Helen Edith Vanderhoop Manning Murray died peacefully on Jan. 25, following a long illness. She was an Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Elder, educator, mentor, and historian.
She was born in Gay Head on Sept. 24, 1919, the only child of Evelyn Magretta (Moss) and Arthur Herbert Vanderhoop. Bert, as he was fondly known, owned the Not-A-Way and the Vanderhoop restaurants near the lighthouse while Evelyn taught at the Gay Head School.
From an early age, Helen enjoyed the best of both worlds by spending her summers in Gay Head and her winters in Washington, D.C. From the age of seven, she was educated in Washington while residing with her maternal grandmother, Lavana Moss, and with her aunt Edith (Moss) and uncle Berry Armstrong Claytor who were like a second set of parents to her and their children Richard and Beryl who were her first cousins but raised in their grandmother's home almost as if the three of them were siblings.
As a child, Helen would always look forward to the end of the school year and her summers spent at Gay Head. Yet, Washington was equally important to her and she would return each year until 2006 where she still had many relatives, friends and schoolmates to visit.
She graduated from the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington in 1936 with her schoolmates and lifelong friends Dr. Adelaide M. Cromwell and Senator Edward W. Brooke, III.
Her first job was making money at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing - the green paper variety. She worked for the Department of Labor in the Children's Bureau. During World War II she worked for the War Labor Board and following the War she went to work as Assistant Dean of Women at Fisk University in Nashville. While there she met Joseph Murray who was attending Meharry Dental School.
She also spent time at the Library of Congress in the Department of Orientalia where her uncle Berry Claytor was Director of the department.
In July 1946 Helen and Joseph were married and resided in Washington, D.C. In 1953 Dr. Murray was commissioned in the United States Army and deployed to Korea. Upon his return to the States, they separated and subsequently divorced.
Helen had always resisted the idea of becoming an educator but finally gave in and graduated from Miner Teachers College in 1941 with a Bachelors Degree in Education. She started her teaching career in 1949 in Washington where her mother Evelyn had started her career. Her aunt Edith was an educator, as were her grandfathers, Cummings Bray Vanderhoop who taught in Gay Head and Richard Moss who taught in Washington where he was also a principal. Her family was proud of her for her accomplishments and her decision to become an educator.
Helen went on to further her studies with courses at New York University, Hunter College, Bridgewater State College, and Lesley College She received her Masters Degree in Education.
In 1956 there was an opening for a teacher at the Gay Head School as Miss June Noble had moved to Los Angeles. It was a great opportunity for Helen to be able to move home to her beloved Gay Head. She became the teacher in the one-room Gay Head School with a pot-belly stove in the middle of the classroom, with 15 students in six grades to teach at one time.
Helen and the students learned lasting life lessons at the school. They looked forward to the frequent visits from the music teacher Kathryn Stewart and the nurse Patricia Brown. She incorporated Wampanoag history into the curriculum, instilling great pride in her students as they became educated about their heritage. For field trips she would pack all the students in her station wagon and take them across the Vineyard to study the great outdoors, to the beach, under the Cliffs, or to the ponds.
In 1961 Helen married James Manning, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, and the son of Captain Walter Manning and his wife Ada, and thus became the step-mother of June, Judith and Jyl.
The Manning home on Aquinnah Circle was the center for family holidays, celebrations, and numerous social gatherings. The door was always open day or night for all who stopped by.
Also in 1961, Captain and Mrs. Manning, along with James and Helen built a family restaurant, gift shop and cottages near the lighthouse, Manning's Snack Bar, which was open seasonally. Helen put her culinary skills to work after school, weekends and during the summer where their quahog chowder, lobster sandwiches, fried clams, and homemade pies were always favorites. Over the years many Islanders worked for the family and have remained friends.
Helen was to continue with her teaching but due to low enrollment, the Gay Head School closed in 1968 as there were only five students remaining. She then became the reading teacher and special education teacher at the Oak Bluffs School in 1968 where she remained until 1984.
Rather than drive home to Gay Head, James and Helen would often spend winter nights at the East Chop home of Dr. Leslie Hayling and his wife Adrienne who were long-time friends and summer residents.
James died in 1974 and the Manning family restaurant was closed and leased for a few years. It now remains a rental cottage.
In November 1974 Helen was elected to the newly formed Martha's Vineyard Commission. She received the most votes Island-wide, a total of 2,161 votes.
Helen retired from teaching at the Oak Bluffs School in 1984 but never stopped being an educator. She continued to educate students, mentored many, and taught everyone life lessons to the end. Her students meant so much to Helen as she did to them. There are such overwhelming success stories. Thank you for all the kind words this week from those she has educated.
She served on the Wampanoag Tribal Council as a Director from 1972 to 1987, devoting her time to the acknowledgement process for the Aquinnah Tribe.
She was very proud of the Tribe receiving Federal Acknowledgement in April 1987 and felt it was perhaps her greatest achievement. Once the Tribe received Recognition, Helen served as Tribal Council Secretary.
For the Towns of Gay Head and Aquinnah, Helen served as Selectman from 1976 to 1979. She served as a Library trustee for more than 20 years, on the Aquinnah Cultural Council, Conservation Commission, and Philbin Scholarship Committee.
