Barbara Flanders Seward, 87, of Menemsha, died peacefully on January 3, 2011, at Tobey Hospital in Wareham. She had come to the end of a long illness, which necessitated her moving to an assisted care facility in Buzzards Bay. She resided there for the last year and a half of her life. Her twin sons, Douglas and David, were at her bedside when the end came. Doug’s partner, Susan Pacheco, and Barbara’s former daughter-in-law, Jenny Seward, were also with her.
Her father, Kenneth A. Flanders, was born on Tea Lane in Chilmark and came from a long line of Chilmarkers. He was born in the home formerly owned by Barbara’s maternal great-grandfather, Franklin B. Bammett Jr., who as a young man went whaling on three voyages out of New Bedford and Fairhaven. Her mother, Mary Lavare Flanders, known to all as Molly, lived for many summers in her camp in Menemsha.
Barbara’s paternal great-grandfather, Samuel H. Flanders, was the keeper of the Gay Head lighthouse in the mid-1800s, and witnessed the installation of the famed Fresnel lens in 1856. He had 14 children. Her grandfather, Samuel H. Flanders Jr., the youngest of them all, was born in the lighthouse.
From her birth in 1923, Barbara lived in Menemsha every summer of her life, where her memories of its past were sought after by those interested in the history of the picturesque fishing hamlet. Her friend Eric Cottle once proclaimed that if you wanted to know anything about Menemsha, Barbara was the person to talk to.
In 1941 she met William C. Seward, a Coast Guardsman stationed at Gay Head. He arrived on the Vineyard just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In June of 1943 they were married at her mother’s home in Menemsha.
In 1946 the young couple purchased Carl Reed’s store and post office building in Menemsha. Joe Allen of The Vineyard Gazette called the Seward’s new establishment Bill’s Sea-Going Grocery. It is now known as the Menemsha Market and is run by her granddaughter Elizabeth Oliver and her husband, Kevin.
Bill became the second Menemsha postmaster and Barbara was his clerk. She also managed the general store. The store was a meeting place in the summer months. It was open seven days a week and the door would often be open to midnight. The evening provided a less hectic time when Barbara and Bill could see their Island friends who would stop by and chat, sometimes for hours.
Many striped bass were weighed on the post office scale during the annual bass and bluefish derbies. This service could not be found anywhere in the postal manual, but it was important to weigh a fish soon after it was caught. In fact, stamps could be purchased and mail could be obtained any time the store was open, even on Sundays.
Barbara’s welcoming smile and sunny disposition made her a favorite with her customers. She possessed the uncanny ability to remember summer visitors’ names. She not only remembered their last names, but their first names, the names of their children and even the names of their pets.
In 1972, she became the third Menemsha postmaster upon her husband’s retirement.
When she retired in July of 1989, a surprise party was arranged for her that was held under a tent next to the store. Many of her friends and family, some traveling from off-Island, were on hand to wish her well. One guest commented that of the many people at the event that day, Barbara was the only person who knew everyone there. The Postal Service changed their delivery system to a seasonal contract station thus making Barbara the last postmaster in Menemsha.
In 1982, the year of her mother’s death, Barbara asked her son David and local lobsterman and carpenter Matthew Poole to renovate the old camp so she could live in Menemsha year-round. Her grandfather Lavare had built the original structure, cobbling together three fish shacks. All but two of the original side walls were removed and a new house was constructed.
She loved her home and decorated it with objects from her travels and original paintings done by customers and friends. A few of her paintings were acquired from store customers as payment for groceries. She was friends with the late Julius Delbos and Ruth Hershey Irion, who provided several watercolors for her collection over the years.
In 1973 she was given the opportunity to obtain the Steven Dohanos painting of the store he had done for the Saturday Evening Post cover of August 26, 1950. Over the years she had maintained a correspondence with Dohanos and he eventually contacted her to tell her the painting was available. The subject of the greatest number of her art works was Menemsha, the place she loved most in this world. She also collected signed copies of books by authors she knew, many of whom sold their volumes in the store.
She spent her retirement years traveling with her close friend Lorraine Hoggan, going to the beach with her cousin Bette Carroll, visiting with her beloved sister, Nancie Buell, and her husband, Frank, and entertaining her friends with wonderful luncheons.
Barbara had a sense of understated elegance when entertaining in her home. She also loved to teach her grandchildren how to bake. Baking was just one of many talents in her culinary repertoire. Her peanut butter chewies, Congo bars, cakes and pies were sought after by both family and friends. A meal in her home was an anticipated event. She was also an accomplished knitter and seamstress, keeping her children and grandchildren outfitted with warm winter mittens and sweaters over the years.
Barbara was active in Chilmark town affairs for the better part of her adult life. She was a member and past president of the Woman’s Community Club of Chilmark. Her efforts in helping to create the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School District and build the high school campus proved her dedication to her town and the Vineyard as a whole.
Barbara was a lifelong member of the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston, and the Christian Science Society of Oak Bluffs. Her father was instrumental in building the present church edifice on New York Avenue, and was one of the first readers there. Her dedication to her faith was unquestioned, and her work with the church supported that. She spent some time in San Francisco volunteering at Arden Wood, a Christian Science facility for seniors.
She is survived by her daughter, Nancy Ireland, and her husband, Richard, of Nashua, N.H., her son Douglas of West Tisbury and his fiancé, Susan Pacheco, and her son, David, of Vineyard Haven, nine grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, three nephews and one niece. Her brother, Kenneth A. Flanders Jr., and sister, Nancie P. Buell, predeceased her.
A memorial service will be held in the spring, the date, time and venue to be announced. Her remains will be interred on her family plot at Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark.