Re-raising the roof

Charlotte Packer with father John
Charlotte Packer gets a big lift from her father, John. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Amandine Surier - November 15, 2007

The storm had passed when a happy throng of Islanders finally gathered at the Agricultural Hall last Friday night for the 14th annual Barn Raiser's Ball. The crowd had been waiting to celebrate with homemade pies and dancing shoes since the previous Saturday after a last-minute cancellation due to the effects of hurricane Noel.

Organized by the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society (MVAS), the event commemorated the extraordinary community effort that resulted 14 years ago in salvaging the beautiful structure from Woodsville, N.H. that now sits at 35 Panhandle Road in West Tisbury. For the old-timers, the barn was obviously more than a building as they told the tale of its construction with pride.

"It was November 3, 1995," remembered James Athearn, vice president of the MVAS. "Hundreds of volunteers showed up, everybody had smiles on their faces... there was a tangible feeling of camaraderie." On the third day of construction, on a dirt floor, Johnny Hoy gathered his musicians and played while the volunteers danced.

"The original evening was magnificent," said Abigail Higgins, a board member of the MVAS. "The barn was up but the roof wasn't shingled...the musicians had sand in their instruments for a year."

Dan and Jessica deBettencourt
Dan and Jessica deBettencourt shared a dance.
At the end of that first evening, Mr. Hoy simply said, "Let's do it every year." And thankfully they did.

"It was an example that with the proper spirit aimed in the right direction, a community can produce great results," commented Tom Osmers, a fisherman from West Tisbury. Excited kids were the first thing one saw or bumped into while entering the building. Fueled by an endless buffet of pies, brownies and chocolate chip cookies, children ran around long past their bedtimes while their parents and teachers socialized and danced the night away.

At the dessert table, Suzan Bellincampi, director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, displayed a plate of mini meringues baked with the help of her boyfriend, former Le Grenier chef Jean-Marc Dupon. Ms. Bellincampi, who recently acquired eight hens, used fresh eggs in her dessert and said proudly, "My chicken, my eggs."

"I brought a cranberry apple pie and a bottle of wine, which was gone in half a second," said Angelo DiMeglio, a carpenter from Oak Bluffs. "It's a nice event for the community to get together and celebrate hard volunteer labor."

"We used to have these all the time in the winter," said Chris Stein of West Tisbury. "It's a great way to see all the old folks."

"We were commenting about the fashion tonight," joked Jennifer Knight, a Pilates instructor in Vineyard Haven. "Really on the Vineyard anything goes." While she went for farmers' chic with a nice pair of cowboy boots, husband Stefan went for "sensitive new age redneck."

The dynamic crowd danced the night away.
"This is the only place you can wear '80s and be fashionable... I haven't worn this shirt since the Madonna years," added Ms. Bellincampi. The band played from 8 to 10 pm, and for more than two hours, the dance floor was mobbed.

John Armstrong, a lobsterman from Menemsha, danced all night with wife Barbara. "John loves the blues, he's a great dancer," said Barbara, while the musicians were packing up, "we try to come very year, it's fun, it's free, you eat dessert and dance off the calories."

"What a great show!" said Ms. Higgins as she hugged Mr. Hoy at the end of the night.

"And you were worried nobody was gonna come..." said Mr. Hoy.

"I'm always worried," said Ms. Higgins, as she explained that she would like to see some young blood like Beatrice Whiting and Emily Fischer join the Agricultural Society and take over the Barn Raisers' Ball. "It just feels wrong that grandparents are organizing a dance." Obviously, these grandparents still know how to throw a great party.

Amandine Surier is a contributing writer to The Times.