At your service: Chris Decker
When Nelia Hubbard came to the Vineyard in 1978 to work at the Book Den East for Susan and Richard Phelps, the couple lured Chris Decker, her boyfriend since high school days in La Cañada, California, to the Island also. Although he had no knowledge of Martha's Vineyard or of commercial printing, the Phelpses took a chance and offered him a job at their newly purchased business, the Island Copy Center on Lagoon Pond Road.
Two years later, the Phelpses sold the business to Mr. Decker, who renamed it The Tisbury Printer. "In the 1980s almost no one had computers, printers or even typewriters," Mr. Decker remembers, "People used to come in with stuff written on a paper bag. Carpenters used to bring in orders written on shingles. Anything that needed to be printed came to us. Everybody in the shop did everything from answering the phone to getting things printed. Today's staff consists of nine 'specialists.' I'm not sure to what I attribute low staff turnover, other than when they're hired, I try to make it interesting and fun."
The 54-year-old Decker continues, "Because of technology, more people can print everything from home now. Today's print shop customer is more sophisticated, and is more informed about what they want. Now carpenters bring in things on [computer] discs."
Tisbury Printer has become one of the Island institutions, and Nelia - the children's librarian at the West Tisbury library - and Chris Decker have become an important part of the fabric of the Island community.
"My mom was a community supporter," Mr. Decker says. "She worked for different events, and volunteered me. I'd ask her, 'Do you understand the word volunteer?'"
Mr. Decker believes that helping out in a small community such as the Vineyard makes an impact, and the rewards are obvious. He recalls E.M. Forrester's recommendation in Howard's End: "Only connect."
Mr. Decker says, "That is a little bit of the mantra I follow." And when it comes to serving on various boards, "be careful," he cautions. "If you raise your hand at a meeting, you'll wind up becoming chairman of something. Board work is really important because someone has to help the executive director decide where the organization is going. But you don't see the benefits immediately. I am a man wanting action to happen. As long as I can see things happening, it's great."
In 1984 he became a member of the West Tisbury Finance Committee. "I was 30 years old, and served my term," he says, noting that on the Town Meeting form of government, "You just hope that common sense prevails."
From the political arena to the sports arena: Mr. Decker became active in Friends of Vineyard Soccer. "If your kid was going to play, you had to volunteer. I just said, tell me what you want me to do; I don't care as long as it's a help." And he began as a referee who believed that as long as the players had a good time he would be happy. "What's more rewarding than helping a bunch of kids playing soccer?"(He now plays in an adult family league and referees MVRHS junior varsity and varsity games.)
With each year, with each new community organization, Chris Decker seemed to find a way to contribute - everything from serving on the board of the Wintertide Coffeehouse in the early 1990s, to the board of Friends of Family Planning, to the board of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, where he also treasurer from 1998 to 2000. He has served on the board of Community Services since 2000, and in 2006 became a hospice volunteer.
"Hospice is different. Being a part of that is a new experience for me. After a visit with someone, when I get back into my car, I feel the appreciation. It's been great in so many ways," he says.
"A lot of people here are willing to put their money and energy where their mouth is. Look at all of the nonprofits we have. I think there are more per capita than anywhere I've been," he says, noting that with the advent of local businesses launching their own websites, over 70 percent of Tisbury Printer's business now comes from nonprofits. "Those people need to get their message out; often the only way to get the money is to put a piece of paper in the donor's hands: to provide the message and the return envelope."
He takes change in stride. "Some people complain about the growth and change on the Vineyard, but it's just what happens to any place that's beautiful with a community that cares about its future. It doesn't matter if it's surrounded by water. My parents lived in this little town in California. The same thing happened there. The kids I went to high school with can't afford to live there unless they're making lots of money."
While the Decker family (sons Max, 26, Sam, 24, and Casey, 20) takes advantage of the Island's beaches, ponds, and hiking trails, Mr. Decker says, "What keeps me on the Vineyard is the people. Most people here are willing to connect with other people, to be involved and to make commitments to their community. One of my jokes is that on the Vineyard people care too much because they always have an opinion about something. Part of it is simply being here; watching, seeing other people doing things, then passing their torches. You just do your part."
And he adds, "My heroes are mostly Vineyarders - people who have worked really hard and are helping out. It's important."
Lynne Whiting is an educator who lives in West Tisbury.