Authors Posts by Pat Waring

Pat Waring

Pat Waring

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Ruth Epstein with some of her art dolls at her Retrospective: A Creative Life. — Epstein Family

Visitors spilled out onto the porch of the Pebble Gallery at Featherstone Center for the Arts Sunday afternoon, chatting and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. Inside, art lovers and well-wishers surrounded Ruth Epstein, offering hugs and congratulations for this, her first gallery exhibition ever.

Sarah and Mike Shepard viewing Ms. Epstein's sculptures and quilts.
Sarah and Mike Shepard viewing Ms. Epstein’s sculptures and quilts.

A glance around the airy one-room gallery would suggest that this must be a four-artist show. There were four entirely disparate collections on display, four separate media, four absolutely different styles. But everything here — from fanciful costumed dolls to sleek, sophisticated alabaster sculptures and much more — was created by the remarkable and prolific Ms. Epstein over many decades.

Titled by her daughter, Lisa, “A Creative Life,” the impressive retrospective show chronicles works created by Ms. Epstein while she lived in her native Holyoke with her late husband, A. William Epstein, and raised four children. She made sculpture pieces at her winter home in Florida.

She recalls beginning to do artwork on her kitchen table in the mid-1950s (her first creations were collages using dried beans, to create cheerful wall hangings). And she is still at it 60 years later.

Ms. Epstein did her current collages, some lush and decorative, some bearing family significance, over the past six years, since she moved to Martha’s Vineyard after her husband died.

“I wanted to leave Holyoke,” she recalled of that difficult time. The perfect solution appeared when her daughter invited Ms. Epstein to move into her West Tisbury guesthouse. She is delighted with the change.

Vineyard Haven resident Chetta Kelley read about one of the pieces on display.
Vineyard Haven resident Chetta Kelley read about one of the pieces on display.

“The Vineyard is a perfect place to start over, to start your life from a different angle when you don’t have a spouse,” she said.

Ms. Epstein created a particularly moving collage soon after her husband’s death, in his memory. “The Journey” shows a woman, gazing off towards the sea, her new Vineyard home. It incorporates a poem describing the sense of chaos and powerlessness after a loss or wrenching change, with romantic images of flowers, ocean, and sky interspersed with photos of her husband, an image of the smiling young couple at their wedding years earlier.

“I felt better after I did it,” she confided.

Another dramatic collage is chilling in its significance, with faded, tattered letters, map fragments, and old-fashioned black-and-white photos telling a story devastating for the Epsteins and countless other families.

The graphic depiction of the Holocaust was inspired by a shoebox of faded Yiddish letters written by Ms. Epstein’s grandmother, Hava Mittleman, from Poland to her mother in the United States. The last was dated August, 1939. Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1. The grandmother and all her relatives were shot, killed, buried in mass graves.

West Tisbury resident Judith Birsh enjoying the art on display.
West Tisbury resident Judith Birsh enjoying the art on display.

“I made it for my family,” said Ms. Epstein. “I thought my children should know.”

Some of the collages are just plain pretty and delightful to look at. There is a garden of songbirds, arrays of lush, colorful flowers. “Angels Watching Over Me” features crowds of sweet-faced cherubs and “has a very calming effect,” the artist said.

“Big Mama” combines a white baby dress, lacy bonnets, tiny tie-up shoes, and an old-fashioned doll. There is a yellowed newspaper, The New York Tribune, January 3, 1861, only months before the Civil War began.

Snuggled on a couch and displayed on pedestals is a huge extended family of Ms. Epstein’s whimsical dolls. “All Dolled Up” reads the sign as they show off flashy garb, striking combinations of colors, textures, styles, each with a distinct personality. The artist made the stuffed fabric dolls beginning in the mid-1980s, dressing them in recycled garments and fabrics.

“The Healer” has wild red hair and many-hued New-Age style clothes. A pretty mermaid in iridescent ocean colors lolls languidly in a seashell, and there are many others.

But there was more! In front of a wide window, five graceful alabaster sculptures glowed softly in the afternoon sun, curved, sensuous, their smooth surfaces calling to be touched.

Ms. Epstein described to one fascinated viewer the power tools and techniques she used to mold and polish the alabaster. She created them during the 1990s in the Boynton Beach studio of the Stone Gallery, which offered the outdoor facilities needed for working with alabaster.

“It’s messy, but very satisfying,” she said.

Nor was that all. Flanking the window hung two soft ivory quilts, adorned with big lacy flower designs. Roughly textured decorative hangings were displayed on platforms and walls. Ms. Epstein recalled her beloved handmade Swedish loom she used to create them in the 1970s, and explained that she often used roving (raw yarn) for textural variations and inserted wires to add dimension.

Not surprisingly, the fashionable shawl that Ms. Epstein wore to accent her white outfit, reversible, multi-colored and stunning, was a piece she made herself.

A self-taught artist, Ms. Epstein was accepted to the Art Department of Syracuse University in the 1940s. But she felt the other students were too talented for her and studied merchandising and fashion design instead.

“I just have that fortunate ability,” she mused. “I like challenges. If I see something that intrigues me, I will research it and try to find out how to do it. That makes life more interesting, and allows you to grow.”

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Poet Annette Sandrock performed her spoken word piece during the fourth annual summer solstice celebration at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs on Thursday evening. — Michael Cummo

Although the official Summer Solstice would not take place until Saturday, a band of creative writers and musicians at Featherstone Center for the Arts could not wait another minute, and gathered to celebrate the new season on Thursday evening.

Dozens of people came to watch poets perform during the fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration.
Dozens of people came to watch poets perform during the fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration.

The sun took her sweet time sinking behind the trees, splashing the rich green lawns with vibrant patches of gold as revelers began arriving. They trooped up the amphitheatre slope bearing chairs, blankets, picnic gear, and extra warm layers just in case.

While one might have expected a jolly festival of rowdy dance, rollicking music, singalongs, and giggles, this celebration had a very different flavor, honoring the transitional spring-to-summer moment in a serenely thoughtful style.

Poet Ellie Bates, who organized this fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration, welcomed the audience members, now settled comfortably on the grass, sipping and snacking, chatting, and marveling at the beauty of the still-sunny evening.

As the program went on she introduced a talented line-up of home-grown Island poets. Most, she reported, are members of the Martha’s Vineyard Poets’ Collective and the Cleaveland House Poets. Many had read at Featherstone, Pathways, and elsewhere; some had taught workshops, a few had one or more books to their credit.

Delighted with the audience turnout, and the large number of readers taking part, Ms. Bates said she felt the event was a perfect kick-off to the season and the Pathways, Featherstone, Noepe Center Summer Festival of Poetry held here in July and August.

Poet Clark Myers read a poem he wrote.
Poet Clark Myers read a poem he wrote.

Annette Sandrock’s sweet story-poem told of a daisy she picked in Spain, the happy day they spent – woman and flower: “I showed it birds, I saw the world from its point of view,… Me and Daisy, walking the path.” Her words gave the little blossom a personality, delicate and precious. We want to meet it.

