Patricia Bergeron and the P.A. Club exemplify the Spirit of the Vineyard

Patricia "Tricia" Bergeron began volunteering at the PA club early in her life. The club, which also received this year's Spirit of the Vineyard Award, has been an important part of the Ms. Bergeron's family for three generations. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Friendly conversation and laughter rang through the P.A. Club’s comfortable bar on Sunday afternoon — nothing unusual for a November football Sunday at the club, the welcoming site of countless benefits, celebrations, and special community events.

But this was a very special Sunday, as Patricia “Tricia” Bergeron and the Portuguese American Club would receive the 2015 Spirit of the Vineyard Award, an annual event started 18 years ago by Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard to honor an individual or group whose work has made a significant difference to the community. Selflessness, range and depth of service, and length of volunteer service are considered.

Ms. Bergeron, who works as an emergency room coordinator at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, is a decades-long member and tireless volunteer of the P.A. Club, past president, and organizer of the annual Feast of the Holy Ghost. Ms. Bergeron, wearing an orchid corsage and a bright smile, sat with family and friends greeting well-wishers.

Polly Brown of Vineyard Village at Home, an organization that provides assistance to seniors wanting to remain at home, presented this year’s award to Ms. Bergeron. “We honor our volunteers, and we honor volunteers who work for other organizations,” she said.

Ms. Bergeron’s name has been added to a list of awardees on a plaque that hangs at the Agricultural Hall. She also received a commemorative glass bowl. Kaylea Moore, Rep. Tim Madden’s legislative liaison to the Island, delivered a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives thanking Ms. Bergeron for her service.

Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg, a past recipient and member of the selection committee, said she was delighted with the unanimous vote choosing Ms. Bergeron and the P.A. Club: “This is truly a special organization, and a special person,” she said.

“Tricia works so hard for the club, for the Feast,” P.A. vice president Jack Law said. “She marches in the parade, helps at the booths. She is the heart and soul of the P.A. Club; we love you, Tricia!”

“If you look up ‘spirit,’ you’ll see your picture in the dictionary,” Michael Santoro, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, told Ms. Bergeron. He added that the town is proud to have her as a citizen.

Susan Madeiras, Ms. Bergeron’s close friend of 36 years and a hospital co-worker, offered warm congratulations. “I’m still amazed at all the wonderful things you do for the community,” she told Ms. Bergeron. “I have watched her selflessly pour more energy, love, and kindness into this community than we could possibly tally up,” Ms. Madeiras said. “She has contributed to the welfare of thousands.”

“Now it’s my turn,” said Ms. Bergeron, promising she did not need the microphone to be heard.

“First and foremost, I don’t do this alone. The P.A. Club, my Aunt Bobbie Ann, my family, made a great vessel that allows us to do things for the community.”

She said that 18 had been her late son Eric’s varsity hockey number at the regional high school, making her honor as the 18th recipient that much more poignant.

“This community, when my son died, it held me up, it made me walk, it gave me everything I needed to get through it. I could work from now until I cannot even move and never repay what this community has done for me.”

Then, receiving a lush bouquet of roses and a big hug from assistant club manager Noel Bagnall, Ms. Bergeron resumed her usual upbeat demeanor.

“Probably the most important thing is ‘Go Pats!’” she said, thanking everyone, heading off for more congratulations and a rare afternoon relaxing with her family.

The backstory

A few days before receiving this year’s Spirit of the Vineyard Award, Ms. Bergeron sat in a quiet P.A. Club, reflecting on her life, the organization, and her work here.

“I can’t believe how honored I am that I am getting this award,” she said.

Born on Martha’s Vineyard, Patricia “Tricia” Bergeron and her three brothers grew up in Florida after her parents moved there. But she was determined to return to the Island and her large extended family here.

“I graduated high school Friday night at 7 pm, and at 6 am Saturday morning I was in a car driving here,” she recalled with a laugh.

She soon took a job at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, where she still works 42 years later. As unit coordinator in the Emergency Room, she is a friendly and familiar face to Islanders arriving for urgent care.

Her life of service began early: She became an EMT, would serve on the Oak Bluffs board of health, and became the first woman firefighter in Oak Bluffs. She immediately began volunteering at the P.A. Club, an organization of great significance to her family.

Ms. Bergeron’s grandfather, Bill Amaral, had been one of the six club founders in the 1930s. Her aunts Bobbie Ann Gibson and Catherine Deese were active there, Ms. Gibson serving as president for some 15 years.

“That was what you were supposed to do,” she explained. “The P.A. for us is community. That’s what you do. You do things for the community.”

She began as a volunteer at the annual July Feast of the Holy Ghost, a traditional Portuguese festival honoring Queen Isabella of Aragon, and pitched in when needed with club activities. She served on the scholarship, and other committees, including the Big Chili Contest and the Fish Fry Committee, which raised money to build the new bar that opened on New Year’s Eve 2003. Service on the Benevolent Committee was especially meaningful to her.

“The Benevolent Committee is the heart and soul of this club,” she said. “All it does is help people, anybody in need, anybody who hurts.”

The committee does everything from helping someone pay the rent or an electric bill when money is tight, or lends a hand to those who are ill. It handles funeral needs for members, relieving the family of this burden. “They just take over and do it,” she said.

The Scholarship Committee raises some $40,000 a year through an annual golf tournament and auction, helping support Island graduates heading to college.

Currently, the Feast and the popular Fish Fry suppers raise funds for the club, to help pay for a new, costly sprinkler system. All others raise money for community needs.

She explained that the club makes its facilities available at modest or no cost for local people to host benefits or other events, and staff and volunteers help as needed.

In 1997 Ms. Bergeron became “Madrone,” or organizer, of the Feast. In 2004 she was elected club president. Stepping down from that post in 2013, she remains on the board of directors, and is as involved as ever in club activities.

Her oldest son, Eric MacLean, was born in 1983, her daughter Kristen MacLean in 1984. Her youngest, Thomas Wilkins, arrived in 1994.

Ms. Bergeron’s busy and upbeat life turned upside down in 2001 when Eric, then 18, a regional high school senior and varsity hockey and football player, was killed in an automobile accident in which he was the passenger.

His mother was on duty in the Emergency Room that March afternoon when EMTs brought her son in. He was pronounced dead on arrival there.

They had just talked, she remembered. He called her, happy, excited, and said he had gotten a tattoo. He told her he was on his way to show it to her.

Now, years later, she says how grateful she is that they had talked on the phone that day, that her last words to him were “I love you.”

“The small gifts,” she said. “You’ve just got to look at the gifts.”

The loss might have paralyzed some, but it spurred Ms. Bergeron on to even greater compassion, caring, and service to others.

“This community did so much for me when he died,” Ms. Bergeron said. “You have to have a tragedy to understand the scope of this community and how wonderful it really is.”

She kept busy, working hard, helping others, and new brightness returned to her life when her grandson, Benjamin Eric Peters, Kristen’s son, was born. Now 13, he is the apple of her eye and her pal on outdoor excursions.

“He’s a real Island boy, I love that,” Ms. Bergeron said. “He loves to go fishing; he opens scallops faster than I do, and it pisses me off,” she said with affectionate pride.

For all her hard work and the responsibilities she shoulders, Ms. Bergeron is always quick to give the credit to others.

Ms. Bergeron said she is grateful for all the Feast volunteers, and her “sidekicks” Gina deBettencourt and Crystal Roy.

“Nothing is done by myself,” she insists. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of help, a lot of hands. The P.A. allows me to do everything I do.”