The Coastal Institute at the Bay Campus in Narragansett offers a range of focuses within the Graduate School of Oceanography, but broader and richer than those focuses is the history of the area itself. Wayne and Bernice Durfee, alumni of the University of Rhode Island, have become historians for the Bay Campus and host yearly talks to explore the dense and distinguished history of South Ferry.
“It wasn’t a university when we attended,” Bernice Durfee said. “It was still the state college and there weren’t nearly as many students—everyone knew everyone.”
A lot has changed since the Durfees’ time at URI, but they have stayed rooted in the community and watched as the once state college developed into today’s university.
“In all of our time here, we really got to watch URI grow,” Bernice Durfee said. “When I was a student, I was living in Roosevelt Hall which was just starting out as a women’s dormitory.”
After his time in the service for the United States Navy during World War II, Wayne Durfee enrolled at the then-Rhode Island State College where he studied poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture. It was here that he was introduced to his future wife, Bernice Durfee, a botany major. Rhode Island State College became the University of Rhode Island in 1951, and poultry sciences would eventually become fisheries, animal and veterinary sciences in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences.
“Poultry Sciences was booming then,” Wayne Durfee recalled. “As part of a state experimenting series, Rhode Island hosted an egg laying contest at the University to research the quality and production of various egg laying breeds of chickens- like a real life consumer report.”
In order to obtain space for the poultry department, URI then purchased the land now known as East Farm, according to Wayne Durfee.
Bernice and Wayne Durfee graduated in 1949 and 1950, respectively, and were married the following year; moving into the housing for married students at the Bay Campus as Wayne entered graduate school at URI.
“After receiving my master’s [degree] I became an instructor at URI and we started looking for a more permanent housing situation,” Wayne Durfee said. “When we found our home in Narragansett, Bernice and I joked because the cost of the house and the plot of land was exactly my first year’s salary as an instructor.”
The Durfees have two children, both of whom are now also URI alumni.
“After retiring in 1989, Bernice and I stayed involved in the URI community and were invited to attend the dedication of the Coastal Institute at the Bay Campus in 1996,” Wayne Durfee said.
At the dedication, the Durfees took a tour of the facilities and reminisced about their experiences at the campus.
“We told the young man giving the tour about how we used to live in the married dormitories while Wayne was getting his master’s, and from there he asked if we’d be interested in giving a lecture on what we knew about Fort Kearny and our life at the Bay Campus,” Bernice Durfee said.
The Durfees began to do literary research to prepare for their talk, and said they became interested in the history of South Ferry and the South County community. That summer, they began giving the period talks that they have done ever since.
“It’s really enjoyable, not just giving the talks, but also learning more and more information about the area in between talks,” Bernice Durfee said. “We even have people come back again and again to hear them. The Coastal Institute has been very interested in promoting our talks, too.”
The Durfee’s talks are typically in July or August. Check out the URI Bay Campus website for exact dates and times.