Authors Posts by Jack Shea

Jack Shea

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Upper Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs is a water source for the town.

Following a tempestuous public meeting last Thursday night at the Oak Bluffs Public Library, the board of health took no action on the question of whether to continue the practice of adding fluoride to the town water supply, as it has since 1991.

The board agreed to take the issue under advisement and consider the comments and information provided by about two dozen of the 50 residents who jammed the library meeting room. Speaking after the meeting, board chairman William White, who moderated the fractious 90-minute debate, said his personal choice would be to bring the question to town voters at the annual town meeting in April.

If the issue does make it to the town meeting floor, voters can expect to hear a repeat of many of the positions held by fluoride opponents and proponents that were laid out on Thursday night, often in strident tones and through shouted interruptions that required Mr. White to repeatedly call for civil debate and orderly commentary.

Perhaps the ugliest scene of the evening occurred after resident Jennifer Kingsley, a biologist, said, “I can’t believe we’re even discussing this subject.” Ms. Kingsley visibly recoiled as a dozen antifluoride proponents shouted her down.

Opponents of fluoride centered on two themes: that the inclusion of fluoride in water systems by government robs them of a choice about using fluoride; second, that fluoride as used in U.S. water systems is a toxic byproduct of offshore metal industries and is dangerous to public health. Several speakers referenced studies that supported their position that the use of fluoride in water systems produces higher rates of cancer, osteoporosis, and other bone diseases.

Although the meeting was billed as a public forum, board of health member John Campbell, a chiropractor at the forefront of the fluoride-removal effort, used the forum to repeat his position, expressed at an earlier meeting, on why fluoride should be removed from the municipal water system. The public also had plenty to say on the topic.

“Would you use a product with this label?” Oak Bluffs resident John Casey demanded, holding up a picture, purportedly of a label on a fluoride container, that contained a skull and crossbones image.

“It’s rat poison, a known toxin,” echoed Eric Carlsen.

Several Island dentists attended the meeting to speak in favor of the public health benefits of fluoridation. They argued that their personal experiences and more than 60 years of research and study have proven fluoride to be an aid to dental health, and that it does not lead to other health risks. Several said that the “greater good” to the public from fluoridation, similar to flu shots and vaccination, should trump personal choice in this health matter.

Myron Allukian, who has chaired the U.S. Surgeon General’s Work Group on Fluoridation and Dental Health, and who managed the city of Boston’s dental-care program, joined the meeting via speakerphone.

“Dental health disease has been reduced by half if not more since 1978,” he said. “An enormous growth in dental health has been noted in 140 Massachusetts communities which fluoridate. Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance in the earth; we can’t get water without fluoride. We’ve just duplicated what nature showed us.

“It comes down to credibility. Who are you going to believe, studies or credible data, or junk on the Internet? If your board of health has concerns, then get the state health department and other parties involved. In a nutshell, virtually every health agency and the surgeon general support fluoridation. Don’t shortchange your community. I put it on your board of health to research the issue.”

Both sides in the debate waved studies and findings to support their viewpoints. Oak Bluffs resident and shellfish constable David Grunden asked people to take a considered approach to the issue. “Don’t cherry-pick the information that is available,” he said. “We know more now than we did 60 years ago. Some studies may be outdated. There are also different solutions today, such as sealants for teeth.”

Though several residents thanked the board for scheduling an evening session, few opinions seemed to change.

“I’m more confused right now than when I walked in here tonight,” said Richard Combra, former Oak Bluffs selectman. “But I’ve been here awhile, with and without fluoride, and I imagine I’ll continue to be here, however it works out.”

Board of health members Patricia Bergeron and Mr. White did not disclose a position on the issue.

Asked prior to the meeting whether fluoridation was a new issue and why it is flaring up right now, Dr. Campbell said it had been laying in the weeds for some time, and was only coming up now because he is on the board of health and because the water department made a request of the board.
“My patients have asked me to take up the matter,” he said.
A town official who asked not to be identified said the fluoride-removal campaign was initiated by Dr. Campbell, not the water district, and that Dr. Campbell also raised the issue in his previous tenure as a health board member 15 years ago.

Fluoride was first used in American community drinking water in 1945. About 72 percent of community water systems in the U.S. contain a fluoride additive of 0.7 parts per million of water. Oak Bluffs and the Wampanoag tribe in Aquinnah are the only two of four Island community water systems that fluoridate.

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Jacket photo by Alison Shaw and portrait by Valerie Sonnenthal.

“Some Kind of Lucky: A Fifty-Year Love Affair with Martha’s Vineyard” by Joan Bowman; hardcover, Vineyard Stories 2014, $19.95 from vineyardstories.com.

“Some Kind of Lucky” sounds like the title of an Elmore Leonard thriller. It isn’t.

While it is often a thrilling read, “Some Kind of Lucky” is a memoir of life seen through the prism of Martha’s Vineyard. Author Joan Cowen Bowman uses the Island, her favorite place, as a measure of constancy of celebration of life’s good times, and a nurturer in the bad times that accompany five decades of life, anyone’s life.

