“There are a million stories that I could tell you.”
After 26 years at RWU, Tony Silvia is bound to have a few anecdotes to share. His story, however, has never been told. And while nearly every student at the School of Architecture, Art and Historic Preservation asks, “Where’s Tony?” the moment they return from summer break, others across campus may not recognize his name.
These days, the sprightly 72-year-old guides students as the wood shop manager at the School of Architecture – his third position at the University in almost as many decades. He’s been watching over architecture students since the program’s inception in 1983 – before the current building existed and when students were bused to Portsmouth for classes. Back then, Silvia was a janitor on the night shift and served as makeshift security officer while students designed late into the evenings.
“They come to me after weeks of working like crazy and they’re tired and they tell me, ‘I just don’t think I can do it,’” Silvia says, tearing up just a bit. “I tell them that if it were easy, everyone would be an architect. I try to keep them going.”
At times that has meant meticulously building model bases as their project deadlines drew near; helping new graduates find jobs with alumni he still knows; or hosting thesis students for meals at his home during spring break. It has meant driving his pickup all over Rhode Island to gather supplies – and gifting his mileage reimbursements to RWU in support of architecture scholarships. Tasks that clearly transcend the duties of your average wood shop manager.
“I don’t think any of us could imagine the school without Tony,” says SAAHP Dean Stephen White, who has known Silvia since his days as the School’s custodian. “His presence here, his genuine care for everyone – he really is the heart of the School.” Its resident historian, too. Over his RWU years, Silvia has compiled a scrapbook filled with thank you notes, newspaper clippings, pictures and pages of handwritten contact information. He’s been to dozens of weddings, a few class reunions and last summer even drove cross-country to visit an alumnus and his family in Seattle. “These are good kids,” Silvia says. “It’s a great job. I’d do it for nothing.”