Jill Jupen offered meditations on life, death, and their mysteries. In a flock of raucous crows she saw Cambodian elders, huddled, chattering: “everyone talking at once.”

Artist Harry Seymour paired his poems with paintings, modestly admitting this was his first attempt at poetry. No disclaimer was needed for his strong verses, including the powerful “Empty Swings,” a passionate cry-out against gun violence.

Barbara Peckham deftly moved from outrage in a diatribe against heartless politicians ignoring the poor and powerless (“while God’s children weep”) to a lusciously lyrical poetic seascape: “Miss Ocean wears her blue green dress embroidered with crystal beads…” We envision it appearing as a children’s picture book one day, iridescent illustrations to match the sparkling words.

Winonah Harrington tossed a bouquet of haikus, floating like bubbles, glittering spontaneous images suggesting stories. Clark Myers evoked old-fashioned family life in recalling his grandmother Ada.

Shellion Hamlett, left in jean jacket, and poet Winonah Harrington enjoying the performances.
Shellion Hamlett, left in jean jacket, and poet Winonah Harrington enjoying the performances.

There were more poets, and words kept on coming, rhymed and unrhymed, couplets, haikus, free form, evoking moods from dark to lighthearted, contemplative to zany.

Edgartown Poet Laureate Steve Ewing topped off the heady mix with his newly minted “Slow Roll,” describing memorable first-time treats with economical images: childhood ice-cream, chilled Campari in Italy, red poppies abloom in France. Then he described a magical sensation, a subtle shift as he sat outdoors at twilight: “The sun stopped setting and the earth took over.”

Also sharing their talents and poems were Ann Lees, Jennifer Smith Turner, Scott Crawford, William Waterway, Ms. Bates who offered a verse along with providing introductions, and Marianne Goldberg (whose poem, in her absence, was read by Annette Sandrock. 

Three easy rocking tunes by Lizzy Bradley and Mark Mazer, began with “Georgia on My Mind,” Ms. Bradley providing the sultry vocals and making a brilliant debut on electric guitar.

Christina Montoya jazzed up the atmosphere with a fiery, powerful, flirtatious poetry/dance performance, exuding joyful woman-energy.

At last the sun had all but disappeared when William Waterway took the stage, now shadowed under heavily leafed branches, ending the evening with haunting impressionistic tunes played on a simple Native American branch flute.

“The birds were singing – they gave me my direction,” he said afterwards.

Satiated with elegantly crafted poetry, delicious food for thought, the patrons slowly, reluctantly, headed home, driving down the hill beneath a still-light apricot tinged sky.

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All roads and walking paths led to the Oak Bluffs Campground Sunday afternoon as graduates, family, friends and well-wishers converged on the Tabernacle for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 55th Commencement Ceremony. Even before the Tabernacle came into view the unmistakable sounds of happy voices, laughter, and the band tuning up filled the air.

Blessed by sunny skies, summery temperatures, and an Island community that had cheered, supported, and watched them grow, the seniors of 2014 giggled with anticipation as they adjusted white and purple robes and tasseled caps.


Superintendent of Schools James Weiss addressing the graduates.


Hartley Sierputoski receiving her diploma from Assistant Principal Andrew Berry.


Avery Lazes was stylin' underneath his gown.


Football Coach Donald Herman and Dawn Feinsmith.


From left, Dori, Alex, and Tim Clark.


From left, Claudia Taylor, Mariah Campbell, Jessica Campbell, and Ina Thigith.


Hockey teammates Haven Huck and Callie Jackson capturing the moment.


Isabel Smith, left, and Caroline Gazaille.


Lily Lubin, left, and Anna Marques.


Michael Ducatt and Keira Mercier.


Class Essayist Nathaniel Horwitz.


Patty Culkins, left, with daughter Sophie Ulyatt.


From left, Master of Ceremony Sam Permar, Salutatorian Barra Peak, and Class Essayist Nathaniel Horwitz.


Rick Bausman, left, and son, Hudson Bausman.


Sarah Dawson hugs Vice Principal Andrew Berry


Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, valedictorian.


Shane Metters, left, and father Garry Metters.


From left, Hartley Sierputoski, Isabelle Wadleigh, and Miranda Tokarz.


Teo Azzollini (left) and Haven Huck.


Taylor Brasefield (center) with aunt and uncle, Denise and David Brasefield.


Chorus members Claudia Taylor, Sarah Dawson, Lorraine Menezes, Mikayla Tinus, and Emelia Cappelli.


Juniors Elie Jordi and Emily deBettencourt were the marshals for the ceremony.


Alistair Morgan, John Henry O'Shaughnessy, and Sarah Parece.


Keith Dodge had advice for the students.


Lucas Amarins and Charlotte Benjamin.


Acting principal Matt D'Andrea presented an award to G. Galen Mayhew.


Renata Lacerda, Edney Teles, Keilla Geddis.


Sam Permar was the master of ceremony.


Hats off to you grads!

Inside the Tabernacle benches began to fill early, everyone jockeying for a seat with a view. Black-robed faculty clustered at the entrance waiting to lead the procession, as giddy as their students.

Even the solemn march down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance” could not keep the seniors’ excited smiles and the sparkle in their eyes from shining bright. Girls in white, boys in purple, they stepped purposefully ahead while brave parents teetered on benches, cameras and iPhones held aloft. Even when the students were seated, the atmosphere still bubbled with exuberance, infectious and sweet.

Graduating senior Sam Permar emceed with style, befitting his plans to study acting at NYU Tisch. Welcoming the standing-room-only crowd, he graciously introduced speakers, songs, the Pledge of Allegiance, and kept the program moving smoothly. He issued a special welcome to Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone who was in the audience, as well as several elementary school teachers who had been influential in earlier years for the Class of 2014.

Salutatorian Barra Peak, on her way to Harvard, offered well-researched reflections on the history of public education and the ideals of school crusader Horace Mann.

“I think Horace Mann would be very pleased by The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School,” she said proudly, citing its public support, resources, tolerance, diversity, dedicated, highly trained faculty, and the fact that it is free and open to all.

“Wherever you go, I hope you will seek out new knowledge and new experiences and never close your minds to learning,” she said.

In his upbeat speech, Class Essayist Nathaniel Horwitz gave generous accolades to his classmates, singling out nearly three dozen for achievements in academics, athletics, community service, and the arts. Engaging and witty, the Harvard-bound grad had no qualms about poking fun at himself — his football career with one touchdown in three seasons, his crush on a female field hockey and lacrosse star.

“Every member of this class has been special to me, and to everyone,” he said, “Thank you for a perfect four years.”

Superintendent of Vineyard schools James Weiss, crediting a book by David McCullough Jr., exhorted students to remember they are “works in progress,” to seek a passion — “to do something for no other reason than because you love it.”

“Of course, you, the graduates of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for 2014 are special,” declared Mr. Weiss, citing the seniors’ unusual Island upbringing, their multiple achievements and commitment to helping others.

