Beatrice Vanderhoop Gentry, a daughter of Gay Head and one of the first Native American teachers for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who helped change federal education policies to allow Indian children to learn about their own language and culture in school, died Sunday, July 7, at her home in Aquinnah, surrounded by her family. She was 102.
A wake will be held from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday in the Gay Head Community Baptist Church in Aquinnah. A funeral service will be held at 10 am, Thursday, in the Baptist Community Church, followed by a graveside service at 11 am. There will be a reception for family and friends at noon in the Wampanoag Tribal administration building off Black Brook Road in Aquinnah.
Mrs. Gentry grew up in the small town of Gay Head when most of the roads were unpaved. Her love for the town and its people would endure all her life. Born August 31, 1910, she was the last of nine children in the family of Adrian and Justina Vanderhoop.
Mrs. Gentry grew up in Gay Head and Vineyard Haven and graduated from Tisbury High School in 1928. She continued her education at Framingham State Teacher’s College. To pay for college, she gathered clay from the Gay Head cliffs to make pottery and worked as a waitress.
She excelled academically and was on the debate team and the swim team and played forward on the women’s basketball team. At her graduation ceremonies in 1932, the President of Framingham State University told the class that Beatrice was the only student who attended every class and turned in all her homework assignments.
After graduation she followed her dream to teach. After teaching for a year in Oak Bluffs, Beatrice began a distinguished career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). She taught at Fort Sill Indian School (Oklahoma), Pine Ridge Indian School (South Dakota), and Chirlocco Indian Agricultural School (Oklahoma). In 1934, the BIA was going through a school reform, and Mrs. Gentry was selected to lead the effort in home economics.
While at Ft. Sill, Beatrice met James Russell Gentry, a handsome young airman stationed nearby, who was the friend of the husband of a colleague. It was love at first sight, and they shortly married. James died in 1991.
They traveled the world and moved 114 times, each time setting up a home for their family. As a mother, she provided her children, Russell, Barbara, and Joan, with all the things she dreamed of, and to her the possibilities were endless. She created a loving environment and taught her children they could be whatever they wanted to be.
The family lived in Alaska, New York, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Massachusetts, and Germany. While living in Germany, the family traveled throughout Europe visiting the historical sites in England, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and France.
After Mr. Gentry retired from the Air Force, the family moved to Oklahoma and spent their summers on Martha’s Vineyard. In 1964, the family permanently moved to the Island and established an American Indian jewelry shop in Oak Bluffs with Mrs. Bertha Giles Robinson, which they ran for 40 years, and which brought them into contact with generations of customers.
Following her return to the Island, Mrs. Gentry taught at the Chilmark School, where Mrs. Mildred Mayhew was then the principal. Some of her fondest memories were spent teaching with Mrs. Mayhew and the students who attended the Chilmark School.
Mrs. Gentry also took an active role in the town affairs of Gay Head, later renamed Aquinnah. She helped to develop the Gay Head Library and worked on town zoning bylaws. She and her sister, Mrs. Bertha Giles Robinson, worked on the Committee for the 100th Celebration for their beloved town, which included decorating the town hall, providing remembrances for all the participants, and cooking all the foods that their ancestors enjoyed.
In 1970, the Indian population no longer formed a majority of Gay Head residents, and 18 Wampanoag representatives of the tribe banded together to form a government. In 1972, Mrs. Gentry was elected the first President of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, established to protect the sovereignty and land base — including ownership of the cliffs, common lands, and ancestral landmarks — by seeking Federal recognition and promoting economic development.
She was also chairman of the first Massachusetts Indian Commission since the 1870s.
In 1982, Ms. Gentry received the Alumni Achievement Award from Framingham State Teacher’s College on the 50th year anniversary of her class. In her retirement, she and her husband enjoyed living on the Island, attending the Community Baptist Church, watching their grandchildren grow and attending their sporting events, which included attending her granddaughters statewide swim meets.
In 2010, Mrs. Gentry celebrated her 100th birthday, and the Tribe and the community celebrated her life. Mrs. Gentry had already decided on the type of cake she wanted for 103rd birthday on August 31, but on July 7th she fell asleep with her family around her and died peacefully.
She was pre-deceased by her husband, James R. Gentry; her son, Russell Gentry; her parents, Adrian and Justina Vanderhoop; her brothers and sisters, Ida Colby, Clarence (Buddy) Earl, Bertha Giles Robinson, Barbara Taylor, and Thelma Weissburg; cousins Howard, Ernestine, Thelma, Roland and Frank James. She is survived by daughters Barbara and Joan Patadal; granddaughters, Anya Nicole and Adrian Gentry of New London, Conn., and Beatrice Patadal; great granddaughter, Aiden Gentry of New London, Conn.; nieces and nephews: Robert and Beverly MacDiarmid, Steven and Jan MacDiarmid Held, Dennis and Brooke McKillop of Gig Harbor, Wash.; Debbie Taylor of Seattle, Wash., Leslie Taylor of Seattle, Wash.; Cythia Aikens of Roosevelt, Utah; Douglas and Linda Vanderhoop of White Rocks, Utah; Thea Aikens of Yakima, Wash.; Melvin Colby of Providence, R.I.; Eric Colby of Maine; Lewis Colby; Berta and Vernon Giles; Sophia Welch; Adriana and Bruce Ignacio of Ft. Duchense, Utah; Ona Cameron; Amera Ignacio; Carla Cuch; Cameron Cuch from Ft. Duchesne; David and Alicia Cuch; Frankie and Melonie Perez; Peter and Iritza Perez; Cousins: June MacDonald of Chatham, Vivian James of Chatham; Shirley Freethy of Chatham; Roland James of Boston; Sharon Ryone of Brewster and Donna Sacher of Denver.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Beatrice V. Gentry Educational Scholarship Fund, c/o the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, 20 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535.