Under the aegis of Jan Pogue, publisher of Vineyard Stories, Ms. Bowman, now 82, has partnered with Alison Shaw, the ultra-photographer of Island mood and magic, to produce an entirely relatable story for any reader with sufficient years of life experience and an understanding of the Island’s effect on the soul.

Visitors, residents, even Islanders often struggle to articulate the grace this place will bestow on anyone open and watchful enough to receive it. Ms. Bowman has been able to offer a clear window to us through which we are able to see 50 years of her life in complete spectrum, ranging from joyous family weddings to the death of a child, perhaps the most wrenching loss that humans are asked to bear.

The reading of a memoir can be a tricky business. Memoir writers are often motivated to set the record straight about their lives, or to write what they wished had happened. Others polish and tidy up real circumstance and life events that are not to their liking and we, poor readers, miss the essence of the life under review.

Not the case here. This is a powerful story of unflinching self-examination delivered with a tone of journalistic objectivity. We get a sense that the writer has been able to stand back from the personal joy and pain of the past 50 years of her life in order to see it as it was.

She lays out her choices and the happenstances of her life clearly, generally without judgment of herself and others, and describes the joy and pain which ensued. Perhaps the work is a commitment to understand, to sum up her life. Perhaps one develops a sense of respect for the courage and the character of this woman, to allow strangers to see her as she was and is.

“Some Kind of Lucky” is not a corny paean to the Island. It is rather an acknowledgment of the restorative power it provides to souls who seek peace in its power and beauty. Ms. Bowman explains also how she came to understand that this place, like all natural places, offers both beauty and danger, using a post-storm riptide at Squibnocket in which she and her 6-year-old daughter nearly perished as the proof.

Her story is compelling because of the circumstances of her life. Ms. Bowman was born to a luxurious life, created by a fortune amassed by her grandfather in the late 19th century and built upon by her father. Born and raised in a wealthy New Jersey enclave in the 1930s, Ms. Bowman speaks passionately of a childhood on “The Place,” a 10-acre estate built by her grandfather on the south Jersey Shore. It may be that the Island became “The Place” for the adult.

She provides details of a life of privilege, and does not recall hearing the words “I love you” from her parents. My belief is that we must all experience unconditional love in our lives or we die by degrees, spiritually and emotionally. That thought came to mind as I witnessed her commitment to finding that haven in her marriages.

Young Ms. Bowman has let us see her insides, and we in turn want to warn this young woman to be careful, to choose well. She marries twice, divorces twice, brings five sons and a daughter into the world, and uses the Island as their “Place” for a month every summer.

There are Island weddings for several children, and Ms. Bowman is on the Island during the summer of 2008 when her son Bo’s partner calls from New York with the news that Bo has been hospitalized with flu symptoms and leg pain. Two days later, Bo is gone, a fit man dead at 39 of a massive invasive virus.

I am reminded by this story that finding our way to personal peace — happiness, really — is not made simpler by wealth or privilege, nor is it made more difficult by a hardscrabble life. Life is an equalizer, and requires us to pursue happiness with tools available to all of us: resilience, courage, honesty, and commitment. Life will give us what we desire, but we have to ask for it.

Ms. Bowman, an interior designer for 35 years, also holds an MFA earned nine years ago from Sarah Lawrence College. She writes for New Jersey newspapers, and is an essayist whose work is published in the Vineyard Gazette. In 2010 she published a family memoir, The Power of The Place, featuring her childhood home.

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Chris Knowles's latest is The Cambridge Incident.

The Cambridge Incident, by Chris Knowles; paperback, 162 pages, 2013 from Publish America. Available in print at $19.95 fromwww.tiac.net/~cknowles/ and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by special order through bookstores.

Island resident Chris Knowles uses his background in the Washington intelligence community and his later experience in military intelligence to offer readers insight into the unseen world of national intelligence and shifting international political alliances.

In his five novels to date, Mr. Knowles makes the case that we are onlookers, often seeing what we are meant to see. Realpolitik is carried out in shadowy silence by the national-intelligence and black-ops players du jour. The Cambridge Incident is the story of the abduction of Beth Edelman, CIA director, off the streets of Cambridge following an appearance at Harvard University.

Mr. Knowles has retired from a lengthy career in the medical-care industry following service in U.S. Air Force intelligence during the Vietnam War. Prior novels include looks at Northern Ireland in the 1970s and a murder mystery during the Cuban missile crisis.

Mr. Knowles’ approach is appealing to us in part because we know by now that we never get the whole story from government, and we are thirsty for insights into the process of international spookery.

And we get them in The Cambridge Incident. Ms. Edelman is the first woman and foreign-born CIA director. An Israeli citizen by birth, she has boots-on-the-ground understanding of the Mideast miasma. Snatching a high-profile person under CIA security protection off Brattle Street requires planning and split-second timing that only professionals bring to an operation. But whose professionals, and why the abduction? Who is motivated enough to incur the wrath of U.S. might by the act?

