When most people look toward retirement they think of relaxing, taking some time for themselves, and maybe even finding a warmer place to spend the Winter months. Cheryl Ursillo on the other hand decided to start her own business.
Born and raised in Cranston, Ursillo still remembers the praise her mother’s stuffies recipe garnered from friends and family during the holiday season. Having lost her mother, Grace, in 2007, less than a year before her own retirement, Ursillo soon found herself retired, without purpose and remembering the drive forward she had found in her youth that had led her down a long career in education.
“You’re left with a lot of time and not anything right in front of you to do. I guess, maybe as part of being an educator, I liked learning,” she said of the experience of taking her mother’s stuffies recipe from her own past to your kitchen. “This has been fun because it’s something I didn’t know but now have gotten to know. I like to think I’m a quick study and, kind of, a people person.”
Her progress would agree. Now available in every Fresh Shore’s Markets in Cranston and North Providence, the Market Basket stores in Warwick and Johnston, Confreda Farms, Monroe Dairy and more, Grace’s Stuffies can even be found in some stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Grace’s Stuffies have officially been put on sale in three states since the business began in 2018.
“I was in a hotel room watching the ‘Today Show,’” she recalled. “Donny Deutsch, who’s on CNN as a contributor a lot, was talking about his dad owning an advertising agency. He had written a book. He was on television to promote it. It was called ‘The Big Idea.’ I still have the copy that I read.”
The book, Ursillo explained, wasn’t exactly a motivational book, rather it was a resource for those looking to undertake a project. Free websites and resources for all manner of things were put in front of her, along with stories of people who achieved tremendous success in their dreams, and the idea was born. She was going to start a business selling her mother’s stuffies to the world.
Who would have thought, as a young girl attending Cranston High School West, that this is where things would lead. I don’t think Ursillo would have seen it coming herself as she graduated from West to attend Keuka College in upstate New York for a degree in elementary education.
A degree that led her to an entire life before retiring and beginning this new venture into selling deliciously made seafood that follows her mother’s traditions and brings a taste of her own childhood to others. To think that she would go from undergraduate studies at Keuka, to pursuing a Master’s degree in special education at Boston College. Ursillo talked about her time at Boston College and how much she loved the campus and her time there before moving on to an internship at the Meeting Street School, founded by Margaret “Peggy” Langdon and Dr. Eric Denhoff based on the belief that all children have a right to high-quality education and a developmental support system in order to reach their full potential.
Knowing of Dr. Denhoff, who founded the school, Ursillo chose to train under the best of the time when choosing the Meeting Street School as part of her graduate program. In fact, Ursillo said, Dr. Denhoff had actually been her pediatrician years before giving her a personal connection to her work there and bringing her journey full circle.
Be on time
Having earned her graduate degree in special education, Ursillo sought a teaching position in her home state of Rhode Island. One of the initial places she applied was Barrington School. It would be in her interview there that she learned one of the most influential lessons of her adult life; be on time.
“Whoever had the interview ahead of me was late, and he took me first because I was there,” Ursillo said. “He interviewed me, and by the time I got home I was offered the job. I always wondered what might have happened if I hadn’t been early, or if the other person had been on time. I’d say it was my privilege and my pleasure to work there.”
She would spend the next 28 years holding a variety of positions in the Barrington School District. One of the reasons she felt her time in the district was such a privilege was the opportunities her employment there gave her to grow professionally.
Working as a resource teacher, Ursillo had the chance to work with small groups of children outside of a regular classroom, inside a traditional classroom, co-teaching with other teachers and experiencing the teaching environment of special self-contained classrooms with unique programs. As she gained experience in a variety of teaching methods Ursillo found herself becoming, as she called it, a “quasi-administrator.”
Over time she was given more and more administrative responsibilities, and it was this slow change that led her to move down the road out of the classroom and into administration. Taking on more and more of the responsibilities over the course of five years, a friend asked why she was doing everything a director would but without the compensation. A light bulb went off in her mind, and Ursillo decided to take the leap. In order to do so, she would need to go back to school, even if not for long.
“I needed three more courses, but I also hadn’t been in a classroom for over 25 years at that point,” said Ursillo as she re-lived that moment of her life. “So, I went to Providence College and did the three courses. My father had just passed. I kept thinking it may not have been the best time to do that, but maybe it had been. It gave me something else to focus on. I got through it, and I got my first real job in administration.”
Switch in career was daunting
However, it wasn’t just a simple switch of careers, This was a whole new world, and in many ways it was daunting.
Ursillo laughed as she remembered how her first years as an administrator had gone. Despite not being a “deer in the headlights,” as she said, she “had only had a little taste of that at this point. I learned that you have to serve a lot of masters. There’s the public, students, your colleagues, other administrators and then supervisors. That’s a whole big plate of people to make happy on a daily basis.”
Despite her initial fears and concerns, Ursillo thrived at her new career. For the next 36 years she would work in administration until her eventual retirement, which, as we now know, was only a stepping stone to the next chapter in her life, one that would prove to be only the beginning.
To learn more about Ursillo, her story and her delicious stuffies check out her website gracesstuffies.com, or pick up a pack at your local market today.
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