“It is my hope that you will continue your education beyond this commencement, trying new things, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but always learning, growing and exercising your passion,” Mr. Weiss said. “It is also my hope that you will move from here, allowing the world to know what we have already come to understand — that you are the Vineyard’s special gift, our very special graduates.

“Congratulations and thank you!”

Then, lauding her achievements in art, dance, academics, and school activities, Mr. Weiss presented the Superintendent’s Award for Academic Excellence to Valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, who will attend Stanford.

Choral performances gave a moment to breathe and reflect: “Defying Gravity” and “Choose Something Like a Star,” the haunting senior song, Robert Frost’s poem set to music by Randall Thompson.

Praise and advice

Acting Principal Matthew D’Andrea gave high praise to Andrew Jacobs-Walsh, who will attend the University of Maine, and Jade Pine, heading to Framingham State University. Listing their many achievements, he presented each with the Vineyarder Award. The annual award honors one male and one female graduate for showing outstanding growth throughout their four years of high school.

For his outstanding leadership skills both in and out of school and “a disciplined approach to life in everything he does,” Mr. D’Andrea presented G. Galen Mayhew with the Principal’s Leadership Award.

“Princeton University will be fortunate to have him as a student next year,” Mr. D’Andrea added.

Student Council President Mary Ollen began her speech with a loving shout-out to her father, John Ollen, who was watching the ceremony from Massachusetts General Hospital via Skype. After resounding applause from the compassionate audience, she gave heart-felt thanks to high school Technical Director Woody Filley for arranging the Skype.

Ms. Ollen expressed appreciation for the Island’s generosity, from filling the seats at school plays and athletic events to contributing more than $700,000 in scholarships.

“Thank you to both Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Island community for supporting us,” the Wellesley-bound Ms. Ollen said. “We owe you everything.”

“Everything you do matters,” said Sarah Ortlip-Sommers in an inspiring valedictory send-off, encouraging her peers to do something positive for society. “Every good intention is important in the process of living a good life. Small kindnesses make a difference to everyone around you. So make sure that every day you do something that brings some small joy to even one person.”

She too acknowledged the uniqueness of the Island, “a community that takes care of people in need, celebrates people’s lives and looks out for one another… the sense of community and shared traditions will provide us with a source of strength for the rest of our lives.”

Retired English teacher Keith Dodge told a cautionary tale of his misspent early college days, counselling seniors to make the most of their lives and educations, and not be afraid of change and “never stop learning.”

The popular former teacher’s tips included: travel, buy property, save money, plan ahead.

“Please don’t live accidentally,” Mr. Dodge urged. “Try to know where you’re going and even make a list.”

At long last the big moment arrived. One by one the students made their way to the stage, received their coveted diplomas from Regional District Committee Chairman Colleen McAndrews, handshakes and hugs from smiling school officials.

Camera-wielding relatives pressed ever closer to the stage. Applause and cheers were nearly deafening after each name was called, well-wishers unable to contain their delight despite the program’s futile request: “Please reserve your applause until all diplomas have been awarded.”

Then it was back up the aisle to waiting hugs from proud family and joyful friends, bouquets, group photos, an evening of parties, and finally, the rest of life waiting just beyond.

Tomorrow would begin a short summer, packed with work and preparations, then transition to new lives filled with challenges and uncertainties. But for today this class of 2014 could bask in the secure love, caring, and admiration of family, friends, and its small yet formidable community.

Off to the future

Outside the Tabernacle on the sunny lawn happy pandemonium reigned, the traditional post-commencement chaos. Relatives, friends, and graduates searched for each other in the swirling crowd.

“I don’t know where my family is!” mock-wailed one pretty blonde grad.

Cameras and cell phones were everywhere, handed back and forth so everyone could get in the shot. Mothers and fathers thrust lush bouquets at white-robed girls. Graduates were deluged with hugs and slaps on the back then corralled into place for family photos. Some still wore their robes neatly, others had already divested themselves, leaving graduation garb, like high school itself, gladly behind. Everyone laughed, some cried too, caught up in emotion. It was hard to tell whether it was the ecstatic graduates or their proud parents who were smiling the widest and brightest.

Caroline King smiled joyfully for the camera, standing between her dad, Sandy King, and stepmother, Rose Walsh. But the first chance she got she dashed off to catch up with waiting friends.

Not yet college-bound, Caroline is looking forward to a year off “to figure out what’s next,” according to Ms. Walsh. She added that she is glad Caroline is taking the opportunity to explore while she is young.

Isabel Smith, headed to Elon University in the fall, was receiving hugs, greeting well-wishers, and making plans. She was excited to be hosting a party soon at her home along with two close friends, Mary Ollen and Sarah Alexander.

Teo Azzollini had party plans too. Enjoying a moment with her mother, Roberta Kirn, dad, Nicky Azzollini, and her sister, Marta, a May UMass grad, Teo, who will also attend UMass, said she had attended eight parties on Saturday and was counting on at least three more later in the afternoon.

She said her day’s highlights were Mary Ollen’s speech “and celebrating with my family.”

John Henry O’Shaughessy was all smiles, surrounded by male friends and wearing a colorful scarf patterned on the Irish flag around his neck. His next step is Westfield State University.

Also grinning from ear to ear was Keira Mercier, posing for photos with her sister, i-coming senior Taija Browne. Keira reported she is joining the U.S. Army and will head for training to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. She follows in the steps of relatives and a close family friend who have served in the military.

“Walking across the stage, knowing I’m done with high school,” was the best part of the ceremony for her, she said mischievously.

Smiling just as broadly was her mother, Lindsey. “I’m very proud!” she said, holding her daughter’s flowers while the exuberant grad flew off to hug classmates.

“I’m very excited!” said Molly Wallace about her plans to attend Northeastern University’s Pre-Med program. Her goal: to be a pediatric neonatal cardiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Family resemblance was unmistakable as she posed for the camera with her mom, Patty.  Big brother Jordan stood patiently nearby, taking care of Molly’s big bouquet.

While brimming with pride, Ms. Wallace admitted she would miss her daughter’s cheerful presence at home. “I’ve already made hotel reservations for a September visit,” she said happily.

“I think this was one of the nicest graduations ever,” said Megan Alley of Oak Bluffs, here to celebrate and congratulate track star Jeremy Alley-Tarter, her grandson who will be attending Assumption College. “The speeches were wonderful and I heard a lot of love.”

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Valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, who is headed to Stanford in the fall, told her class, "small kindnesses make a difference to everyone around you." — Photo by Ralph Stewart

All roads led to the Oak Bluffs Campground Sunday afternoon as graduates, family, friends and well-wishers converged on the Tabernacle for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 55th Commencement Ceremony.

Sam Permar, left, MC'ed the ceremony. Barra Peak, center, is the class salutatorian and will attend Harvard in the fall, along with Nathaniel Horwitz, right, the class essayist.
Sam Permar, left, MC’ed the ceremony. Barra Peak, center, is the class salutatorian and will attend Harvard in the fall, along with Nathaniel Horwitz, right, the class essayist.