The meat of the intelligence aspect of the story begins. Tom Halloran, CIA in Washington, and Vince Petrillo, CIA on the ground in Cambridge, working with FBI, begin tracking the UPS van that cut Ms. Edelman off from her security, killing an agent in the kidnapping.

The trail leads them to Martha’s Vineyard, where the abductors, after multiple vehicle switches and a boat ride, have used the airport here to fly Ms. Edelman out of the U.S. to parts unknown. When the plane leaves U.S. airspace, it enters CIA jurisdiction, and CIA human-intelligence specialists Peter Kent and Sam McAdams in Washington, D.C., get the assignment.

Their human intelligence (HUMINT) work unlocks the mystery and makes one of Mr. Knowles’ central points: The development of communication intelligence (COMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) have overshadowed the importance of human intelligence in the shadow world of intelligence-gathering.

In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Knowles explained his belief: “Sept. 11 was the ultimate demonstration that we are too dependent on techno intelligence. Looking back in time, the strength of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor agency to the CIA, was boots on the ground and understanding the thought process going on in the minds of enemies. We’ve been so focused on the techno-intelligence tools that human-intel capabilities have atrophied, and we can’t reverse that, like turning on a dime,” he said.

“We need better knowledge of languages and the ability to think with the minds of potential enemies. Can 9/11 happen again? I make no assumptions about that because the players change — now ISIS is in the public view — but the fact of matter is that different forms of attack exist. I make no assumptions that enemies of the U.S. have made their mark. The definition of terrorism includes acts that change the way we live and act. I don’t see 9/11 as a one-off at all. It was simply one group’s action in what is a very fluid situation,” he said.

We don’t reveal plot endings in these reviews, but it is the failure of COMINT and SIGINT methodology that leads to an ending with implications that are frightening to consider. For example, the unraveling of the abduction leads us to a connection with Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Mr. Knowles takes pains to include a segment of a transcript of a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 that explained the scope and progress of Iran’s nuclear-capability work. In a subsequent interview with an NBC correspondent on Face the Nation on July 14, 2013, Mr. Netanyahu said Iran was only a few months away from crossing “the red line” of nuclear capability that Israel would not allow them to cross.

What’s happening now? “I’ve looked for information but I haven’t heard anything in the press about [Iran's nuclear status] for six months. Our attention is being directed to ISIS,” he said.

Hmm.

Mr. Knowles reveals no state secrets in his novels. He cannot. But he can, and does, lift the veil enough so that we can understand the game more clearly, shedding some light for us on a very dark business.

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“Shores of the Heart,” a first novel by Thea Marsh. Paperback, self-published from Mira Digital Publishing, Chesterfield, Mo. $14.95, 198 pages including reader’s guide. Available online through Amazon or attheaqmarsh@gmail.com.

Tina Reich was leaving the author sign-and-schmooze table at the Islanders Write conference last month when I asked for her reaction to the event for our upcoming story in The Times. When she learned I review books for these pages, she thrust a copy of “Shores of the Heart” into my hand.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book and here it is, self-published today [Aug. 11],” she beamed. “It’s set on the Vineyard and the premise is that women who have affairs shouldn’t always end up with a red A on their chests.”

I’ve read this first novel, written under the nom de plume Thea Marsh, and found a fresh and unconventional story, full of literary and life wisdom, told in a straightforward first-person narrative by a fictional Island girl, Miranda, with a great and busy life — hubby, three kids, and a home — who unaccountably and unexpectedly finds herself in love and in lust with a Wall Street one-percenter, Clay, with a seasonal manse that’s been in the family for simply ages.

The guts of the plot is the recounting in first person of Miranda’s coming to terms with her decision to embrace an extramarital affair, its ecstasy, and the dangers it presents to herself, her marriage, and to her family’s health.

Ms. Reich has written outside the conventional manner of novelizing. She includes the author’s voice throughout in the form of prefaces before most chapters in which she comments on the material to follow in terms of its issues as the author faces them, or she quotes other literary giants on the aspects of the human condition about to be on display. The effect is to take the reader into the author’s head as well as into the character development that follows in the chapter.

Ms. Reich is startlingly well-read, from Flaubert to Barbara Kingsolver, and makes use of that knowledge to advance the notion that Miranda is the sum total of her life experiences, that her love-madness has deep roots in her personal history. By extension, Ms. Reich seems to argue that that is the case with all of us — we simply don’t know why we do some things that seem anomalous in our lives — and that awarding scarlet A’s is at best simplistic, at worst misleading and irrelevant.

So if you were expecting a bodice ripper, this ain’t it. There is a fair amount of heavy breathing, and some graphic sexual passages you won’t be reading to the kids, but Ms. Reich’s writing style is not lurid. It is spare and direct, journalistic.

The writing is crisp, with definitive short sentences. Well, except for the parts where she goes off on the Terminally Self-Absorbed who descend on us each summer. Her characters and the prefaces ask questions about life and how and why we all live it the way we do. Ms. Reich describes that part of her writing process as turning the diamond over and seeing its prisms from the other side.

