Driving Ms. Maciel, and a few of her friends

O’Rourkes take Windemere residents on tour of holiday lights.

Fran Maciel looks out the bus window at Christmas lights along their route. — Gabrielle Mannino


Four lucky Windemere residents hopped into a van for a tour of the Island Tuesday night. It wasn’t too cold, and the snow had melted, but the wind chilled the air just enough to get everyone in the Christmas spirit.

They had a mission. This van was on route for all the biggest and brightest Christmas displays around the Island. Mike O’Rourke, a Tisbury police officer, was driving, and Ali O’Rourke sat in the back with the couple’s huge dog, Titan. In between, Fran Maciel, Helen Bouffard, Barbara Alconada, and Hilda Illingworth were strapped in, ready for the show.

“Where’m I going?” Mr. O’Rourke asked the group.

They saw the huge display at the Gatchells, off County Road, first. “They started with a couple little lights, years ago,” Ms. Maciel remembered. “It’s amazing how much it’s grown.”

Ms. Maciel has lived on Martha’s Vineyard since the 1950s, when she moved to the Island with her three small children. Back then, her home was above Mardell’s in Vineyard Haven. She said there are more lights now than there ever were. “I think some of the people that wanted to couldn’t afford it back then.”

The passengers let Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole serenade them all the way to Edgartown, where Donaroma’s was displaying its lights. The women — ages 80 to 100 — still remembered the words to all the classic Christmas songs.

“Oh, they always have the best lights,” Ms. Alconada said about Donaroma’s display. They tuned into WMVY, and watched Frosty the Snowman play out on the colorful blinking trees in the back. “Oh, look at them all!”

The van chugged on to Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, which at night in December transforms into a forest of colorful Christmas trees.

Ms. Maciel remembered when Campground cottages also used to hang lights. “Some still do, and it’s really nice. But most people don’t live there in the wintertime.”

This outing has become an annual tradition at Windemere. It is organized by the nursing home’s recreation department, which is funded by donations and run by only two paid employees, who organize more than 50 activities each month.

“The recreation department relies on a lot of volunteers.” said Mrs. O’Rourke, who is a former employee of Windemere. The O’Rourkes helped decorate Windemere for Christmas, and try to help especially during the holidays. Mr. O’Rourke’s grandparents were once residents of Windemere, but have since died. “We try to help out as much as we can,” Mrs. O’Rourke said. “Just so they’re able to experience the lights.”

This is just one of their many activities for seniors to participate in, and each month the calendar is filled with swimming lessons at the YMCA, drum circles, trips to Felix Neck, ice cream socials, dog visits, and much more. “We like getting out,” Ms. Alconada said. “I first said, No, it’s gonna be cold.” Ms. Alconada felt sorry for leaving her roommate, who she said thinks she is unable to walk. “She always says, ‘No, you go! Don’t feel bad about me.’” And so she does.

“That’s the key, I think, you have to go do stuff,” Ms. Maciel agreed.

Every so often, Betsy Burmeister, recreation therapy director, writes a letter to The MV Times asking for volunteers to help with recreation activities. The most recent was published in last week’s edition.

“They like to talk, and see stuff, and be around people,” Ms. O’Rourke said. Many Windemere residents are happy to participate in the activities. “I like to golf,” Ms. Alconada said. “If someone asks me to golf with them, I would go.”

Updated to correct the O’Rourke family members who lived at Windemere.