Like many benefactors and donors of time or money on Martha’s Vineyard, Kevin Ryan and his wife Joanne Ryan like to avoid public recognition. Working from behind the curtain and on the stage, they have, along with many volunteers, quietly funded and produced the Reflections on Peace concert to benefit the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard for the past 21 years — bankrolling the cost, managing volunteers, organizing rehearsals, and promoting the show.
“The purpose isn’t just to benefit Hospice, it’s to celebrate it,” Mr. Ryan said. “Our real mission with the concert is not just funding, it’s to celebrate and benefit Hospice, the staff and crew, what they do, and give them a platform to speak to real people.”
Kevin Ryan did not know about Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard when he moved to the Island in 1987, but he was certainly familiar with the concept of hospice care. A few years before moving to the Vineyard with his infant son and wife, Mr. Ryan lost his brother Rick Ryan to osteosarcoma, and used a hospice service in Tewksbury to help care for his brother in the final days of his life.
“We all had this really stoic duty that we needed to take care of him without outside help,” Mr. Ryan said. “He made the decision that he wanted to come home to die. It was such a hard decision for everybody in our family. And it got to a point where we were all shuffling our lives to try and be there.”
When the hospice team stepped in to care for Mr. Ryan’s brother, he only had a few days left to live. Although saying goodbye to his brother was one of the hardest moments of his life, Mr. Ryan speaks with admiration of the hospice workers who were there during that time. “It was so remarkable,” he said. “They told us what to expect … didn’t tell us how we would feel or what we were gonna do, but the hospice team really walked us through what we probably would experience. And [I could] say to my sister-in-law, I have to go, I’ll be back in 25 minutes, but it’s all right for you to have a nap.”
Since its founding, the Reflections of Peace concert has grown and expanded to include many Island voices. The concert was established in 1996 to celebrate and promote the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, which provides free end-of-life care for Martha’s Vineyard residents. Mr. Ryan, along with Judy Williamson, Joyce Balboni, and Linda Berg, organized the first concert as a way to unveil the then new renovations to the inside of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Oak Bluffs. With newly restored wood carvings and restored gold work, the church wanted the community to enjoy the building, and thought a holiday concert would provide a great opportunity to do just that.
Early on, the organizers decided to make it a benefit concert. Ms. Williamson and Ms. Balboni suggested they pick Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard after seeing friends use the service for their families, and it has remained the beneficiary ever since.
After 17 years, the show moved from the Our Lady Star of the Sea Church to the United Methodist Church in the Campground for three years. This will be the first year the concert is held in Edgartown, and Mr. Ryan is excited that the change of venue will get Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard in front of more people.
“There are some people who have been hurt and are upset with me making the decision to move it to Edgartown,” Mr. Ryan said. “There is a sense of ownership in Oak Bluffs. Many people just wanted it to stay there, and I understand that. And I’m sorry for any angst or sadness that’s caused by it, but it has so grown in 20 years, and I do feel that it’s right to give another town the opportunity to host it.”
This year’s concert, which takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 pm, is going to be to be a big, splashy show, according to Mr. Ryan.
The program will feature the voices of the Novem octet, which includes Jenny Friedman, Joyce Maxner, Shelley Brown, Julie Williamson, Ken Romero, Kevin Ryan, Brad Austin, and Dorian Lopes, with accompanist David Rhoderick; the West Tisbury United Congregational Church Choir, under direction of Bill Peek; the Martha’s Vineyard Children’s Choir, under the direction of Lisa Varno, the West Tisbury United Congregational Church handbell ringers, and instrumentals, including acoustic guitar, recorder, percussion, and cello, by Eric Johnson, Ed Merck, Brian Weiland, and Jan Hyer. In all, nearly 60 musicians and singers will fill the Old Whaling Church with traditional Christmas music for an enchanting evening of entertainment.
In a uniquely humble yet energetic style, Mr. Ryan speaks admiringly of his singers and volunteers. With pride he lists the countless acts of giving, the enormous dedication of time and energy and boundless effort they give to producing the concert. In the past, Ms. Williamson, Ms. Balboni, and their friends spent three days decorating the church with flowers.
Executive director Tom Hallahan, now in the second year of his position, attended the concert for the first time last year, and described it as “one of the most beautiful events of the year.” The impact the concert has on Hospice is vital to keeping its services free, but he said the benefits are more than just financial.
“There’s the obvious financial gift, but more importantly it’s about an extension of our community, a time for those who have been affected [or] want to support Hospice to come together,” Mr. Hallahan said. “The holidays are a hard time for people who have lost loved ones, so it’s a part of that ongoing healing. The word generosity does not do [the Ryans] service.”
Mr. Hallahan is truly awed when he speaks of all that Mr. and Mrs. Ryan do to produce the Reflections of Peace concert. “It’s simply amazing when you think about what we have to do for it, which is nothing. We don’t do anything except show up,” he said. “On this Island, [nonprofits] are constantly asking for support and donations and contributions, and our Island community does it over and over again. This is like that, but different in the sense that [the Ryans] have created this event, have done it on [our] behalf; [we] don’t have to do anything.”
Mr. Hallahan describes the concert as an extension of community building for Hospice, “which is really what Hospice is all about,” he said. “It’s a beautiful event in that sense, not just visually beautiful but spiritually beautiful for the community, to have a place to come to celebrate, to remember, to grieve.”
“The real core of what happens that keeps me involved is this generosity of spirit and talent that I just talked about from all of these different groups,” Mr. Ryan said. “We have such a dedicated group of musicians. It’s fabulous. Twenty years — that’s an enormous dedication of time and love. Every note, every bit of that program is just there to honor the Hospice group and what they do.”
Reflections of Peace starts promptly at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. The cost of admission is a $20 donation, but additional donations are welcome at the door.