This is a first novel, uneven in places, but written in an agreeable style that draws the reader in. Ms. Reich notes that she does not spend a lot of time on external physical details of her characters, but on fleshing out the internal spiritual nature of her characters. Not the way Charles Dickens would have done it perhaps, but it works here for her.

Ms. Reich is an accomplished literary mind. She tells us straight up that she has written the book she wanted to write in a style and format in which she chose to write.

The book has several other compelling aspects for me. First, thanks to the Islanders Write conference, we literally stumbled on this author who has spent her 27 Island summers aching to write this nontraditional book.

Next, how many others are there on-Island who didn’t bump into a book reviewer? And how do we continue to get their voices heard?

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Jim Wann, Don Dixon, and Bland Simpson, the Coastal Cohorts, delight audiences with their tales of coastal living. — Photo courtesy of Jim Wann

Martha’s Vineyard fisherfolk, you can meet your doppelgangers on the eve of the 69th annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby when The Coastal Cohorts stage King Mackerel and the Blues are Running: Songs and Stories of the Carolina Coast at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 12 and 13.

"King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast" echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.
“King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast” echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.

King Mackerel is a long-running performance of music and stories about fishing and life along the Carolina coastline. The theatrical show includes a three-man acoustic folk/soul/rock revue, with an environmental edge, of Southern coastal life featuring old-time video of hurricanes and other features of life “on the edge.”

The Coastal Cohorts is a trio of good-ole boys who also happen to be smart, award-winning musicians whose tunes and talents have been acclaimed up and down the Carolina coast, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Westside Theatre in New York, where Clive Barnes, arts critic for The New York Times and later for The New York Post, called the Cohorts “a pure, salt-watered delight.”

And coming at the end of tourist season, it may make you glow a little to know that you can see the show for a helluva a lot less than New Yorkers paid.

The Cohorts serve up a heady down-home sound with some elements of what is called “beach music” in the Carolinas, which has nothing to do with The Beach Boys, pianist/vocalist Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English & Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill, hastened to add in a phone chat last week. More like beat-your-feet happy music, trellised with lyrics about life on and around the deep blue. You can Google King Mackerel and hear some cuts yourself.

Mr. Barnes said the show reminded him of Jacques Brel’s work. Mr. Simpson said he wasn’t so sure the review would go that way.

“We were playing the West Bank Theater on 42nd street, which is small. Clive Barnes is sitting about 10 feet away from us. Now, we have a bit in the show where we throw rubber worms into the audience. You know, the ones you rig up as lures?

“Well, Jim [Wann, lead guitar] had thrown his and I have my arm cocked and suddenly realize I’m about to hit the most important theater critic in the world with a faceful of rubber worms. Then I saw him lean forward and I took that to mean he was enjoying it, so I let fly.”

The point of that story is that these are guys who let it fly. The show itself is an example.

“We were contacted in 1984 by The Embers, a very popular beach music band, to write some songs and material for them. When they realized the amount of staging and lighting involved, they didn’t continue, so we said, ‘let’s do it ourselves.’”

So they wrote the songs and a script, named themselves The Coastal Cohorts, and “King Mackerel” was launched. The show has been going since with a short hiatus in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Many of their performances are devoted to fundraising for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and other nonprofit environmental organizations. Mr. Simpson serves on the NCCF board and has a committed interest in the health of the ocean and its residents.

Mr. Wann is a Tony and Olivier-nominated creator of Broadway shows, including the long-running Pump Boys and Dinettes.

Mr. Dixon is a successful singer-songwriter and record producer (REM’s Murmur) with more than 200 recorded songs for artists who include Joe Cocker, Marshall Crenshaw, Hootie & the Blowfish, Counting Crows, Marti Jones, and Ronnie Spector.

The Coastal Cohorts will arrive on Martha’s Vineyard thanks to the efforts of seasonal Island resident Edward Strong, a senior partner at Dodger Properties, a major player in New York theater productions that include the hit show Jersey Boys.

“Ed Strong has a house here and he’s been after us to come and do the show for five or six years,” Mr. Simpson said. “He really put it together with M.J. Munafo (Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse executive artistic director).”

Mr. Strong said he had been thinking of bringing the Coastal Cohorts to the Island for some time. “It seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “And the occasion of the Derby seemed like a wonderful kick-off event.”

Noting the obvious relevance of their material to an Island where fishing and conservation are dominant concerns, Mr. Simpson said, “We may be bringing coals to Newcastle. Certainly Martha’s Vineyard is one of the most important coastal communities in America. But we’re glad to be here, particularly since none of us has ever been to the Vineyard.”

In conversation, Mr. Simpson echoes familiar themes. “Our show is that tourism was a great thing that didn’t impinge on bluewater fishing for a long time. Then the waterfront was bought up and conflict began. Co-existing cultures started to run into each other. Fish houses [waterside businesses that buy commercial catches] had declined precipitously in the past decade on the barrier islands, for example. A group of fishermen bought the last one on Ocracoke Island or fishermen there would have had no place to land their catch.”

These guys get it, and the music is good.

