In some respects, we’re all family on the Vineyard. We’re a diverse group, often fiercely independent, but united and drawn together by the fact that we’ve chosen to live in a place that’s surrounded by water.
This is the first in a series of stories that shines a light on various families on the Vineyard, who each in their own way contribute to the richness of the place we call home.
We’d like to introduce you to the Decker family of West Tisbury, although chances are you already know at least one member of this dynamic family.
Chris Decker runs Tisbury Printer; his wife Nelia recently retired from the West Tisbury library where she was the children’s librarian for 25 years. And their children, Sam, Max, and Casey, and their respective wives are all visible parts of the Vineyard community as well.
Chris and Nelia grew up in Southern California, and started dating when they were both in high school. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, Nelia took a job at a bookstore called the Book Den in Santa Barbara, which was owned by Richard and Susan Phelps, who summered on Martha’s Vineyard. In 1978 the Phelpses decided to open up a store on the Vineyard called Book Den East, and they asked Nelia if she would come out for the summer and manage the store.
Things worked out well, and the Phelphses asked Nelia if she would stay on and keep the bookstore open year-round, and while Nelia liked the Vineyard and was intrigued by the offer, she said she would miss her boyfriend, Chris, who was still in Los Angeles.
“The Phelpses were very entrepreneurial,” Nelia said, “and said they were thinking of buying a business in Vineyard Haven called Island Copy, and thought perhaps Chris would want to come out and run the business.”
The Phelpses called Chris and asked him if he knew anything about printing, to which he answered, “Absolutely not.” But the Phelpses assured Chris that the person they were buying the business from would teach him everything he’d need to know.
Chris took the bait, and traveled out to the Vineyard, surprising Nelia. The Island Copy Center was in Chicken Alley, right across the street from what is now the Tisbury Printer, so Chris has been in roughly the same place for 44 years now.
Over the years, the Tisbury Printer has become an indispensable part of the Martha’s Vineyard community — who hasn’t had something that needed printing at one time or another? And the list of alumni stretches for miles, including poet, photographer, and West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters, and two New Yorker magazine cartoonists, Paul Karasik and Mike Stevens.
In 1980, Chris and Nelia were married in California, and took up residence on Music Street in West Tisbury. Their son Max was born in 1982, Sam was born in 1984, and Casey was born in 1988, when the family moved to their present home off Tiah’s Cove Road in West Tisbury. In 1993, Nelia was hired by the West Tisbury library as an assistant children’s librarian, and she would go on to run that department until she retired in 2019. Below is an excerpt from an article in The MV Times about Nelia’s retirement party.
“The amazing thing about Nelia,” Beth Kramer, [retired director of the West Tisbury library, said in The MV Times story] “is that she knows everybody who comes in, she knows the kids’ names and the parents’ names, she knows what they’ve read … when they come for the summer, before they even go to their house, they come here and say ‘Hi’ to Nelia, get some books, and then go to their house. Decker gets Xmas cards and birthday cards from kids; some even send her love notes.”
Always passionate about education, Nelia was part of the group that started the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School In 1996.
When I told Nelia I was interested in writing an article about the Deckers, she said, “Oh, we’re boring, except for the kids; they’re pretty interesting.”
“Don’t shortchange yourself,” I said to Nelia, but she had a point — the kids are pretty amazing.
In high school, the Deckers’ oldest son, Sam, was a gifted fiddle player, and was part of the band Slow Leslie that made a name for itself on the Island. Following college, Sam became passionate about wine, and for several years was the sommelier at Atria in Edgartown. And most recently, Sam and his wife Katy formed a company called Wine + Peace that allows wine drinkers to buy from vineyards whose values align with theirs. Sam has also written a column for The MV Times called “Sip.” Sam and Katy have two children, Lilou and Coco.
The Deckers’ middle child is Max, a musician, painter, and clothing designer. His landscape paintings have been successfully shown at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury, the Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown, and at PIK-NIK Art and Apparel in Oak Bluffs. Max also is currently designing handbags and jean jackets, which he calls Chore Coats and sells under the label of Max Decker Co.
Max’s wife is Laura Jordan, a Canadian-born schoolteacher. Laura has created a program called Little Bird Music, which encourages young children to find their self-confidence and bring out their personalities through singing. Laura also does parent coaching — she helps people who are having parenting issues. Max and Laura have a little boy named Robin.
Casey, the youngest Decker, took a different track from his older brothers. As his brother Sam said, “Casey carved out a nice life for himself, he made great decisions. He’s the youngest brother, but he’s a real adult.” Having a natural aptitude for mathematics, Casey went to UMass Dartmouth, and got his degree in civil engineering. Today he works with John Lolley PE in Vineyard Haven.
Casey’s wife, Katherine Wilson, is a licensed massage therapist, and on her website she states that she’s a certified mindful expressionist, registered yoga teacher, and practitioner of quantum healing hypnosis technique. Casey and Katherine recently had a little girl named Olive.
Chris says that he came from a family of eight kids, and that family means everything to him. “How great it is,” he says, “to just randomly bump into my kids on the Island. One day last summer, just by happenstance I bumped into the whole family.”
Nelia adds that there’s such a great sense of community on the Island. “Everyone cares about you,” she said. “You look back on your life and you ask, Was it a life well-lived? and I have to say yes. It’s been so satisfying.”