Obituary : Polly M. Meinelt
Mary Hillman Mayhew Meinelt, always known as Polly, died on July 16 at Martha's Vineyard Hospital after a period of declining health. She was 95.
A tenth-generation descendant of Gov. Thomas Mayhew, she was the ninth generation of her family to live in the Mayhew homestead on South Road in Chilmark. She was an expert on Mayhew family history and somehow kept all the parts of that wide-spreading family tree in her head. A valuable genealogical resource, she was a repository of many Vineyard family histories of the last 200 years, and when talking to Islanders of different generations, she could almost always explain to each one how the other's family was connected to people he or she knew.
A woman of great determination and courage, Polly had the ability to make everyone feel comfortable in her presence, and she could carry on an interesting conversation with anyone. At gatherings, Polly always had a group around her. Her hearty laugh could fill a room. She used to say, "Wherever I sit is the head of the table," by which she meant not that she was the most important, but that folks knew she liked to chat. When asked a question, she would look you in the eye and tell you exactly what she thought. She was, in her son's words, a straight-shooter. Yet her gruff candor never put people off, as she always respected their opinions and valued their judgments, even when she disagreed.
Polly was born on June 23, 1913, in Hyattsville, Md., the daughter of Harold Baker Mayhew and Elizabeth Kelly Mayhew. She first came to the Vineyard when she was two weeks old and never missed a summer on the Island all her life. She attended schools in Hyattsville and Washington. D.C., and was graduated from the University of Maryland. She was a teacher of home economics on Nantucket, in Maryland, and then in D.C. In 1948, Paul Bangs, the owner of Bangs Market and a member of the school committee, invited Polly to come home to the Vineyard to teach.
"It'll only be for two years," he told her, "and then you'll be married."
Polly didn't believe that part, but she took a pay cut and moved to the Vineyard to live year-round with her widowed father in the family homestead. Two years later she was teaching on the Vineyard and engaged to be married to her colleague Theodore Meinelt. Ted and Polly were married 58 years.
The Meinelts wintered in Topsfield, where Ted taught, from 1959 to 1978, but returned to the Vineyard full time in 1978, when Ted retired.
Polly was a former member of the Chilmark School Committee, the Regional High School Building Committee, and the Chilmark Finance Committee. She was a member of the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club, the Agricultural Society, and the Historical Society.
Polly loved the Island. "No matter where we were," Ted remembers, "the Vineyard was always home."
She is survived by her husband of 58 years; her son, Walter "Terry" Mayhew Meinelt; her daughter-in-law, Kathryn Meinelt; and grandchildren, Thomas, Stephen, John, and Sarah Meinelt. A daughter, Kelly-Anderton "Kam" Meinelt, predeceased her.
Burial services will be private. In lieu of flowers contributions should be made in Polly's memory to a charity of one's choice.