The legacy of June Rockwell Levy and Austin T. Levy
This remarkable couple did wonderful things for many people during their lives and, through the June Rockwell Levy Foundation, will continue to do so in perpetuity.
Austin T. Levy was born in New York City on December 16, 1880. His father died when he was four, his mother when he was eleven. He then lived with his aunt and sister.
He was graduated from Grammar School 69, and attended City College of New York for one year. His first job, at age 16, was that of office boy at a linen importing company. That was his introduction to the textile business. He later became a wool commission agent, and at age 29 he leased a mill in Greenville, RI, which he named the Stillwater Worsted Mills. In three years he needed a larger complex, so he leased another mill in Burrillville, RI. Nine years later he bought the mill.
Because of his humble beginnings, he always had great respect for his employees. As an owner he devised new pay scales, modified lighting and machine spacing, and made other workplace improvements. In 1916 he hired a full time industrial nurse, one of the first in Rhode Island.
Mr. Levy was one of the first business owners to offer his employees profit sharing. He was also one of the first to offer paid vacations—four weeks pay for two weeks vacation. "When you are on vacation you need more money," he said.
It was around this time that he met June Rockwell. They became dear friends who shared their love for music and the arts. The courtship was long. He proposed nine years later.
In 1918 he had 22 seven-room houses built for his employees. Rents were based on one's ability to pay, not on the cost of construction. In 1924 he inaugurated a voluntary stock option plan. Many took part in the program. His mills were so well run, and their output of such high quality, that he was able to keep the mills running 48 weeks a year, even during the Great Depression.
In 1933, when the Depression was at its worst, the Burrillville Town Buildings Project was undertaken. These buildings were gifts from June and Austin Levy to the Town of Burrillville. The buildings consisted of the Burrillville Town Hall, the Assembly (a charming, completely modern performing arts center), the Ninth District Court of the State of Rhode Island, the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library, the First Universalist Church, the American Legion Hall, and the Burrillville High School. The Bridgeway in the village of Pascoag was also a gift to the town. Later, in the 1950,s they built and donated the Harrisville and Pascoag Post Offices to the United States government. It was an act that required special congressional legislation.
To help maintain the properties, they set up a $50,000 endowment. One of their most appreciated gifts to the town was a modern ice hockey rink, with Burrillville High hockey teams being among the best in the state.
Mr. Levy was a prolific writer and lecturer on economic subjects, largely dealing with industrial relations and wages. He wrote and published numerous pamphlets. He believed strongly that the country would prosper if fair wages were paid accompanied by shorter hours. In June 1937 he was invited to testify at United States Senate hearings.
Mr. Levy was a gentle and kind man who loved his fellow citizens. He died on November 14, 1951, at the age of 70. A genuinely humble man, no industrial buildings he erected, nor handsome edifice he and his wife gave for public use, bore the Levy name during their lifetimes. They felt that service was its own reward.
June Rockwell Levy possessed a storehouse of energy, even while enduring serious illnesses over the last 20 years of her life. During her lifetime she touched almost every corner of Rhode Island with her generosity.
She was born June 14, 1886 in Brooklyn, NY. Her family moved to Bristol, RI in 1891. She studied at Rosemary Hall in Greenwich, CT, Lincoln School in Providence, and a private school in Paris. She took courses at the Rhode Island School of Design and was an accomplished amateur artist, often using her original drawings for Christmas cards.
Although prevented by ill health from obtaining a college degree, Mrs. Levy was cited at the 1959 Brown University Convocation, and received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1967.
A world traveler, Mrs. Levy found time to serve as a Trustee of Lincoln School, Chair of the Providence Art Club's Ladies Board, and President of the Providence Garden Club, the latter honoring her for a half century of membership.
One of her most cherished associations was with the Burrillville-Glocester District Nursing Association and its successor, Northwest Community Health Care, of which she served as president for 51 consecutive terms.
Virtually every Rhode Island hospital, college, and university has benefited from gifts from the June Rockwell Levy Foundation, created in her honor by her husband in 1947. Scholarships at the University of Rhode Island and Brandeis were provided through her generosity.
In 1963 she received "The Order of the British Empire" from Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of her contributions and those of her late husband to the welfare and economy of the Bahamas, including the "Levy Medical and Health Center".
Mrs. Levy died on August 8, 1971 at the age of 85. The funeral was private: she was buried alongside her husband beneath a granite stone at the rear of the Assembly, the performing arts center in Harrisville the couple had given to the town.
During a discussion with a Woonsocket Call reporter about her life and charitable work she noted, "My greatest hobby was the same as my husband's - people."