Performances begin at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday night. The show runs about two hours so no need for fishermen anticipating the start of the Derby at 12 midnight, Sunday, Sept. 14 to wear their waders to the theater. You’ll have time to gear up after the show and still meet the incoming night tide.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors; $30 for students. Tickets are available online at boxoffice@mvplayhouse.org or by visiting the theater at 24 Church St. in Vineyard Haven.

For more information, visit mvplayhouse.org.

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Athletes were on the field running, jumping, kicking and sweating.

The football team takes a brief water break during an early morning hell week practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Cummo) — Photo by Michael Cummo

Several hundred Island high school athletes are catching their breath as pre-season practices wind down in advance of competitive play next week.

While pre-season doesn’t include the “Hell Week” of two-a-day practices common a decade ago, coaches here push their charges with two or more hours of conditioning and drills to prepare often under-manned squads for Eastern Athletic Conference play.

Football coach Don Herman, in his 32nd year, pushed play repetition in the early going with QB Mike Mussell returning after missing a season with a thumb injury. With only 50 candidates for the varsity and JV programs, Mr. Herman is maximizing skills and minimizing the potential for injury. “The fact is that most injuries occur in practice, not in games, and the days of using JV players as tackling dummies is long past,” he said.

Firs-year soccer coach Esteban Aranzabes has installed a system he learned in his native Uruguay and which served him well as coach of the Island’s U-18 squad. “The game begins in the locker room, not on the field. We stress constant movement in practice for conditioning and drills. Players move 80 percent of the time in games, we want to simulate that in practice. We use drills that stress a unitized team effort, including walking to the field in two lines,” he said.

Cross-country and track coach Joe Schroeder, in his 27th season, has learned over the years that the key to preparation lies in mental preparedness and goal-setting. “Cross-country is more of a mental sport and a team sport than many realize,” he said. “The kids are better prepared when they come in pre-season. They have to prepare themselves for the course. This sport requires athletes to be mentally strong. We’re not memorizing plays. Our work is goal-setting and belief in self, understanding that the gap in distance between first place and fifth place is important to the team, for example.”

The first games of the season begin next week. The varsity and junior varsity golf teams play Somerset Berkley Regional High School on Tuesday at 2:45 pm at Farm Neck golf club. Both the boys and girls soccer teams play on Wednesday, with the boys travelling to Nauset Regional High School for a 4 pm game and the girls taking on Nauset at home at 3 pm.

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The charitable arm of the exclusive Edgartown club gives back richly.

The exclusive Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown features manicured greens and a beautiful clubhouse. — Photo by Laurence Lambrecht

The Vineyard Golf Club, an exclusive 18-hole golf club off Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, has quietly become a friend to the Island community in 13 years of operations, dispensing $1.8 million to Island nonprofits through the Vineyard Golf Club Foundation.

According to several recipients, the private club also has a knack for showing up for organizations with high demand for critical and important services, including reaching out to nonprofits and inviting applications for financial aid.

“They are rock stars, we love the VGC foundation,” an effervescent Diane Malcomson, development officer for Boston Medflight, said last week from her Boston office. Medflight transports 100 to 125 critically ill Island residents a year by helicopter to Boston hospitals each year. It makes about 300 flights from Nantucket annually.

Medflight recently received a $40,000 grant from VGC Foundation to help purchase a fixed wing aircraft for transport flights. “They have their finger on the pulse of Vineyard needs and they reached out to us,” she said. “We met in October, long after the summer season, and every one of the committee members were there for our presentation. You can tell they take their work seriously.”

Ms. Malcomson, a longtime summer visitor to the Island, said the VGC effort is critical to the life flight work. “We are a nonprofit and we are compensated for $6,000 of a life flight cost of $15,000,” she said. “We serve the sickest of the sick and we come when we are called without reference to ability to pay. Because we are Boston-based, people sometimes don’t recognize us as an Island nonprofit, so we’re grateful for VGC Foundation’s willingness to recognize us.”

“The fixed wing is a godsend because it is cheaper to operate and allows us to land in areas where a helicopter can’t,” she said. Medflight has received $87,000 in VGC donations over the past 8-10 years.

Pete Lambos, executive director of the busy Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club, lauded the VGC Foundation’s acuity in recognizing need. “They give us a $5,000 grant every year for operations, but last year they donated $35,000 to repair our leaking roof system,” he said. “I think they know what’s going on because a lot of members and trustees donate privately and are Island residents so they see our benefit to the community. They’re very good to us. We’re glad to have friends like that just down the road.”

A review of past and current VGC Foundation giving indicates an emphasis on healthcare, kids programs, conservation, public safety and housing needs.

The MV Arena received a $100,000 grant ($50,000 outright and $50,000 in matching funds) to repair its roof. “We invited them to come in and present,” said Scott Anderson, general manager of Vineyard Golf Club. “The ice arena is a staple of the community, particularly in winter. I see the benefit of the arena for my kids and for the whole community. We are lucky to live here and have that resource.”

