sal Gulino, Chuck Horne, John Jackson, Sharon Eagan, Jane D’Amico, John Lewicki, longtime Assistant Recreation Director, Jack Thomas, and Jim Lorusso. In addition, Bill consistently received outstanding cooperation from the Wrentham Police and Fire departments, as well as the Wrentham Department of Public Works.
Under Bill's leadership, Wrentham Recreation achieved numerous accomplishments. These included the construction of the concession stand and bathrooms at Sweatt Fields (thanks to Leon Pisani and Vin Gamble, Sr.), the installation of lighting at Sweat Fields (with the support of Wrentham Men’s Softball and Sweatt Fund), the creation of batting cages (thanks to Howie Bailey), a new lighting system at McMorrow Field (gratitude to Sweatt Fund), a parking lot on the Pioneer Engine Co. Field (thanks to Pioneer Engine Co.), and an irrigation system at McMorrow Field (thanks to Fred Noonan). Moreover, Bill was instrumental in establishing the Summer Band Concert series on the Common (thanks to Sweatt Fund), senior citizens and town employees cook-outs at Sweat Beach (thanks to Eagle Brook Saloon), summer and vacation sports camps run by King Philip High School coaches, Warrior Youth basketball (thanks to Al Smith), summer track meet series (thanks to Peter Boucher), and the initiation of Wrentham Day and the Wrentham Wroad Wrace (thanks to Marty Lillis, Charles River Sports, and S. M. Lorusso and Sons). Additionally, Bill instilled a sense of pride in Wrentham Recreation's facilities, and that commitment to maintenance continues to this day. Bill, along with Jack Thomas and their summer crew of workers, personally handled all the hands-on maintenance for many years.
Even after five decades of dedicated service, Bill continues to be the "unofficial caretaker" of the William A. Rice Recreation Complex, a complex named in his honor upon his retirement from the Wrentham Recreation Department. Driving by on any given day during the warmer months, it is likely to spot Bill cutting the grass with his red lawnmower.
"I called the selectmen and asked if there was a chance that we could name the facility after Bill," said Chuck Horne, former co-chairman of the Wrentham Recreation Committee. "Less than a day later, it was approved. Everyone loves Bill. He's an icon in town."
But how many icons would spend their afternoons after work on a tractor, mowing the town's athletic fields? How many would spend their Saturday mornings emptying trash barrels at the town beach? And how many would get up and leave dinner to go fix a malfunctioning sprinkler so that a Little League game can be played? Not many. And, according to former Recreation Committee co-chairman John Jackson, that's what makes Rice so special. "He's a hands-on person who's never been afraid to get his hands dirty."
"Bill Rice is the person everyone in public service aspires to be. He's simply that good of a person," says Wrentham Town Moderator and Wrentham 350 Chair, Ed Goddard.
Bill would tell you that his family was the "real brains" behind the Wrentham Recreation Dept. He married his high school sweetheart, Lois Evans Rice. They have three daughters, Rachel Kelly Nixon, Rebecca Rice Flanders, and Allison Ames Rice. All three girls attended King Philip and became teachers. Growing up, they were involved in all phases of recreation (maintenance, concession stand, playground, beach, sign-ups just to name a few). There was no recreation office or phone line, so Bill’s wife and daughters took hundreds of calls at home while Bill was the Recreation Director.
Over the years, Bill has been known as dad, husband, brother, son, friend, Mr. Rice, Coach, Bill, Billy, Willy, and Ricey. He has certainly been well known around Wrentham for the past seventy-five years. That's why at times he has also been called "Mr. Wrentham" by many.
Written by the Wrentham Recreation Commission and Grey Almeida, Wrentham 350 Committee Member.
Sources: Boston Globe, Sun Chronicle, Country Gazette.