Blessed by sunny skies, summery temperatures, and an Island community that had cheered, supported, and watched them grow, the seniors of 2014 giggled with anticipation as they adjusted white and purple robes and caps. Even the solemn march down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance” could not hide their excited smiles and the sparkle in their eyes.

Graduating senior Sam Permar emceed with style, welcoming the standing-room-only crowd, graciously introducing speakers.

Sarah Shaw Dawson, headed to UVM  in the fall, gets a hug from vice principal Andrew Berry.
Sarah Shaw Dawson, headed to UVM in the fall, gets a hug from vice principal Andrew Berry.

Superintendent of Vineyard schools Dr. James Weiss  urged students to remember they are “works in progress,” to seek their passion – “something you do because you love it.”

“You are the Vineyard’s special gift, our very special graduates,” he concluded. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you to both Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Island community for supporting us,” said student council president Mary Ollen. “We owe you everything.”

Lily Lubin and Anna Marques give the thumbs up to graduation.
Lily Lubin and Anna Marques give the thumbs up to graduation.

Soon would come an all-too-short summer packed with work and preparations, then transition to a new life filled with challenges and uncertainties. But for today this class of 2014 could bask in the secure love, caring, and admiration of family, friends, and its small yet formidable community.

Tallula Brodsky listens to the speakers.
Tallula Brodsky listens to the speakers.

“Everything you do matters,” said valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers in an inspiring send-off to her classmates. “Every good intention is important in the process of living a good life. Small kindnesses make a difference to everyone around you. So make sure that every day you do something that brings some small joy to even one person.”

Lucas Amarins and Charlotte Benjamin.
Lucas Amarins and Charlotte Benjamin.

At long last the big moment arrived: the awarding of diplomas. One by one the students made their way to the stage, received the coveted diploma with warm handshakes and hugs.


Applause and cheers were nearly deafening after each graduate’s name was called, well-wishers unable to contain their delight despite the program’s futile request: “Please reserve your applause until all diplomas have been awarded.”

Then it was back up the aisle to waiting hugs from proud family and joyful friends, bouquets, group photos, an evening packed with parties, and finally, the rest of life just beyond.

Avery Lazes might win the prize for most interesting under-gown outfit.
Avery Lazes might win the prize for most interesting under-gown outfit.

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A wellspring of energy and an “Elders Bill of Rights.”

The Vineyard population is aging rapidly, bringing an array of challenges and concerns, but Islanders aren’t taking the unsettling news lying down. When the Rural Scholars, students from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, reported last October that the senior population of Martha’s Vineyard would swell dramatically in years to come, Island activists formed the Healthy Aging Task Force (HATF) to strategize ways to head off the challenge. The task force was developed as a sub-committee of the Dukes County Health Council.

A public meeting in November drew some 65 participants from across the Island, representing several dozen service agencies and providers. That session saw the creation of seven work groups along with a 20-member coordinating committee. Each group was charged with researching and developing responses for a single aspect of senior living.

A morning-long meeting last Thursday, May 22, at the M.V. Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven brought the groups together along with other interested community members to share their findings and map out action plans for months and years ahead.

Facilitated by HATF chair Paddy Moore, who is also a Dukes County Health Council member, and Peter Temple, executive director of the MV Donors Collaborative, the fast-moving meeting was carefully organized and kept to a precise schedule, employing slide presentations to emphasize facts, figures, and findings.

Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Ann Hartstein capped off the 3½-hour session, offering acknowledgement and inspiration, answering questions, raising ideas, and conveying the assurance that state government supports such local healthy aging initiatives.

“This is a wonderful celebration,” said Ms. Moore with a bright smile as she welcomed the crowd of nearly 100, pointing to the “wellspring of volunteer energy” and the progress underway.

“I believe that timing is all.” she added, saying this is the perfect moment for Vineyarders to prepare for challenges to come as the percentage of senior citizens grows.

Ms. Moore set the tone by introducing the task force’s “Elders’ Bill of Rights.” The nine-point document calls for seniors to enjoy a life that includes appropriate and affordable housing and transportation, the ability to fully participate in community activity, the choice of living at home or in a facility setting, receive high-quality care and make other decisions in later years, all in addition to being respected and valued by their community.

Mr. Temple recapped the warning from the Rural Scholars that the percentage of Island residents over 65 is growing rapidly. According to these projections, from 16 percent in 2010 the Island population of seniors will rise to 32 percent in 2030. The Island’s increase in older population is much more rapid than that of the U.S. or Massachusetts.

Projections show that the Vineyard’s percentage of elder residents will soon be surpassed only by that of Cape Cod, an area called by one observer, Mr. Temple reported, “Medicare by the Sea.”

Many of these older residents have low incomes and are living in homes that are isolated and not well designed or appointed for potentially changing needs and abilities.

Impacts will be felt everywhere, from the increased pressures on medical and mental health care to town services such as senior centers and EMTs. Adding to the challenges, Mr. Temple said, it is difficult to attract health care professionals and home care workers to the Island due to high living costs and limited housing options.

Before the worrisome predictions could cast a pall over the crowd, Ms. Moore introduced the work group presentations, providing varied responses to the challenges raised. Representatives of each work group outlined updates on findings and progress. Reports were clear, concise, rich with detail and optimism.

Reports made recommendations as common-sensical as exercise tailored to seniors, as useful as a centralized information system, and as ambitious as building a new, revolutionary type of nursing care facility and campaigning to change town zoning.

The work groups discovered, as the Rural Scholars did, that the Vineyard already possesses numerous services and programs that address seniors’ needs. In some cases, recommendations were for coordination, education, and adjustments so existing services would be better used.

The Community Engagement and Prevention group honed in on preventing falls, which are prevalent among older adults and can have far-reaching negative impacts on health and well-being. The group plans to institute of “A Matter of Balance” trainings on the Island. The peer-lead programs aim to lessen fears of falling, teach fall prevention and exercises to improve balance, strength, and confidence.

“Falls are the fourth biggest cause of death among the elderly, and our evidence-based workshop training on Matter of Balance can actually save lives,” Ms. Moore said.

Citing the importance of exercise, especially walking, and working with MV Commission staffer Chris Seidel and with support of the MV Chamber of Commerce, the group will soon make available online maps of all walking trails and pedestrian-friendly ways titled “Getting Around Martha’s Vineyard.”

A proposed “Seniors’ One-Stop Referral Service,” a centralized, web-based system, would provide comprehensive information on resources to guide and support elders, providers, and caregivers. Along with gathering and posting complete resource information online, the plan calls for establishment of an office with a staffer available full time to respond to telephone inquiries.

“Transportation is the thread that ties everything together,” said Leslie Clapp reporting for the Transportation Work Group. “If you’re isolated and lonely you’re not going to be very healthy.”

After surveying every mode of Island public transport and some on the Cape, the group aims to educate seniors on what is available. They also will strive to remedy several gaps that exist, such as travel to certain off-Island specialists and veterans’ services.

The Aging in Community group explored a new and promising model for small scale, personalized nursing facilities designed to look and feel like private homes. Fitting into residential neighborhoods, the Green House model offers private rooms, care based on a patient’s wishes, frequent direct staff contact, and could alternatively accommodate rehabilitation or assisted living programs.