Arena president Jim Kelleher said the board was pleased to receive such a generous donation from the Foundation. “It is clear that club members understand and appreciate the vital role that the arena plays in our community,” he said. “This gift, which really saved the facility, will allow for the rink to remain open and active for the next generation of Vineyarders. The arena is a fantastic resource for our community, and we look forward to the challenge of raising the necessary funds by September in order to receive the second portion of the matching grant from The Vineyard Golf Club Foundation.”

Habitat for Humanity, which helps residents build family housing, received a $10,000 grant this year to develop a thrift store platform, to receive, store and sell furniture and home goods.

“$1.8 million is a substantial sum,” Mr. Anderson said. “With 305 members, many of whom also donate personally to Island organizations, we’ve been able to build some reserves to devote to community projects.

“Now we have some traction. People know to come to us, and we have developed a straightforward online application process that generally takes 45 days from submission to delivering funds. The board wants the money back out in the community quickly.”

The VGC foundation website also notes that donations have been made to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and YMCA building funds in past years. Rounds of golf on the exclusive course are donated for auctions and fundraisers, and each September members relinquish the course to local organizations, including the Vineyard Nursing Association, The Rotary Club, and MV Ice Arena for their annual fund raising tournaments.

Application can be made online at www.vineyardgolf.com. Deadline for submissions is June 30 of each year, and additional grant cycles with invitations to present to the board are offered from time to time as donation funds are available.

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Richard Sher is the creator, producer and host of the radio show "Says You!", which airs on WGBH in Boston and many NPR stations around the nation. — Says You!

Says You!, a long-running, quirky National Public Radio (NPR) quiz show that features several Island residents and visitors will be recorded live from the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Thursday, Aug. 21, at 7 pm. The weekly show is recorded in several cities around the country and is making its first stop on the Island.

Another NPR show, The Moth, true stories told live, also recorded on the Vineyard this summer. The Moth features true stories about the lives of narrators from various backgrounds

The show will also feature music from guest band Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.

Speaking to The Times from the cell phone-challenged wilds of New Hampshire last week, host and producer Richard Sher noted that five of the six longtime game show panelists have strong Island connections, including residents Arnie Reisman and Paula Lyons, summer resident Fletcher “Flash” Wiley, and frequent visitors Francine Achbar, Carolyn Faye Fox, and himself.

Panelist Tony Kahn, an author and journalist, is a resident of Truro. “Yes, he’s an outlander, but we’re trying to be inclusive,” Mr. Sher quipped.

Says You! is a tongue-in-cheek quiz show in which nimble-minded and funny panelists are asked odd questions for which they must construct answers, most of which are extremely unlikely to be true. For the show’s nearly 20 NPR years, Mr. Sher has been adamant about protecting the element of surprising the panelists and the audience. The show’s motto is: “It’s not important to know the answers…it’s important to like the answers.”

“There is a theme to the questions but we never like to foreshadow the theme. We like the audience to be thrilled, happy, and totally unaware and we’ve learned that that’s exactly the way they want to be,” Mr. Sher said, adding, sotto voce, “think ‘Island Idylls.’”

Says You! can be heard weekly on WGBH 89.7 on Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, and on WCAI 90.1 on Saturdays at 8 pm.

Says You!, Thursday, August 21, 7 pm, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. An evening of “Island Idylls” with Says You! gang and special guests. $30 $35 preferred seating. For more information, visit saysyou.net.

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A plumber by trade, an umpire by passion, “Rippie” has the final word on the playing fields of Martha’s Vineyard.

Ritchie Roys calls a baserunner safe during a playoff softball game Tuesday night. — Ralph Stewart

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a bum compared with Richie (The Ripper) Roy.

Rippie makes a call during a women's softball game.
Rippie makes a call during a women’s softball game.

“Rippie,” as he is known to his public, has probably punched out a couple thousand people in the last 30 years of umpiring in the Island’s men’s and women’s summer softball leagues. Strikeouts (aka “punchouts”) are relatively rare in the slow-pitch leagues, but a couple here, a couple there, they add up over 30 years.

Mr. Roy has developed a well-choreographed out call that features an extended left arm and leg and a right arm which jerks backwards, accompanied by a howl that clearly informs batters that they have, in fact, struck out.

Fans love it, players love it and its campy panache injects some pain-killing humor for the hitter in the hot seat.

We caught up with Mr. Roy at War Veterans Memorial Field in Vineyard Haven before a game to discuss his career as an arbiter and to get the lowdown on “The Call.” Mr. Roy did not channel Robert DeNiro in Taxi, spending endless hours in front a mirror. His signature call sort of showed up over time.

Born in Oak Bluffs and raised in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Roy is married with a son and uses umpiring as a way to stay close to sports, particularly those involving a round stick hitting a round ball. Then there is the sense of community that develops after you have umpired games played by multiple generations in the same family.

At 50, Mr. Roy shows up as a direct, happy man. He is a shade under six feet a fit 205 pounds, courtesy of a year-round workout regimen.

“Baseball was always my game,” Mr. Roy explained. “I played four years in high school (Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, class of 1982), then I played in the old Falmouth League. Some (pro) scouts approached me, but they wanted kids who were playing in college so it didn’t work out. But we’ve got one Island kid, Tad Gold, who has turned pro so that’s good.