Helen received a fellowship to study at the Newberry Library in Chicago, encouraged by Dr. Francis Jennings who later donated his Native American book collection to the Aquinnah Wampanoags. She spent hours documenting genealogy and Tribal history.
She has been acknowledged in numerous books and publications for her vast historical knowledge.
She worked in Boston for two years for the Department of Family Services, while residing with former Lobsterville resident Maxine Barritt.
For the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) she served on the Human Services, Education, Personnel, Health, Hospitality, Museum and Christiantown committees. She served on the Judicial Task Force, the Community Services Program, Language Revitalization Program, Aquinnah Cultural Board and the Child Protection Team. She was on the Elders Council and the Chief's Council. For years she was a Commissioner representing Aquinnah on the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. She was treasurer of the Aquinnah Cultural Center. She was a chaperone for the students to attend the American Indian Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. in 1998, 1999, and 2001 for the Close Up Program. She was a Youth Group Advisor.
Helen served as the Director of Education for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), retiring in February 1996.
Not one to fully retire, Helen worked at the Stony Squaw Gift Shop at the Cliffs from 1996 through 2001 with her cousins Berta Welch and Carla Cuch; having always remained close to them and their brother David Giles and sister Adriana Ignacio.
With the assistance of Joanne Eccher and her husband Derrill Bazzy, Helen had her book "Moshup's Footsteps" published in 2000. A brief history of Aquinnah - its culture, heritage, pride and people. It is still in print today.
Helen enjoyed her travels. She and James traveled widely to gift shows and to restaurant shows, and took family trips to Maine, New York, Connecticut and Washington. They often went to Broadway shows in Manhattan or to the boardwalk of Atlantic City, as well as family fishing trips aboard the Bozo or the Ada and Helen. Time spent with the Rose family was always enlightening.
She went on Caribbean cruises with Walter, Ada, Jacquelyne, Albert, and June. She visited with Judith and Barry while they resided in Caracas, Venezuela and to their home in Toronto. Trips to Cozumel with Jyl and Robbie were always exciting and rather adventurous. Even shopping trips with June, Judith, or Jyl were extravaganzas.
She had traveled to Spain, Morocco, England, and had cruised to Bermuda. She went to Machu Picchu with Mitzi Pratt and the girls. For several years she enjoyed her home in Hawaii. She had also traveled extensively for the Tribe.
In 2002 Helen and Joseph were remarried and resided in Washington, D.C. for a short period of time before relocating to Aquinnah. Helen became ill in July 2006 and was cared for by her devoted husband during her long illness. She is survived by her beloved husband. Helen will surely be missed by all who knew her.
Helen is survived by her first cousins W. Richard Claytor, M.D. and his wife Judy and his children Richard, Renee, Raoul, Rhett, Raphael and Risa and their families of Washington, D.C., Beatrice Vanderhoop Gentry and her family of Aquinnah, and Joanne Vanderhoop Robey and her family of Boston. Her cousin Beryl (Claytor) Robbins passed away in 2007, survived by her son Judge Kevin Robbins. They all were special cousins. She is survived by innumerable second through sixth cousins across the continent.
It was Helen's belief that "To Wampanoag Indians it is an important cultural factor as to how one establishes their identity. One's sense of identity is based on family relations, extended family and community."
She will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by her teaching colleagues Mildred Mayhew, Nancy Leighton, Dinah Straight, Susie Klein, Mabel McCarthy, Joyce Dresser and Patricia Brown who had remained close and visited with her when time allowed.
She is also survived by her step-daughters, June Manning of Aquinnah, Judith Manning Milavsky and her husband Barry of Toronto, and Jyl Manning of Tisbury. We have shared a lot of laughter and tears over the past 48 years, while always being there for each other.
Helen is survived by her grandchildren, Paul Manning and his wife Theresa of Aquinnah, Sharon Spiller and her husband Michael of Arizona, Alexander James Milavsky of Toronto, and Robert Walter Christopher Manning of Tisbury.
Her great grandchildren include Christopher, Kayla and Noah James Manning of Aquinnah, Christina Millman of Las Vegas, Nev., Marianne Spiller of Arizona, and Robert E. Manning of Oak Bluffs. Great great grandchildren include James and Emily Millman.
Thank you to all of the doctors and nurses who have demonstrated such compassion in caring for Helen over the past few years - you meant so much to her and to the girls.
May we all take a page out of Helen's book of life - as she was always one of great elegance. May we live to be an octogenarian cruising around the Vineyard in a bright red jaguar convertible while catching a breeze. Our hats are off to you and you will remain in our hearts forever. We love you and will miss you Grandma Helen.
In lieu of flowers, it is suggested that donations be made in Helen's memory to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, 10 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535.
A service will be held today, Jan. 31, at 11 am at the Aquinnah Town Hall, under the care of Chapman, Cole, and Gleason Funeral Home, followed by burial in the Manning family plot at the North Cemetery in Aquinnah. A gathering will follow at the Tribal Building.
June Manning wrote this obituary. She is the daughter of Helen Murray and a Wampanoag tribal genealogist.