Steve Rose, old hand at Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard

Steve Rose pays attention when he's working, whether prepping a surface with sandpaper, as here, painting or actually building boats. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

If you don’t know him, you certainly know someone who does. His name is Steve Rose, boss painter at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard in Vineyard Haven, and he’s been there for nearly 50 years.

Mr. Rose went to work at the age of 16 for Tom Hale, who had only recently acquired the shipyard on Beach Road. The year was 1964. School was no place for Mr. Rose, but he certainly put his back into working for a living. Anyone who knows him will say he still does. His first task at the shipyard was mucking out the sheds after a good-sized nor’easter, the kind of storm that floods the buildings along that low stretch of land, carrying along seaweed, sand, driftwood, and dead crabs. After a short while his boss was happy enough with Steve’s efforts to offer him a fulltime position. He’s been going to work there ever since.

Steve was born at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in 1943. That part of the hospital was demolished last year to make room for our new one. His parents, both from the New Bedford/Fairhaven area, had set up a life here in Oak Bluffs. Steve’s father, Joseph, who worked for many years for Goodale Constuction, died at the age of 84. Steve’s mother, Alice, resides at the family homestead on Wing Road, Oak Bluffs. A very independent 100-year-old woman, she still makes lunch almost every day for Steve. Longevity seems to run in the family.

Steve married his wife, Kathy, a nurse, in 1974 after a mutual friend introduced them at a popular bar in Oak Bluffs. They hit it off well enough to have two great children, Adam and Sheila, and they remain married to this day. Recently Steve became the grandfather to Lyla, Adam’s first child. Sheila is a very well-regarded teacher in the Oak Bluffs School.

Over all these years, Steve has seen some changes at the Shipyard. He likes to sum them up simply: “Concrete floors, and a lot of new faces.” The changes to Steve’s work-a-day world are a little more complicated. The shipyard has upgraded its equipment and methods. Where there were once five or more marine railways used to haul and launch the boats, now there is a single travel lift that can do the same job many times faster and with fewer people.

Steve recently recalled a time after a particularly tricky haul using the old railway on the “Back Beach.” He and a co-worker were taking a short break when the “Old Man” hove around the corner, catching them apparently doing nothing. The boss went up to Steve’s buddy and asked, “What are you doing right now?”

The man replied quickly; “Nothing, Sir.”

Turning then to Steve, the boss asked, “And you? What are you doing?”

“Helping him!” said Steve, in a most positive way, leaving Mr. Hale with very little recourse but to leave the scene.

A big part of Steve’s job in the past was building boats, too, and he put so many together that he lost count years ago.

Some of us know him only as that guy with the “Ahab beard” who waves and shouts at people driving past those big gray buildings by the harbor in Vineyard Haven. He’s been a very visible fixture there for many, many years. But at the same time, his unassuming presence masks a vast store of knowledge and experience when it comes to boats, their owners, and the huge menagerie of hired help that has passed through his life. Never the employer, or the foreman, Steve has often been saddled with the sometimes unwanted task of prodding the “new guy” into step with the rhythm of the place.

His time at the shipyard is not all that defines Steve Rose. Fishing takes up a lot of his time and thought. A skilled and efficient taker of bass, blues, bonito, and albacore, he rarely brings any home. The thrill is in the chase and the capture, and lots of fish with sore lips have been taught a lesson under the Big Bridge by Mr. Rose. “If you’re not going to eat it, don’t kill it!” he’s been known to say.

At home in Edgartown, Steve maintains a generous vegetable garden each year, and he likes to either brag about or bemoan its productivity. This year, Steve bought seed from a well-known catalog that advertised a certain tomato plant that would produce huge fruit. Steve’s plants did, in fact, produce huge fruit — but only one per plant. “One!” said Steve, “Just one each! I just might write them and say, What! Just one?” Good horse poo seems to be his favorite fertilizer, along with generous portions of seaweed in the late fall.

Steve will be 67 years old this month, with no plans of retiring. Maybe a few extra trips to Foxwoods for fun. Most of us could not imagine a visit to the shipyard without Steve’s singular form of welcome, each custom-made for its recipient. He has a way of melding a greeting with some unforgotten part from your past that will leave you wondering if he ever forgets anything, really. A likely salutation might be, “Hey Half-model! What’s up!” Or “Hey No-show! Workin’ today?”

A local treasure, an icon of hard work, solid values, and proven longevity, “Rosie” is truly the “Mayor of Beach Road.”