The "law" on the softball field. From left, Mike Lynch, Ritchie "Rippie" Roy, and Tom Pachico.
The “law” on the softball field. From left, Mike Lynch, Ritchie “Rippie” Roy, and Tom Pachico.

“Umpiring is a way to stay close to the game and the people in it. I got started umping in the league back when the team at bat in the game provided the umpire. I enjoyed doing it. I still do.”

A plumber by trade, one of several professions not particularly known for punctuality, Mr. Roy said, “I show up. People are depending on you. You need to have dedication.”

He estimated he has umpired 1,200-1,500 games over the past three decades, and he has played with a host of teams with such cosmic names as the Gonads, Treds, and Hurricanes.

Mr. Roy plies his artistry three night a week in season at Veterans Field in Vineyard Haven and at the town field in West Tisbury.

Mr. Roy is certified by the U.S. Specialized Sports as a softball umpire and as a basketball referee. He works the winter rec league basketball games on the Island as well. Arbiters are paid $40 a game, not quite your average rate for plumbing, but officiating is not about the money for Mr. Roy, particularly when you consider the potential hazards of umpiring. Players and fans can say hurtful things about umpires’ character, eyesight and lineage after a disappointing call. That’s not been a problem for Mr. Roy, veteran players said.

“I’ve been in this league 16, 17 years and I don’t think Rippie’s ever had to run (eject) anybody,” White Star player-manager Asa Zeth Vought said on Monday night. “He’s one of the better umpires in the league. I don’t always agree with his calls but he’s working every play. He tries hard all the time. How do you describe Rippie? He’s just Rippie, loves the game, not a care in the world out there. He makes it better for everybody just being here.”

While we were chatting, Mr. Roy was rearranging a photo shoot, cajoling umpires Mike Lynch and Tom Pachico into the frame. “These guys are dedicated umpires. They deserve some credit. They’ve been doing it longer than I have,” he said.

Mr. Lynch has 47 years behind the plate and Mr Pachico? “I’ve been doing this so long, I don’t even remember how long,” he said.

Mr. Roy has seen a lot of change in softball over his 30 years.

“Well, there’s no beer in the outfield anymore,” he said. “Probably that’s a good thing. And we start each at bat with a ball and one strike count on the batter. That’s done to speed the games up. Batters who amass four balls — pitches outside the strike zone — are awarded first base. Batters who amass three strikes — pitches within the strike zone — without hitting a fair ball, are declared out and get to skulk back to the bench.

“The quality of play has always been pretty good on the Island, but I’d say the players overall are fitter than in years past and there is great athleticism out there. For example, one thing I’ve noticed is it’s harder to get a double on the outfield arms today, particularly on this field. Yesterday’s double is a single today.

“Despite that, scoring is up somewhat from a few years ago. We had a 29-0 mercy rule game in the men’s league. That’s a huge score. (The “mercy rule” ends a game automatically if one men’s team is leading by 15 runs and a women’s team by 10 runs after the completion of five innings.)”

So which is better to umpire, men’s or women’s games? “Oh, no, no, no,” he said. “Not going there: I get into enough trouble as it is.”

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Many of the day's panel discussions were standing room only. — Bella Bennett

Hundreds of Martha’s Vineyard writers, readers, and literary fans trooped through the Grange Hall in West Tisbury on Monday to participate in Islanders Write, a daylong wordfest of panel discussions, free writing clinics, and book signings sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Times and MV Arts & Ideas magazine.

M.V. Times owner Peter Oberfest, right, introduced author and historian David McCullough for his closing remarks.
M.V. Times owner Peter Oberfest, right, introduced author and historian David McCullough for his closing remarks.

Peter Oberfest, publisher and owner of The Times, admitted to some flutters before the inaugural Islanders Write event. “I had this thought that I would show up and find about five people here,” he said.

Not to worry. Nearly 70 people found their seats in the hall’s upstairs meeting room at the ungodly hour of 8 am to hear the first panelists discuss “Writing for Radio,” starring national PBS newsies Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Rob Rosenthal, and Mindy Todd and Sean Corcoran from WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR affiliate, an event co-sponsor, along with Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Edgartown Books. The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts in Edgartown sponsored Drop In and Write sessions for attendees.

By midday, the panel discussion audiences were standing room only for discussions ranging from writing children’s books, writing in the new media world, narrative non-fiction writing, a discussion of writing workshop styles, and journalists who turn to fiction writing.

Mr. Oberfest and literary lion David McCullough delivered parting remarks shortly after 4 pm to a room with nearly 200 attendees, seated and standing.

The mood in the hall was palpably upbeat and intent all day. The crowd no doubt enjoyed hearing from Pulitzer Prize winners (Mr. McCullough, Geraldine Brooks, and Tony Horwitz), but the 100-plus audience questions asked during the day indicated a genuine desire to learn more about the writing craft and, perhaps, some tips on getting published. A smattering of early careerists were there looking for the big break, and some fans showed up just because their favorite authors were speaking.

