Theodore Carl Meinelt, better known as Ted, of Chilmark died at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital on February 5, 2014 following a short illness. He was 97.
Ted was born on July 15, 1916 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was the only child of the late Walter and Clarice (Anderton) Meinelt. Both of his parents worked in the woolen mills in Lawrence as well as mills in Adams, MA and Norwich, CT. He spent most of his earliest years in Lawrence and he was not only the first of his family to graduate from high school but he was also the first to attend college — commuting daily to Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.
Following his graduation in 1938 he was hired as an art teacher for the Tisbury School in Vineyard Haven working under the watchful eyes of Principal Henry Ritter. His assignment included teaching art in grades 1 through 8 twice a week; high school art every day; mechanical drawing twice a week; and 7th grade English every day. This was not an unusual during that time.
Ted quickly designed an art curriculum based on holiday projects as well as projects that correlated with what was being taught at each grade level — geography was most often the primary connection. Up until the end of his life, Ted continued to be greeted on Vineyard streets by his former students, some of whom were now well into their 80s. They would report that they still held dear a drawing that he had made and given to them at the end of one of his lessons.
Ted became active in Grace Episcopal Church and with the Art Worker’ Guild, a group sponsored by Principal Ritter’s wife, Evangeline. In his first summers on the Island he lived and worked at Bayside Inn and Cottages. Ted was drafted into the army in September 1941. He was quickly recommended for Officers’ Training School. As a member of the 233rd Engineer Combat Battalion, ultimately earning the rank of Captain, Ted trained in a variety of locations stateside before shipping out to Hawaii in 1944. In July his battalion was sent to Guam and then to Leyte, Philippines. From here they were shipped to Ie Shimia, a small island near Okinawa, Japan and finally on to Okinawa where they remained until the end of the war.
He was discharged from the Army in January 1946 and returned to the Vineyard in February, this time teaching in all three of the down Island towns. Upon his return he lived with Captain Bodfish, one of the last whaling captains to live on the island. He spent his summer in a camp on Lobsterville Beach in Gay Head and had his first one-man exhibition of his paintings at the Gay Head Town Hall. In 1948, Ted purchased his first home in Vineyard Haven on Cromwell Lane.
In 1948 Mary (Polly) Hillman Mayhew moved to the Vineyard full time to teach home economics. She lived with her father, Harold Mayhew, who had recently retired from his engineering job in Washington, DC and returned to his family homestead, “The Old House,” on South Road in Chilmark. Soon Polly and Ted were spending all of their time together and they were married at The Old House in May 1950. Harold died in 1951 and Polly and Ted took over the whole house. In August 1952 they welcomed their first daughter, Kelly-Anderton (Kam) Meinelt. A year later they welcomed their first son, Walter (Terry) Mayhew Meinelt. Both Polly and Ted were actively involved in the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club when its primary function was the conservation and preservation of Island resources. They were also life-long members of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society. Ted was the director of the annual county fair for a couple of years during this time. He was also an active exhibitor in the fair — an activity he continued up until 2013 when he won an Honorable Mention for his “Arrangement of the Fair Theme.”
He was a gifted floral arranger who always took pride in displaying flowers in his home as well as in flower shows, often representing the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club. Another area of civic involvement was in the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, where he designed and built a series of historical exhibits that were made available as primary source materials for teachers in the island schools.
In 1959, concerned that their children were becoming too sheltered living on the Island, Polly and Ted made the decision to move to Topsfield on Boston’s North Shore where Ted accepted the position of art department chairman for the newly established Masconomet Regional School District. He remained in this position until his retirement in July 1976.
During his 17 years at Masconomet he became known as “Mr. Masconomet” because of his willingness to always lend a helping hand on whatever needed to be done. He was forever helping other teachers, designing theatrical sets; advising various clubs, creating wonderful displays of student work, etc. During the Topsfield years the family continued to spend their summers at The Old House. For a number of summers in the 1960s Ted and Polly ran a small roadside antique shop and gallery, “The Carriage Trade,” next door to their house. It was a small placed filled with treasures and a loyal clientele.
Ted was particularly proud of the fact that both of his children chose careers as educators. Kam taught mathematics in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Terry taught art, first in Amherst, and then took over Ted’s position at Masconomet when he retired. In 1978 Ted and Polly moved home to the Island permanently. They set about restoring The Old House and reestablishing the long lost gardens that Polly’s father had begun upon his retirement.
Ted, once again, became civically active, serving on the Chilmark Cultural Council and taking on a leadership role in Chilmark’s Tercentenary Committee. He also was a regular presenter at the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club, Antiques Club and Doll Club. His knowledge in all of these areas was extensive. He and Polly continued to amass an eclectic collection of interesting objects and artifacts from the Vineyard as well as from all corners of the world throughout their lives. There wasn’t a place that one would mention that Ted didn’t have an object from along with an accompanying story of how and where he acquired it. He held a wealth of knowledge of Vineyard history in his completely active brain up until the end.
Ted was predeceased by his wife of 58 years, Polly, in 2008 and by his daughter Kam in 1994. He is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Terry and Kathy Meinelt, of Topsfield and Chilmark and his four grandchildren Thomas Mayhew Meinelt of New York City; Stephen Lynch Meinelt and his wife Katie of Winchester; John Wesley Meinelt of Boston; and Sarah Elizabeth Meinelt of Charlestown. He is also survived by a band of amazing and caring friends on the Vineyard, most notably Chris and Sheila Morse, and the extended Morse family of West Tisbury who made sure that he was safe and happy during his last years of independence in The Old House.
A graveside service will be held for Ted on Saturday, March 8 at 12:15 pm at the Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark, followed by a reception at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. Anyone wishing to make a contribution in Ted’s memory can donate to the Masconomet Regional Scholarship Foundation (“Meinelt Art Award”). Please send donations to: Olga Langlois, Masconomet Regional Scholarship Foundation, 20 Endicott Road, Topsfield, MA 01983.