According to the report, the Town of Edgartown has raised the possibility of including a Green House in a pending affordable housing development. With the aim of allowing seniors to remain at home whenever possible, the work group also will promote use of existing volunteer programs.

The Affordable Elder and Workforce Housing group intends to consult with town boards across the Island and push for zoning changes to allow accessory or “in-law” apartments which could accommodate an elderly family member, or a caregiver to help an aging homeowner.

Work is also underway to find ways to educate contractors on several simple design adjustments (e.g. wider doorways and halls, easy no-threshold doors, first-floor living potential) which could make new or retrofitted homes accessible, safe, and livable for older, wheelchair-bound, or handicapped residents.

More than one-third of Vineyarders now provide care on an informal basis to an older family member or friend, a number projected to rise to 55 percent by 2030. The Caregiver Support Work Group is exploring how to provide varied resources for those informal helpers from skills development to medical oversight and respite opportunities.

Funds will be needed to bring many of these ideas to fruition, but progress is underway. Ms. Moore announced a $5,000 M.V. Hospital Community Health Initiative grant towards the One Stop program. Anonymous gifts include: $2,500 for the Green House Feasibility Study; $1,750 for Matter of Balance Training; and $10,000 to fund a two-day consultation with the Altarum Institute’s Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness. The MV Donors Collaborative has contributed time of its executive director and other proposals are pending.

As the meeting ended Ms. Moore urged participants to share all they had learned with neighbors and friends, offer ideas, and consider volunteering.

“There is a lot of work to do,” she said.

Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs, Ann Hartstein, spoke to the group, and her remarks are here.

For complete slides from the May 22 presentation and additional information visit:


For information or to volunteer, contact Paddy Moore: or 508-693-1627.

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Brenda Piland accepts donated clothes from Sandy Blythe. — Lynn Christoffers

Updated at 7:10 pm, April 30, 2014.

Along with the Island Food Pantry, Red Stocking, and free church suppers, a less familiar program in the community safety net assisting those in need is Clothes to Go. A ministry of the United Methodist Church, since 2009 this program has collected donations of new and “gently used” wearables from generous Vineyarders and made them available free to those who need them.

Clothes to Go, located in Vineyard Haven’s Stone Church, is open one morning and three afternoons a week in winter, one morning and two afternoons in spring. The schedule coincides with that of the Food Pantry, which operates in an adjoining room, making it one-stop shopping for many.

One recent afternoon, regular volunteer Brenda Piland sat at the front table sorting new donations. Wearing a red shirt and aqua fleece vest with dark tights, Ms. Piland looked businesslike and comfortable.

“Clothes to go!” she acknowledged with a grin, gesturing at her fashionable outfit.

Unlike its earliest days when donations were piled on tables for patrons to browse through, today the room is attractively organized like a consignment shop. Inventory is extensive, garments displayed neatly on shelves and racks. Shelving along the rear wall holds men’s and women’s shoes and boots; children’s items are sorted into cubbies. Slacks, jeans, shirts, sweaters, and jackets hang from freestanding racks. All are in good repair, and many have familiar quality labels.

Small bins hold hats and wallets; racks display neckties and belts. There are blankets, household goods, linens, towels, toys, and books.

The number of patrons varies. There may be a handful one day, more than two dozen another. But business is brisk and customers leave satisfied, with armloads or bags of useful finds.

Although patrons are free to choose what they want, amounts are limited. Signs announce: “10 Items a Visit,” “One Coat a Visit,” “Be mindful of others: take only what you need!”

The $10 or $15 collected in a donation pitcher each week goes into the Trinity Methodist Church Sunday plate.

People drop off donations often. That afternoon a woman brought several clean, colorful children’s tee-shirts. While some donors give one or two items, others arrive with boxes or trash bags, stuffed to bursting. This winter, a community member came with a stack of warm blankets, quickly claimed by delighted patrons. Volunteers once received eight bags of clothes from a single donor. Most contributions are in good shape but occasionally some cannot be used.

“We do quality control,” said organizer Jennifer Wey Fiore. “We want donations, but we don’t want people to donate things they wouldn’t wear.”

Ms. Piland said that although the racks and shelves are well stocked, turnover is high. A constant supply of replacements is needed. Unlike many second-hand programs, Clothes to Go accepts out-of-season clothing. Thanks to available storage space in the church basement, garments not suited for immediate use are packed in bins to be offered later.

“The Clothes to Go ministry is one of the few places on Martha’s Vineyard where people with financial challenges can go to get clothing free of charge,” said the Rev. Robert Hensley of Grace Episcopal Church. “It is convenient to those who use the food pantry, being housed at the same location.

“The Island Clergy Association is very grateful to have a central location to which our clothing collections can go for distribution to our neighbors who need them. It is also a major help to the clergy, who have a specific location to send people for assistance.”

Mr. Hensley is especially aware of local needs as he works closely with the Island Homeless Outreach ministries through the clergy association.

Jennifer Wey Fiore, a social worker and busy mother of two teenaged boys, came up with the idea for Clothes to Go in 2009. She was inspired by her grandmother who ran a similar free clothing program at her Boston-area church. A member of Trinity Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, Ms. Fiore said she was aware of the need here, especially from her experience working on the Island for the Massachusetts Department of Families and Children. She asked herself, “How can our church help?”

Clothes to Go got underway with the support of the Rev. Richard Rego and many other helpers in the congregation.

In the beginning it was “like a pop-up,” Ms. Fiore said.

Volunteers would unpack donated clothing, laying it out on parish hall tables early Saturday morning. That afternoon they would store the goods to clear the room for Sunday.

It quickly became clear that a permanent space was needed where displays could remain set up and patrons could come more often. The program moved to the Stone Church in the spring of 2010. At first volunteers made do with big tables for clothes, but soon they acquired donated racks, shelves, and bins.

“Everything we have was either built by volunteers or donated by local businesses,” said Ms. Fiore gratefully. “Everything is donated. We don’t spend a dime!”

Murray’s of the Vineyard gave racks and hangers when going out of business. Stores occasionally donate merchandise that hasn’t sold. Churches and schools have had clothing drives. Students volunteer to fulfill community service requirements. And Ms. Fiore reported that recipients sometimes return to donate or help when they are able.

Ms. Fiore said she is glad to be next door to the Island Food Pantry to make it easier for patrons, and she has received invaluable support and advice from its director, the Rev. Armen Hanjian.

Volunteers staff the facility during operating hours, and a monthly workday is held when volunteers do an overall cleanup, sort donations, pack out-of-season clothing, and other chores.

“It’s quick work and it’s fun,” said Ms. Fiore.

Ms. Fiore is convinced that this program is needed by many Vineyarders who are just trying to get by. She said it is not just the very poor who need help clothing their families.

“I raised my kids here, I know the cost of living,” Ms. Fiore said. “As a full-time social worker I see families every day trying to make ends meet.

“We see all ends of it here at Clothes to Go. We see people who are down and out, people who are struggling with finding stable housing, struggling with substance abuse. And we see families who are working, working hard.”

