A Second Act for Dottie Little
By Denise Woodin
Back in the day, Bill Little must have cut a dashing figure. A stunt driver for King Kovaz’s Auto Daredevils in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Bill crisscrossed the country, thrilling audiences as he drove cars airborne at state fairs and exhibitions. It was at the Danbury Fair in 1972, that he caught the eye of Dottie Archer, a young divorcee with two daughters, who was there racing ostriches.
“I’d met my Prince Charming,” Dottie recalled during a recent conversation at the Rye YMCA.
After the couple wed, Bill “settled down…and got a real job,” as a manager at a steel plant. Dottie continued, “We were a great family. Everything was going well.
Fast forward to 2001, when Bill went in for carotid artery surgery to prevent a stroke. He had one surgery; the following month he had the second and then he suffered a stroke.”
Dottie paused. “Things were very grim. Bill was in a coma for three days. His whole left side was gone, and the neurologist said he would be in an institution for the rest of his life. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was isolating and frightening.”
The first ray of hope arrived when he regained the use of his legs after six weeks at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital.
“From there on in, I just prayed that something would come into his life to make it a little more enjoyable,” Dottie said. “I was going to work, so I had a break, but Bill was confined to home.”
While Bill’s stroke upended their lives, it opened up new chapters as well, she noted.
The Littles met Irving Rothman, a longstanding member of Rye Association for the Handicapped, which operated out of the Rye YMCA. Dottie and Bill went to the Rye Y on Mondays and Fridays — 45 minutes of swim followed by coffee and cake. “Bill met so many wonderful people here. He had so much encouragement from the Rye Association for the Handicapped and from Y faculty.” Dottie added, “There are so many people with physical challenges who use the Y, and they are living and having a good time. I felt so great because now Bill had some camaraderie.”
In 2011, ten years after Bill Little suffered a stroke, nine years after he found new life through the Rye Association for the Handicapped, he died suddenly.
“I was quite angry,” Dottie remembered. “You plan on retirement, you plan on everything, and life changes. At his funeral, the Rye Association for the Handicapped asked me if I would stay on as a volunteer. I did, and that was the best thing I ever could have done,” said the 77-year-old grandmother.
Dottie threw herself into volunteering, becoming vice president of the Rye Association for the Handicapped and helping at the annual Rye Derby. Earlier this year, she shared her story with Y supporters by appearing in a video and in person at the Y’s annual fundraising benefit. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the Rye Y. I have such gratitude for this place, which has been life-changing.”
As she looks forward to retirement from her job at the New York State Thruway Authority this fall, Dottie is as busy as ever, swimming at the Y, fundraising, and organizing events for the Rye Association for the Handicapped, spending time with her daughters and grandchildren, and exploring all of the offerings at local senior centers and libraries.
Rye Association for the Handicapped Marks 50 Years
In 1963, Rye Mayor H. Clay Johnson formed the Mayor’s Committee for the Handicapped, which soon evolved into the Rye Association for the Handicapped. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary as an incorporated nonprofit organization, the Association for the Handicapped serves adults with permanent physical disabilities through activities that enhance quality of life.
From the beginning, the Association has enjoyed a strong partnership with the Rye YMCA. Every Friday and Monday morning, year-round, its members slide into Brookside Pool for an hour of free therapeutic and recreational swim led by a Y instructor. After drying off, they adjourn to the Multi-Purpose Room where they socialize over coffee and refreshments.
The group also organizes activities, including an annual picnic, a holiday party, and an evening at Westchester Broadway Dinner Theater. Individuals of any age with permanent physical disabilities are welcome to join.
During a recent coffee hour, John Annunziata, a member for the last ten years and president for nearly as long, commented on the organization’s appeal: “We kid around, and we have fun in the water while doing exercises that help us physically. It’s just such a positive thing.” Noting that with one or two exceptions, group members are “up there” in age, Annunziata added, “It’s a nice social thing that’s not stressful. It’s healthy for seniors and it’s local. It’s a thing to be happy about and proud of.”
The volunteer-run organization survives on donations. “With help from our generous supporters,” emphasized vice president Dottie Little, “we hope to be around for another 50 years.”