Red, white and seldom blue, flag-waving lady celebrates life
July Fourth has always been the holiday associated with flag-waving. For Louise Yapp of Vineyard Haven it's a year-round tradition.
Although they may not recognize the name, passing motorists know Louise as the smiling elderly lady who waves a flower and flag bouquet at passers-by as she walks the bike path on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.
"People come up to me in stores, and say, oh, you're the flower lady, or the flag lady, or the walking lady -I've been called everything," Louise said last week in an interview in her home. "All these people who don't know my name but remember me when they see me in the stores, they're my friends."
Some motorists stop to chat with her, some have sent notes, and one year at Christmastime, a man gave her a small Santa Claus he carved. A few people, however, have questioned why she waves to everyone.
"You can feel a little strange at first doing it, but then you feel very strange if you don't," Louise said. "People look for it - and it makes me feel good, too."
When talking with someone, she smiles often, and her engaging, warm manner makes her seem like a long-time friend. At age 82, Louise has a philosophy of life that accentuates the positive.
"You just always do the best that you can do and be grateful for what you were able to do - and not beat up on yourself for what you didn't do," she said, adding with a laugh, "You have to work at that one, though."
Louise and her husband Robert (Bob) live in a house on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road that first belonged to her grandparents. The daughter of Margaret Andrews and John Costa, she grew up there with her siblings George, Joe, and Laura.
She first met Bob, who was from Fond du Lac, Wis., in 1943 when he was stationed on the Island as a yeoman with the U.S. Coast Guard. They were married in 1948.
Louise took up walking several years ago, while working as a medical-surgical nurse at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. After retiring in 1996 after almost 50 years, she had planned to d
o volunteer work. Instead her time was taken up caring for her sister and then her brother-in-law as they battled cancer. Louise stepped up her walking program during that difficult time, which she said she knew would be good for her, mentally and spiritually.
Although starting her day with smiles and waves seemed like a little gesture, it made a difference, she found. "Once you deal with people, you need people," Louise said. "And if you isolate yourself, that's a big mistake - connecting with people was like an extension of my nursing."
She actually began carrying her flower and flag bouquet as a weapon to ward off dogs, she said, after an unleashed canine knocked her down one day as she walked. Wanting to be patriotic, Ms. Yapp started out with miniature flags, and then added white silk flowers, and as a last touch, a white dove - to represent her country, God, and peace.
Her husband fastened everything together, and she was off and waving, with her disguised weapon of mutt destruction. She now carries a cell phone as well.
"Lots of people make the peace sign at me or they flash their lights - you'd be surprised at what they do," Louise said. "It's dear. And the smiles - you just know that not only are you making yourself happy, but you're making them happy. And that's such a gift."
Unabashed about expressing her patriotism, Ms. Yapp said when people think about America on July fourth, she hopes they will "be proud, be grateful, and be giving in some way." She has a strong sense of gratitude to her country for many reasons, including her education and career.
After graduating from Tisbury School in 1944, Louise was accepted into the cadet nurse program. Administered by the U.S. Public Health Service, the program facilitated the training of nurses during World War II. In exchange for subsidized tuition, cadet nurses served in the military or other government or essential civilian nursing services for the duration of the war.
Louise attended a diploma nurse program at Morton Hospital in Taunton and then spent her last six months as a senior cadet at the Bronx Veteran's Hospital in New York. The war ended before she finished her training, so she didn't have to go into military service. "It was a wonderful thing to get an education, and I am so grateful to my country to have given me that," she said.
She graduated from nursing school in 1947 and married Bob the next year. He began working days at Leslie's Drugstore, and she worked at Martha's Vineyard Hospital from 7 pm to midnight.
"When I first came, nurses weren't compartmentalized - you did everything," Louise recalled. "You went to the delivery room, you took care of babies, you did medical-surgical. We didn't have a doctor in the house at night. You might have a delivery on the steps - I had that happen once."
When asked if an upbeat attitude helped in her role as a nurse, Louise said, "Being warm and compassionate to a person, I believe, is 99 percent of the cure."
Later, Bob went to work for the Steamship Authority, retiring after 27 years at age 80 in 2005. "I was blessed with a good husband, and we have very supportive sons," said Louise.
Mark is a registered nurse at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford. Bob is an industrial arts teacher at the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Schools, and his wife Debbie is a 5th grade teacher at Edgartown School. Her grandson Scott recently graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in computer arts.
Although she keeps busy with her many interests, Louise Yapp plans to keep walking and waving on her list. "We live every day the best that we can," she concluded. "It takes TIME - Things I Must Experience. That's a great acronym."