Ms. Fiore said that occasionally concerns arise about people taking more than their share, or using the program when they don’t really need it. But she remains determined to keep Clothes to Go open to all. There are no eligibility requirements, no application forms, means tests, or references.

“That would exclude people in our community,” Ms. Fiore said, adding that she wants the program to be open-hearted. “I don’t want to be the one to judge.”

She said that although Clothes to Go is a church-initiated program she wants people to know “it belongs to the community.”

“The aim is to have a place where all parts of the community can come and mingle together,” Ms. Fiore said. “I want it to feel accessible to everybody.”

Clothes to Go spring hours: Mon., Wed. 2 to 4 pm, Sat. 9 to 11 am. Volunteer work days: Saturdays May 17, June 21, 3 to 5 pm. Stone Church, Church St., Vineyard Haven. For info, call 508-693-4424.

Alyssa and Nayelli Vieira planted their own cranberry bean seeds, and learned how the beans were used in early times. — Photo by Danielle Zerbonne

Bright sunshine and warm temperatures set a summertime mood as the Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs got a head start on the season Saturday. The “Early Earth Day Celebration” offered an opportunity for serious gardeners and green-thumbed dabblers alike to enjoy a planting preview.

Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.
Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.

Formerly the Community Solar Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, familiarly known as “COMSOG,” the greenhouse was bursting with enthusiastically growing things. Along with tiny seedlings there were full-grown greens that thrived in the indoor warmth all winter.

Beginning with its annual Mother’s Day Sale on May 11 and throughout that month, the greenhouse will offer these lovingly grown organic seedlings to home gardeners. The selection rivals that of a commercial nursery, and it includes lettuces and other greens, squash, cucumbers, and more. Heirloom tomatoes are a specialty along with conventional specimens.

“We have the most heirloom tomato varieties of any place on the Island by far,” Said Thalia Scanlan, Master Gardener and longtime board president.

Sungold tomatoes.
Sungold tomatoes.

Ms. Scanlan pointed proudly to the extensive list of peppers both hot and sweet, and a large variety of eggplants from the traditional Black Beauty to Asian, Italian, and other types. Flower seedlings and herbs will be for sale, and lush blooms in hanging baskets.

Outdoors, fascinated children clustered around a table as Diane Sylvia guided them in planting their own little pots of cranberry bean seeds. Along with the delight of real gardening, the children learned how the beans were used in early times.

Youngsters took their potted seeds home, excited to tend them and watch the beans sprout. Ms. Sylvia handed out fact sheets and even a traditional recipe for bread pudding baked in a pumpkin shell.

A retired math teacher, Ms. Sylvia is greenhouse manager. She was named to the post after having been an active member and volunteer for some time, even maintaining a blog and Facebook page for the facility.

At another table, Laurisa Rich shared information about rain barrels, a boon for environmentally minded gardeners. Ms. Rich, who organizes rain barrel sales for the Lagoon Pond Association, said these big green vats gather valuable, nutrient-rich water and can be equipped with a hose.

Herbs and pink and red geraniums soaked up the sunshine, and blooming daffodils welcomed visitors at the greenhouse door.

Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.
Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.

Drawn by the promise of spring, people came to browse, buy, ask questions, or help with chores. Those who wanted the pleasure of getting their hands dirty could transplant seedlings or plant seeds for blue or golden Hubbard squash. The squash plants, Ms. Sylvia said, serve as “decoys” to lure pests away from other vines. Another volunteer happily grabbed a rake and got busy tidying the grounds, while a little girl wielded a big watering can.

Behind the greenhouse, the garden plot was still at rest, but soon it will be planted. By mid-summer the garden provides an abundance of flowers and vegetables sold to members and at the Oak Bluffs Open Market. Specialties include lemon cucumbers, and okra that is hard to find here.

“People come just to buy okra,” said Ms. Sylvia.

Volunteer energy keeps the greenhouse thriving throughout the seasons as it has for many years. Members lend a hand all during the winter, sprouting and tending plants, then gear up production as springtime nears. Springtime sales of young plants are an economic mainstay and summer flower and produce sales bring needed revenue too.

Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.
Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.

At $30 for individuals, $35 for couples, membership fees are modest. Members are invited to volunteer and may purchase produce and plants at cut rates. A big benefit is picking greens year-round. There are more than 200 members on the roster, including some three dozen faithful volunteers. Others pitch in when possible.

During chilly months volunteers gather for a Wednesday chore day. After a busy morning tending plants they enjoy a potluck soup lunch with salad made from freshly picked greens growing close at hand.

According to Ms. Scanlan, doing chores in the greenhouse’s tropical atmosphere during cold winter weather is a delight, not a burden.

“It’s a very restorative kind of thing,” she said. “It’s a healthy thing. There’s nothing quite like it. In the winter you slog through the cold ugliness then you open the greenhouse door and you’re in another world. It makes you feel ‘we can get through this. It’s not a problem.

“It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work.., but that’s the joy.”

Organizers changed the facility’s name from the familiar “COMSOG” last year when the greenhouse celebrated its 30th anniversary. The change was an effort to bring the greenhouse into the public eye and let people know more about activities and opportunities.

A bright new green sign stands at the New York Avenue entrance and the jaunty artwork is echoed on a bright brochure. “Come Grow With Us,” is the message, “Learn, Grow, and Connect,” the motto.

Ms. Scanlan said the name change has had a revitalizing effect. “It is catching on and there’s a feeling of new energy,” she said. “People are really responding. There’s quite an upbeat feeling.”

Everything's blooming at Vineyard greenhouses. — Ralph Stewart

While we wondered if winter would ever end, elves at local greenhouses have been busy with seeds and seedlings; cleaning and refurbishing shops, grounds and display areas and stocking soil, fertilizer, potted plants and shrubs ready to burst into bloom.

Ashley Lister at Donaroma's.
Ashley Lister at Donaroma’s.

Most nurseries opened quietly last month for those intrepid gardeners who wanted to get a head start on the season. These days, they are buzzing with preparations for Palm Sunday on April 13, which for many Islanders is the unofficial “grand opening,” when the spirits of plant lovers are lifted by displays of early spring flowers, the smell of warm soil in greenhouses filled with young growing plants, that long-awaited breath of spring. It is indeed a time to awaken from the winter doldrums and begin dreaming of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and the warm days ahead.

All nurseries carry conventional and organic soils and fertilizers, pest control products, gardening tools, containers, and paraphernalia. They offer a variety of special discounts and bargains to tempt the green-thumbed customer.

Vineyard Gardens

Palm Sunday Open House: 11am to 2 pm; free plants, refreshments and Easter Sunday Egg Hunt (1 pm).

What else: Saturday morning (11 am) free lectures range from starting plants from seed to vegetable gardening, lawn care and maintenance and more. Saturday hands-on workshops teach how to prepare seeds and seedlings, and bring them home to plant ($20 fee).

What’s new:  Greenhouse attached to front shop; Amish-made Adirondack chairs.

What’s special: Each week, a special plant is offered at a 20-percent discount.

