On Saturday, Feb. 3, the five-member doo-wop band Serendipity held its first ’50s/’60’s Sock Hop/Prom fundraiser to benefit the Portuguese-American Scholarship Fund. The main room of the P.A. Club was transformed into a page out of a 1950s yearbook. A large black and white picture of Elvis hung on the wall, there were Hula-Hoops and jukeboxes, old vinyl 45s, and jewel-toned balloons dangling from the ceiling.
Guests arrived wearing poodle skirts, leather jackets, and dungarees rolled at the ankles, revealing white bobby socks.
Band member Merrily Fenner, the inspiration and organizer for the fundraiser, said, “I thought the ’50s would be fun as an event. Not everyone does it. And it would be easy for folks to dress the part. We dress every time we play, all three of us girls wear poodle skirts.”
Serendipity started off as an all-girl band, ranging in age from 40 to 72. After losing member Penny Huff, they “adopted” Mark Mazer, who plays lead guitar and sings. Christine McClean is on rhythm guitar and vocals, Janis Sylso is on keyboards and vocals, Chris Seidel on drums, and Merrily Fenner plays bass and sings.
“We work very hard at the vocal part of it,” said Fenner. “Almost all of our work goes into the harmonies when we get together to practice.There’s nothing like those oldies.”
The group has been performing at the P.A. Club for five years. Fenner said, “We played there once, and it felt so good it became a thing.” The partnership was the inspiration for this new fundraising event for the Scholarship Committee.
Three functions a year
Coreen Alton, chair of the Scholarship Committee, joined the P.A. Club in 1981. She said, “We raise our money with two functions, a huge auction followed two days later by a golf tournament. This year, with Merrily’s generosity, we now have a third function to help add to that.”
The Scholarship Committee is in its 28th year. It began with a very small group awarding $1,000 the first year. “Twenty-eight years ago, that was huge!” said Alton. Since then, scholarship amounts have ranged from $20,000 to $45,000.
There are no specific guidelines to apply for the P.A. Scholarship. “We open it up to any graduating senior from Martha’s Vineyard,” Alton said. “Our committee looks at different things; volunteerism is big, and you don’t need to be Portuguese.” The scholarship is for the first year of college only, and the general application is available at the high school.
“Now, with a committee of nine, we read every single one of the 100-plus applications every year, all nine of us, and narrow it down to a few,” said Alton. “What we give away each year depends on how much we bring in. It all comes down to the generosity of the community.”
“Our purpose is to serve our community and help our people,” said Tricia Bergeron, board member and past president. “When the association was founded in the 1930s by six Portuguese men, it was a social society, a benevolent society, that just raised money to help people. That mission has never changed.” Bergeron continues, “Back when it was a Portuguese-American Club, women weren’t even allowed in. It was all about the men. Now it’s run by all women; we’ve just taken it to a different level. Unfortunately, people today are not cut from the same cloth, they don’t want to volunteer anymore. It’s really dying. There are a handful of us left who are trying to hold it together for the mission that we do. We’ll see how that goes.”
A Fifties treasure trove
The Saturday before the fundraiser, Merrily led me to a special room in her home filled with decorations and props for the fundraiser; the nostalgic items she has collected over the years could make anyone travel back in time. Stacks of old 45s, a varsity jacket, poodle skirts, jukeboxes and Mickey Mouse Club ears. Fenner said, “I’ve been collecting these items over the years. We’re going to hang the records with the balloons. We’ll have dance contests, Prom King and Queen, raffles and a silent auction. it’s unbelievable the people that have donated to this.” One might say Merrily has been planning this fundraiser her entire adult life.
An Edsel replica
There is one more prop that Fenner is thrilled about, and says “It has to be seen,” as we walk out to the barn behind the main house where her husband Frank does his woodworking. Fenner said, “We’ve been together for 50 years, and he has supported just about any whim I’ve entertained, including helping with the good old P.A.”
Entering the barn, we see a vintage Edsel photobooth. Mr. Fenner did the woodwork, and a local painter who would like to remain anonymous did the artwork.
Back at the prom
Back at the P.A. Club Fundraiser, people enjoyed the potluck dinner, placed bids on silent auction items, and received their raffle tickets for door prizes. The dance contests commenced. The winners for the Jitterbug were John Jordan and MartiAnn-Minozzi. Winners for the Twist were the Ortiz sisters, Donna and Renee. Winners for the Cha Cha were Tom Carberry and Victoria Dryfoos. The Prom King and Queen were Frank Fenner and Kay Manning. Fenner said, “Kay is a P.A. member who loves music and has been to almost every performance, (staying for around three hours every time). She’s our 93-year-old groupie, a lovely lady, adored by everyone.”
The evening was a big success. Merrily said the the Scholarship Committee was “ecstatic!.”All proceeds from the evening’s events went directly to the scholarship fund. The P.A. gratefully accepts donations, and anyone can send checks to The Holy Ghost Association. P.O. Box 2203, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
Fenner said, “Once this event is over, I think we’ve had an ‘elegant sufficiency’ with the ’50s; we’re ready to play other music now.”