Who gives? Wayne Durfee

Wayne Durfee will turn 100 this October. For most of those years, he’s had two true loves: his wife Bernice. And chickens. As a boy he would sit on the back step of his family home in rural North Scituate and call the birds over to eat scratch feed out of his hand. One might say it was his destiny to make chickens his career. After earning a B.S. and an M.S. in poultry science at the University of Rhode Island and a PhD in poultry physiology at Rutgers University, he went on to teach poultry raising and processing at URI for 38 years and remains a professor emeritus. In 2004, Durfee established the South County Museum Rhode Island Red Endowment Fund at the Foundation, leading an effort to permanently maintain a flock of Rhode Island’s state bird* at the museum.

What is the quality you most like in a person?
I always go back to what we used to say as Boy Scouts: a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting tenure at URI. I had my PhD from Rutgers, but it was a long time before I got tenure. I had to prepare a whole lot of things. I went to the Vice President of the University, Harold Browning, because the department head wouldn’t give it to me.

What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring. I don’t wear it anymore because it got loose and kept falling off—I was afraid I would lose it. It’s inscribed with our initials: ‘BCA to WKD.’

What do you appreciate/admire most about the Rhode Island Foundation?
It’s been their flexibility in helping me to support the flock of Rhode Island Reds at the South County Museum. If we placed money into the Foundation, the income from that fund could support the flock. I had to raise 10K to have a fund, and one way or another, I managed. I was on the Board of the Museum at the time—the 150th anniversary of the recognition of RI Red as the state bird. At the museum, there is a ‘book of remembrance’ of people who donated to the fund.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
You would have to put it in the past tense—my wife, Bernice. It was a 72-year love story. She was a URI graduate, and that’s where we met. She worked there in botany. She’s only been gone for four years, since December 2019.

When and where were you happiest?
I guess you would say right here. We bought the original house right after we were married. Bernice and I did everything together, expanding it to almost triple in size.

What is your favorite place in Rhode Island?
Well, I don’t know—I’ve lived here all my life. Since 1665, the Durfees have been in Rhode Island, originally on Durfee Hill in Glocester.

What is your favorite breed of chicken?
Do you really need to ask that?

*Durfee points out that the Rhode Island Red was the country’s most popular meat and eggs chicken in the early 1900s, long before it was named state bird in 1954.