December 01, 2021
Faces of PC: Richy Kless ’74, ’78G, ’82SCE
By Vicki-Ann Downing ’21G
“There are people, including faculty, who have been at Providence College for more years than I have,” says Richard F. “Richy” Kless ’74, ’78G, ’82SCE.
“But looking back over more than 50 years as a student, a graduate student, a teacher, and an administrator, the opportunities and various roles I had offered me a unique perspective that very few people who have worked here longer have had.”
Kless retired from PC on June 30 as associate director of community standards, the office responsible for administering student discipline. In more than three decades as a college administrator, he was director of off-campus living and assistant director of residence life operations at a time when dorms were being wired for computers. For more than 40 years, he taught evening classes in theology in the School of Continuing Education. He was advisor to The Cowl for the past 17 years and advisor to Veritas, the student yearbook, for seven.
A first-generation college student and the youngest of four, Kless was the first to leave home for college. A champion hurdler at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was awarded a track scholarship to attend PC, but when he arrived on campus, he discovered the college had no track and no hurdles. He ran track for two years as a quarter-miler. He also played football as a defensive back for four years and was a captain senior year. The memories of playing for the Fighting Friars are among his best.
“We were consistently ranked in top 15 and twice played for national championship,” Kless said. “We were a formidable team among the nearly 200 club teams nationwide.”
Kless majored in social work and was a member of Student Congress and Friars Club. He did well socially, but academics took some adjusting. He remembers being called to a meeting with Rev. William Cyril Dettling, O.P. ’52, who was in charge of academic success. Father Dettling asked Kless how he liked PC and what he planned to do after.
“I said, ‘You mean after graduation?’” Kless said. “He said, ‘No, when you leave, because you’re not staying here with these grades.’”
Help came from the formidable Rev. Walter J. Heath, O.P. ’56, then director of residence life and discipline.
“Father Heath was a World War II submarine commander who never slept,” Kless said. “I became close with him, at first because I was in trouble, and then because he saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself. He would sit in Raymond Cafeteria at lunch and dinner and see everything, always knew who was friends with whom. He said I was too distracted. He told me I was not going to study in the library anymore because I was too social. He took me to Aquinas Chapel and said, ‘You’re studying here from now on.’”
After graduation, Kless decided to study for a graduate degree in theology “to learn more about Jesus.” He the late Dr. Donna McCaffrey ’73G, ’83Ph.D., ’87G, who later taught history at PC, were the first non-Dominicans offered positions as residence hall directors. Kless was assigned to what now is Fennell Hall, then called Chapin Hall, part of the Chapin Hospital property acquired by the college in the early 1970s.
“There was a huge grove of pine trees along Huxley Avenue and Chapin Hall was far from the rest of campus,” Kless said. “No one wanted to work there. Donna went to McVinney Hall, which was designed by Father Heath. It was perfect. The men lived in McVinney for two years, but they were a bit rough on the elevators and the carpets, so it became a women’s hall after that and has been ever since.”
As a graduate student, Kless founded and operated a Christian bookstore, The Fountain of Life Bookstore, in Slavin Center, on the lower level outside the cafeteria. The Providence Visitor, the diocesan newspaper, wrote a story about him, “Big Bear of a Bookseller.”
“There was no spiritual reading in the bookstore, just textbooks,” Kless said. “I found a bookstore in Rumford that wasn’t doing too well. They offered me half their inventory on consignment and said I could keep 20 percent of sales. Father Terence Keegan, O.P., who was chaplain at the time, gave me the space in Alumni Hall. It became a drop-in center. We had Thomas Merton, classics, Bibles. I ran it for two years, then passed it on to Colette Fournier ’78, and it lasted five years total. I still have the sign in my garage. I enjoyed those years.”
While studying for his graduate degree, Kless met his wife, Teresa M. “Terri” (Supple) Kless ’76, also a social work major, who worked in the library. They have been married 44 years and have three children and six grandchildren.
Kless used his graduate degree to teach theology and physical education and coach the football team at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket. He also coached high school football for 10 years in East Providence and at La Salle Academy. In all, he was away from PC for 18 months before returning to teach part-time in the School of Continuing Education.
