Mandred HenryGeorge Tankard
Mandred Henry (left) and George Tankard were dedicated to civil rights and the work of the Martha's Vineyard NAACP until their untimely deaths, and both were instrumental in beginning the annual road race.

Spirit keeps the road race running

By Elaine Cawley Weintraub - September 13, 2007

The ladies of the Martha's Vineyard chapter of the NAACP are women of substance. They can turn their hands from tasks as mundane as baking for the Christmas Bazaar to those as delicate as initiating conversations concerning equity and cultural understanding, dealing gently with those who fear to listen. Since 1964, their role has been to sustain the chapter. They organize the fund-raisers, build the coalitions, and bake those delicious cakes - all from a sense of conviction and love for the whole community. They serve without seeking personal glory, honoring with their lives the words of Dr. Martin Luther King that injustice anywhere is indeed injustice everywhere. The NAACP women are a vital and vibrant part of the community and of all our lives as they use their skills in the fields of medicine, education, entertainment, hospitality, and neighborliness.

With so much weight falling on the ladies, six years ago, the gentlemen were pressed into action to arrange the first MVNAACP Road Race. The five original organizers were George V. Tankard, Mandred Henry, Rupert Hughes, Jerry Lamb, and Oak Bluffs Selectman Roger Wey, whose 90-year-old father completed that first race. The 5K-certified race was sponsored by businesses in the community and became the event that kicked off Tivoli Day in Oak Bluffs.

It became known as a race not only for skilled aficionados of running but also for the children who loved the fun walk, and it attracted an eclectic group of runners and walkers. The serious runners won prizes, but so did those who loved to participate and had never expected to win an award for any athletic activity.

The first race was named in honor of Abraham Weintraub, then 91 years old and still running on the Island and in the New York and London marathons. Abe is now 97 and has recently decided to retire from marathon running, but during his athletic career he was featured in the international press and has been a regular presence on the BBC's coverage of the London Marathon. Race organizers felt that Abe epitomized the value of inclusiveness that lies at the heart of the mission of the NAACP. A former postal worker who had achieved little financial prosperity in his life, Abe had begun running at the age of 80, having built up enormous strength wheeling his wife Ruth, who was suffering from Alzheimer's, around Brooklyn, New York, hoping to jog her memory with familiar sights. Following her death, Abe decided to put all that strength and sadness to good use and became a regular on the runner's circuit, even holding a world championship for his age group.

Sadly, in recent years the Vineyard and the NAACP lost two beloved personalities - George Tankard, who died in 2004, and Mandred Henry who died this year. Mr. Henry served as president of the NAACP branch for 10 years. Mr. Tankard was always active in the organization but, according to his widow Carrie Camillo Tankard, it was in a more behind-the-scenes capacity. "He did work hand in hand with Mandred when he was needed," she wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "He would always tell Mandred, 'I got your back.'" Ms. Tankard said her late husband would often help in quiet ways, like setting up for meetings or providing transportation for elderly members to events.

Mr. Henry, Ms. Tankard said, was "a true advocate for civil rights" and would go wherever he was needed, whether at a school or a jail cell. He was also active on the fund-raising committee with his wife, Laurie, especially for scholarships which the group gives each year. Dedicated to equality and to seeing the NAACP thrive, both men continued to play a crucial role in the planning process for the road race from its beginning.

Ms. Tankard related that even though they were so involved in the race, neither man was a runner. She said that her husband "didn't have an athletic bone in his body. He would rather watch the Learning Channel on TV than ANY sporting event." Mr. Henry was an avid fisherman and golfer.

Now that they are gone, the baton goes back to the ladies. This year's organizing committee includes Carrie Camillo Tankard and Laurie Henry, carrying on in their late husbands' footsteps, as well as Carmen Amadeo and Betty Dixon. These women, with the help of Mr. Wey, have organized the sixth annual event, now named the NAACP George Tankard Jr. Memorial Road Race.

It will be held, as it is every year, as part of the Tivoli Day celebrations in Oak Bluffs this Saturday.

Not only a celebration of family and community, the race is the annual MVNAACP Freedom Fund effort, raising money through registration fees and advertising in the race journal. The journal includes endorsements and advertisements from many Island businesses and features a photograph of Mandred Henry on its cover. According to Ms. Tankard, funds raised are earmarked for the NAACP's legal and advocacy initiative expenses. The local branch also retains a portion to support it in continuing its work.

Extending an invitation to all of the community, Ms. Tankard, says that both she and Ms. Henry are honoring the work of their late husbands.

"George and Mandred knew so many people and were loved by so many, and they cared about this race," Ms. Tankard said. "We see this event as an opportunity for us all to get together in their honor and in honor of this community that they loved."

Elaine Cawley Weintraub, Board Chair of the Martha's Vineyard Black Heritage Trail and author of "Lighting the Trail" is history department chair at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Abraham Weintraub referred to in the article is her father-in-law.

5K Walk/Run, Saturday, Sept. 15, 10 am; Fun Run begins at 9:30 am. Wesley Hotel, New York Ave., Oak Bluffs. 508-693-7887.