The cookbook authors panel consisted of, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller.
The cookbook authors panel consisted of, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller.

Panelist authors did a brisk business at the authors’ signing table downstairs close to the free writing workshops offered by Justen Ahren, director of the Noepe Center. “This is the best day in Noepe’s history,” Mr. Ahren murmured after eight non-stop hours of mentoring small groups of writers.

What the audience got was advice on writing Ps and Qs and a somewhat grim recounting of the infernal thicket that book publishing has become from articulate pros who have been there.

The role of research and its sometimes joyfully serendipitous results were touted by Mr. McCullough and by Joshua Horwitz, whose research for “War of the Whales: A True Story,” would uncover a world of deceit and secrets and pit him against the U.S. Navy whose sonar testing drills allegedly caused historically non-stranding whales species to strand in record numbers. The case is at the U.S. Supreme Court.

For novelist Geraldine Brooks, research means something else. “I have to write enough first so the character has a voice and tells me what I need to know to tell the story. That’s when I learn what I have to find out,” she said, an example of a unique personal style urged by all panelists for attendees to develop.

For Mr. McCullough, research is the key to his work about historical figures and eras. “If I knew what the research would show, I wouldn’t be writing the book,” he said. “I’ve flipped the phrase ‘write what you know’ to include ‘know what you write,’ and the truth is stranger than fiction. Take Jefferson and John Adams, former foes, then friends, who died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. If you wrote that as fiction, it would not be believable, but that’s what happened.”

Panelist Ward Just converses with Ben Moore at the book signing table.
Panelist Ward Just converses with Ben Moore at the book signing table.

“And don’t believe that it’s all been written about a subject. There is tremendous opportunity to uncover new information regardless of how many books have been written on a subject,” he said, bringing to mind John Hough Jr.’s new novel “Little Bighorn,” an event that has spawned hundreds of books and articles.

During a discussion of cookbook writing, author Cathy Walthers echoed the thought. “I read that one or two new cookbooks are published every day,” she said. She argued that the market is not saturated. “That’s like saying all the songs have been written.” Ms. Walthers, the author of a new cookbook devoted to recipes featuring kale, advised would-be writers to “Make it your own, put your imprint on it.”

A much anticipated panel featured Chilmarker Nancy Aronie and Mr. Hough, longtime mentors of writing groups using very divergent styles. Ms. Aronie requires only positive feedback for her writers from their colleagues, while Mr. Hough employs a more critical approach. Devotees of each style filled the room, applauding as their favorite was introduced.

Ms. Aronie offered a quick summary of the differences. “[My approach] is don’t hurt the baby,” she said. “I teach the discipline of writing 10 minutes a day. My approach is to look for the remarkable, based on my own experience. If I had been criticized, I’d have gone swimming rather than writing. I want people to read aloud, to feel their own rhythm. Then you go to John to get the gold.” She noted that Mr. Hough’s students often bring work that is close to the publishing stage.

Mr. Hough said, “Nancy and I do different things,” he said, noting that students’ submissions are blue pen edited and returned the following week. “I will never advise an author to quit writing, but I will offer criticism that I as an author will hear from an agent or publisher in New York. It’s better to hear it at this stage.”

Panelists were asked how to wrestle with the difficulty of publishing today, how to market and build audience with social media, the pros and cons of self-publishing, and what they described as the price gauntlet of online retailing.

Amazon.com took an enthusiastic daylong beating from virtually every author. Tony Horwitz offered a complete and often humorous trashing of the online giant, saying Amazon’s price-slashing tactics are designed to put competition — publishing houses and independent bookstores — out of business, impoverishing authors in the process. He has decided to use the traditional publishing house model. “I’m going down with the Titanic,” he announced.

Justen Ahren (center, black shirt) of Noepe Center for Literary Arts ran writing workshops throughout the day.
Justen Ahren (center, black shirt) of Noepe Center for Literary Arts ran writing workshops throughout the day.

In addition to eight hours of sage advice, many attendees had positive experiences meeting and greeting each other. Tina Reich, a New Yorker with 27 summers on the Island with her husband Lou (a dead ringer for Robert De Niro)  was over the moon to meet an MV Times book reviewer.

“Here, here’s a copy. I’ve been wanting to write a book for years and I’ve just self-published ‘Shores of the Heart.’ It’s set on the Vineyard and the premise is that women who have affairs shouldn’t always end up with a red A on their chest.”

And in the corner of the room, Deb Dunn, a children’s picture book author from Chilmark, was typing furiously on one of several electric typewriters set up for writers to use. “I used to have a Brother [brand] electric typewriter. I miss it,” she said. Across from her, college student Tanya Horwitz, 20, picked tentatively on an electric typewriter. “I may have used one once, maybe at my grandfather’s house. I wouldn’t want to use it for a long paper, but it’s kind of cool,” she said.

Ann Graham of Edgartown came early and stayed all day. Ms. Graham showed up as the Everyman of the attendees. “I do a lot of long-form business writing on business strategy in my business, but I am here looking for ways to transition into different kinds of writing,” she said. “I’d like to do a memoir.”