“Dr. Roger Pearson was SCE dean and a Hemingway scholar,” Kless said. “He asked Rev. Giles R. Dimock, O.P. ’62 for someone to teach theology and Father Dimock recommended me.
“It’s humbling because, when you’re teaching about Jesus, you know you’re going to fall short. I was able to draw upon my years as an athlete. Does an athlete ever participate in a perfect game? I remember Father Dimock saying that the saints were the champions of the early church. Football helped me understand the gospels. Imperfect people were working to build this kingdom on earth. Everyone wants to go to the Super Bowl. Some are more enthusiastic about it. Some want to stand on the sidelines and watch.”
In his later years, when he became an administrator at PC, teaching in the evenings gave him an opportunity to understand the academic demands on students — and for them to see a different side of him.
“They saw me as a human being, teaching classes at night, working during the day, on call on the weekends,” Kless said.
Kless became a city firefighter in 1979. He earned a fire science degree from SCE in 1982 and went to the National Fire Academy to become an arson investigator. He worked in the fire service until 1994, when he become director of operations in residence life in the Office of Student Services, which later became Student Affairs. He supervised residence hall directors and worked closely with Physical Plant to take care of rooms and buildings.
During that period Kless got to know College President Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P. ’78, ’82G. Father Sicard, then chaplain and a full-time faculty member at Ohio Dominican College in Columbus, was in charge of arranging for novitiates in the Dominican order to come to PC’s campus to live and study during the summer. Kless worked with him to arrange housing. In 1997, when Father Sicard became dean of residence life at PC, Kless worked under him.
“He was a tremendous boss,” Kless said. His admiration of Father Sicard is so strong that he missed his 50th high school reunion — already postponed a year because of the pandemic — to attend Father Sicard’s inauguration as the college’s 13th president on Oct. 1, 2021.
Kless became director of off-campus living in 2001. He helped students find apartments, represented them in landlord disputes, fielded complaints, and taught about the benefits of leaving the heat on over winter break and having renter’s insurance. Most especially, he tried to teach students what it meant to be good citizens of society. In appreciation, he was awarded Community Partner Award from the mayor and Providence Police Department. He was nominated by the commander of the police substation on Camden Avenue.
Rev. J. Stuart McPhail, O.P. ’61, then vice president for student services, asked Kless to become advisor to The Cowl, the student newspaper, not because he had journalism experience, but because he was good with students. Father McPhail’s instructions were “guide them,” Kless said. Kless attended The Cowl’s meetings every Sunday night, “sat back, and listened.”
“It’s a student-run newspaper,” Kless said. “It’s their voice. I encouraged them to report the truth, ‘Not as you see it, but as the two sides might reveal it to you.’”
When he was occasionally reminded that students at a private college do not necessarily have the right to free speech, he would respond, “No, but they expect it.”
Kless served as the newspaper advisor for 17 years. The previous record, held by a Dominican, was seven. Along the way, he was asked to be advisor for the student yearbook, Veritas, a position he held for seven years.
In 2014, Kless was appointed associate director of community standards, the office responsible for student discipline. He often saw the worst of student behavior.
“Students are coming to you at a very vulnerable moment in their life,” Kless said. “They’re embarrassed. Their anxiety level is very high.”
“Students are much brighter when they get here now, but sometimes the sense of responsibility, or the maturity, is not where it should be,” Kless said. “This is a generation of students who were protected in car seats, played supervised sports, and were nurtured by their parents. Years ago there wasn’t parental involvement in a student’s college experience.”
When Kless arrived at PC in 1970, the drinking age was 18 and the campus pub, the Rathskellar, was open to all students in Slavin Center.
“My first beer at PC was with a Dominican at a table with juniors and seniors,” Kless said. “I clearly remember saying to myself, ‘This is how adults drink.’ I wasn’t going to embarrass myself.”
The offices of residence life, student affairs, and academic affairs work together now to support the mental and emotional health of students, a good development, Kless said. He is especially grateful to the administrative assistants who helped him succeed in his work.
“Looking back over so many years, there have been ups and downs, but I’ve always enjoyed the ride,” Kless said.
PC in a box is back, this time with Richy Kless, a proud PC alum and recently retired associate director of community standards. #ProvidenceCollege♬ Take It Easy – Eagles – Ludovick Bourgeois & Patrick Bourgeois