“Please stop by for a breath of spring,” says Chris Wiley, co-owner with husband Chuck. “The greenhouses are full and gorgeous.”

484 State Road, West Tisbury., 508-693-8511

Middletown Nursery

Palm Sunday: Family Fun Day visitors can plant a mini-strawberry or flower garden.

What else: Free seminars with organic gardener Roxanne Kapitan, “The Backyard Vegetable Garden from Seed to Harvest,” begin April 19, 1-2 pm. Topics include composting, building organic soil, and maximizing garden yield.

What’s new: remodeled the shop and creation of parklike display grounds with educational displays and new plants.

What’s special: the Island’s exclusive Husqvarna Dealer offers power tools and equipment. “Yard Sale” discounts are offered through April 19.

“We hope for a beautiful Easter Sunday and invite families to join us from 10 am to 1 pm for an Easter filled with the colors of spring,” said manager Steven Elliott.

680 State Road, West Tisbury. (508)696-7600

Jardin Mahoney

Easter season: Easter Cookie Decorating party for the kids on Easter Sunday, 9 am-3 pm.

What else: Lush tropicals and indoor hydrangeas, tulips, daffodils and even aromatic herbs welcome visitors into the big greenhouse. Also, fruit trees including apple, pear, plums, and cherries and berry bushes.

What’s special: Sale on blueberry bushes while supplies last.

Wandering the grounds makes for a nice spring walk and the garden center stocks everything you need to get outdoors and start digging.

45 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs., (508) 693-3511.


Palm Sunday: 10 am-2 pm, Donaroma’s welcomes guests with cut daffodils for all; Easter Sunday from 10 am-2 pm.

What’s new: Easter Lilies and hyacinths; early blooming shrubs like lilac, forsythia, and dogwood.

What’s special: A spring sale runs April 11 to 13; weekly specials for landscapers only.

The spacious florist shop and greenhouse is bursting with cheerful Easter decorations, plant baskets, bunnies, butterflies, and chicks.

Upper Main St., Edgartown.; (508)627-3036.

Heather Gardens

Palm Sunday (8:30 am- 3 pm) open house featuring free plants, warm refreshments, and sweet goodies.

What else: According to owner Mike Saunier, the nursery features the Island’s largest selection of locally grown, hand-seeded annuals in six-packs.

What’s new: Expanded variety of shrubs.

What’s special: one greenhouse filled with lush tropical houseplants and the tiny potting shed offering antique garden collectibles.

“We have the same friendly staff as in previous years who are always eager to help,” said Mr. Saunier, echoing the welcome of all Island nurseries.

377 State Road, West Tisbury., (508)693-1467.

This story was updated on April 14, 2014, to correct a mistake in the Middletown Nursery section. Steven Elliott was mistakenly identified as the owner of the West Tisbury nursery. John and Heather Hoff have owned the business for five years. Mr. Elliott is the manager.

Ruth Stiller’s recipe for Matzoh Balls is a treat for the holiday week. —, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Ruth Stiller's matzo ball soup is a family favorite.
Ruth Stiller’s matzo ball soup is a family favorite.

Ruth Cronig Stiller has rich memories of Passover feasts, surrounded by her big family in the same Vineyard Haven home where she now lives. But even as a young adult, she never got to try her hand in the kitchen

“My mother never let us help in the kitchen,” said Ms. Stiller. “She cooked for the whole family. She was happy to do it.”

She and her siblings worked at the family business, Cronig’s Market, Ms. Stiller explained. The kitchen was her mother’s domain.

Then, as today, Matzoh Ball Soup was Ruth Stiller’s favorite part of the festive meal.

“I would just as soon live on that and nothing else,” she said.

In time, Ms. Stiller married, had children, and began hosting her own Passover Seders with a dozen or more at the table. She became known among relatives and friends for her exceptional soup, especially the matzoh balls themselves.

Ms. Stiller, who will turn 92 in June, is modest about her culinary skills – “I’m not an adventurous cook,” she said. A working woman for decades until age 86, she spent limited time in the kitchen. But she loved to cook for Passover, and has a collection of Jewish cookbooks she consulted.

She said Matzoh Ball Soup recipes vary widely. Some cooks make a hearty mixture, adding chicken pieces and a variety of vegetables. But not Ruth Stiller.

“The kids were young. They didn’t want a bunch of stuff in their soup. Kids like simple food,” she recalled. “I like food to be simple and plain.”

“People loved the soup, but it was so easy,” she said with a chuckle.

Ms. Stiller in her cooking prime would make delicious fresh chicken broth. But her magic touch was with the matzoh balls.

Never quite certain what made her balls so fluffy, buoyant, and delectable, Ms. Stiller suspects it was brief and careful beating. “They need some loving attention, I think.”

Ms. Stiller recalled one Passover when her aunt brought a soup. As the younger, far less experienced cook, Ms. Stiller was a bit embarrassed that her own soup was so good, her matzoh balls so light and fluffy, compared to her aunt’s which were “tough and hard.”

Despite the accolades she received, Ms. Stiller insisted that matzoh ball consistency is a matter of individual taste, and not everyone likes the fluffy variety, including her husband. “The kids and I liked them light, but he liked them tough!”

Now the sprawling family that once crowded the dining room, eating on wall-to-wall makeshift tables, is much smaller, with children grown, relatives moved off-Island, older generations passed away. Ms. Stiller and her daughter Gayle join other Island families for the Community Passover Seder at the M.V. Hebrew Center. Although her favorite, most memorable Seders have always been the large family gatherings of the past, Ms. Stiller thoroughly enjoys the communal event.

“It’s fun to be with a big crowd,” she said.

Gayle Stiller has taken an occasional turn at making the traditional soup. She said that despite the simplicity of the recipe, “You have to be careful you don’t overbeat the balls or they get too heavy and tough. When you plop them in the broth they don’t rise to the surface. You end up with indigestible matzoh balls.”

Offering high praise for the delicacy of her mother’s matzoh balls and mouth-watering broth, she said the question of who makes the best soup for Passover often leads to friendly competition in many families.

“It’s a matter of pride to have the better Matzoh Ball Soup,” she said.

Highlighting every Passover menu, the soup features succulent balls of matzoh meal, eggs, and various seasoning. The meal is made by grinding matzoh, the unleavened bread eaten during Passover week when consuming leavened products is forbidden by Jewish law.

Gayle recalled with amusement a Passover Seder held years ago at Anthony’s Restaurant (later Lola’s and Hooked) beside Farm Neck Golf Course. The kitchen staff was clearly unfamiliar with traditional Jewish cooking, especially matzoh balls.

“Here we were at a golf course, and they were like golf balls, so tough you couldn’t get your spoon through them,” she laughed.

For the younger Ms. Stiller, her favorite isn’t the traditional soup but the matzoh itself.

“The first bite of matzoh when we’re doing the Seder always tastes so good,” she said. “It’s so meaningful and symbolic. It’s the unleavened bread. Another year’s gone by and here we are, celebrating again.”

Ruth Stiller’s recipe for Matzoh Balls

2 eggs

matzo meal

1 tsp.salt

2 eggs, beat whites stiff first, add 1 teaspoon salt. Add yellows (yokes) and beat. Add 5 level Tbs. matzoh meal. Let stand for 20 minutes. Then add matzoh meal until it is formable into balls. Wet hands, make balls and put in simmering soup. Makes about 8 balls.

From What’s Cookin? published by the Jewish Welfare Federation of New Bedford,  1968.

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Lena Araujo Vanderhoop and her eldest grandson, Curtis Sayles. — Photo by Meg Higgins

“Hard working,” “generous,” and “always helping others” often come up when people talk about Lena Araujo Vanderhoop.

She is known among friends, family, and the many clients she has served as being big-hearted, cheerful, and determined to provide the best for those in her care.

Two months after undergoing emergency open-heart surgery, Ms. Vanderhoop is still struggling to regain her strength, unable to work for several months, and uncertain of what the future will bring.

Adding to her plight, her once steady employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) dissolved when the agency shut down. She hopes a job will be available when she is well enough to re-apply to the VNA under its new auspices. If that fails, she will seek private duty work.

Along with her recent cardiac problem, Ms. Vanderhoop lives with severe chronic diabetes and is blind in one eye. Released from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis after surgery, Ms. Vanderhoop spent time at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and with her sister in Pocasset before returning to her Edgartown home. Still recovering, she will begin cardiac rehabilitation in a few weeks — as soon as she is strong enough.

According to her niece Trish Moreis-Stiles, the VNA’s collapse caused her aunt a host of problems.

“Suddenly she had no income, no health insurance, no money coming in to help pay her bills,” Ms. Moreis-Stiles said. “One of the worst things to happen was not having the three to six months of short-term disability that she had counted on…. She was basically left with nothing after 24 years of service.”

Soon after Ms. Vanderhoop got home, her washer and car broke down. Fortunately, her brother got the car running. Friends called, did errands, took her to appointments. Her grandson Curtis Sayles, who lives with her, has helped immeasurably.

“Thank God for family and friends,” she said.

But the washer still needs repair, she is behind on bills, working out payment plans, and is relying on the Island Food Pantry, “until I get back on my feet.” She is unable to continue the work that has not only earned her a living but also brought her great pleasure and satisfaction.

Seated on the couch in her comfortable and tidy Edgartown living room, a smiling Ms. Vanderhoop seemed chipper, calm, and anxious to get well and go on with her life. She admitted that convalescence tries her patience, though her energy is limited: “I’m not used to just sitting around. I’ve got to be going, doing something.”

Ms. Vanderhoop was shocked when she went for routine medical tests and was told that she needed immediate heart surgery. “I never expected this of me,” she said. “I just thought I was short of breath and could keep going.

One of 18 children, Ms. Vanderhoop was born in Vineyard Haven on April 9, 1945, graduating from the Tisbury and Regional High schools.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so we made a lot out of nothing,” she recalled.

Her first job was at the Aquinnah Shop on the Gay Head Cliffs, where she worked for 17 years. She was married to Elmer Vanderhoop for 21 years. Living in Aquinnah they had two children, Melissa and Troy. For years she was active at the P-A Club and VFW, and has long been a faithful member of St. Augustine’s Church. When the couple divorced, Ms. Vanderhoop signed on with VNA and soon completed training and became a CNA.

“I have always wanted to take care of people,” Ms. Vanderhoop explained. “I wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t have the money to go to school. This was my way to do something similar.

“I really love working with the elderly and helping them do things that they can’t do on their own,” she continued. “A lot of times their families are off-Island or just don’t have the time to give them all the care they need.”

For two decades at the VNA, she brought comfort and well-being to many Vineyarders, and peace of mind to their families who knew they were so capably cared for. She was once honored as Massachusetts CNA of the Year.

“Lena Vanderhoop is just a marvelous, marvelous lady,” said Bob Holt of West Tisbury. He said Ms. Vanderhoop helped his older sister Betty Ann, who has many needs, to stay active, keep medical appointments, and even escorted her to Mr. Holt’s wedding in Falmouth last fall, which she otherwise could not have attended. “Lena is spectacular, I can’t say enough about this woman,” said Mr. Holt. Learning of her misfortune, he sent a check. “I wish I could do more for her.”

“People love Lena because of her sunny disposition,” her niece said. “People always refer to her as a ‘ray of sunshine,’ and say how sweet she is.”

She said her aunt is patient with clients, and uses laughter to win them over. Many look forward to seeing Ms. Vanderhoop because they know she really cares about them.

Nearly 20 years ago, Sharon Simonin of Oak Bluffs relied on Ms. Vanderhoop after her son, Austin, was born seven weeks early. Along with needing care for her tiny baby and three year-old daughter, Ms. Simonin had severe heart problems.

“I was blessed to have her in my home at a time when I was in need of someone as loving and caring as her,” Ms. Simonin said. “She was instrumental in my healing and taking care of my family.”

Now Ms. Vanderhoop needs a helping hand. Like many hard-working Islanders she has neither retirement funds nor savings to rely on. Although her work was steady, her salary was modest; she lived from paycheck to paycheck. Along with paying for basic living expenses, Ms. Vanderhoop’s medical conditions require that she purchase numerous prescriptions, including daily insulin. Even with Medicare, copayments for medications and office visits are daunting.

Her needs seem monumental, but her family and friends have faith that the generosity of the Island community is equally as huge.

This Saturday, April 12, the many Islanders who love, care about, and are grateful to Ms. Vanderhoop will have a chance to give back to her at a benefit dinner and auction at the P-A Club in Oak Bluffs. Starting at 5 pm, the event features a spaghetti dinner, music with DJ Mike “Smooth” Daniel, silent and live auctions, door prizes, and raffle.

Legendary auctioneer David Araujo, Ms. Vanderhoop’s brother, will use humorous arm twisting to reap the highest possible bids for a wealth of offerings, including Patriots tickets, hotel stays, gourmet meals, a fishing charter, and home maintenance services.

When told about the benefit, Ms. Vanderhoop protested. “I think it’s a good thing for other people. I don’t know if I deserve this or I’m worthy of that, but everybody tells me I am,” she said. “I’m not good with hand-outs. It’s hard because I’m so used to doing for everybody.”

She will be there to greet well-wishers and accept the generosity with her usual good grace and humility.

Ms. Moreis-Stiles, who is coordinating the benefit from her home in Virginia, said she is grateful for the outpouring of support, from friends’ help with event details to donations of valuable goods and services by individuals and businesses.

“People in our community know Lena, have had family members in her care, or know our family and want to do whatever they can to help,” she said. “I have absolutely been brought to tears by the Island response.”

Benefit Dinner and Auction, Saturday, April 12, 5 pm, P-A Club, Oak Bluffs. $15; $10 children (must leave by 8:30 pm).

If you cannot attend and would like to make a donation to the Lena Araujo Vanderhoop Benefit, send checks to P.O. Box 2647, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. For auction donations or more information, contact Trish Moreis-Stiles: 703-216-9619;