Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society president Brian Athearn — a hunter, farmer, tech professional, and game butcher — was given the Spirit of the Vineyard Award Wednesday afternoon in West Tisbury.
Among those who spoke in praise of Athearn before an audience in the Agricultural Hall was Rebecca Haag, Island Grown Initiative (IGI) executive director and an Ag Society trustee: “He loves the Island, its people and tradition, and he gives so much more than he takes. And isn’t that truly the spirit of the Vineyard?”
The Spirit of the Vineyard Award is bestowed annually on somebody who has served on at least one Vineyard nonprofit and whose work has made a difference. Athearn’s award was originally slated to be given at the Agricultural Fair this summer, but that ceremony was rescheduled when the fair was curtailed by Tropical Storm Henri.
Among the achievements and contributions cited for Athearn was helping bring back 4-H programs to the Ag Society, helping return the M.V .Horse Council activities to the Ag Hall grounds, helping establish the Martha’s Vineyard Farm Bureau, working with Environmental Police Lt. Colonel Pat Moran to distribute moose meat to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) food pantry, channeling deer to the IGI Food Pantry, and providing gratis IT help to Vineyard nonprofits.
“He’d go out of his way to help anyone that he can if he’s able to,” Garrison Vieira, an Ag Society vice president and West Tisbury Police sergeant, said. “He’s done that for me — I can’t even count how many times.”
Vieira said he hopes to be there for Athearn whenever Athearn needs him.
Joe Capece, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Hunt Club and Athearn’s longtime friend, said Athearn helped him through a bout of vaccination breakthrough COVID-19 by keeping him company through remote movie watching and telephone conversation.
“So this might not seem like a very big deal to a lot of people, but it really meant a lot to me, and made me think what a great friend Brian is, how selfless he is,” Capece said. “I recall how many times he should have been relaxing after work, spending time with his family or out with his friends, but was rather in meetings with the Agricultural Society staff or at Ag Society–related events. And just so everyone knows, this is not a paid position.” Capece described Athearn as a “selfless leader” who “leads by example.”
Reading a statement on behalf of aquaculturist Dan Martino, Polly Brown, a founder of the Spirit of the Vineyard Award, said that Athearn showcased “the epitome” of the Spirit of the Vineyard Award: “His happiness and positive energy are infectious. And his willingness to help and teach others brings a camaraderie among those he works with. Brian has not only helped to carry the spirit of the Vineyard forward, but has made longstanding contributions to the character of our Island.”
Through Brown, Martino noted Athearn helped shepherd Vineyard farmers through the pandemic, providing resources, resituating the farmers market to the Ag Hall grounds, and generally keeping farmers from bankruptcy. He also tipped his hat to Athearn for opening the door of the Ag Society to the Vineyard’s aquaculture community.
In addition to having his name on a plaque beside other recipients of the award, Brown and former Spirit of the Vineyard Award winner Melinda Loberg gave Athearn a ceremonial glass bowl.
Athearn said he felt a bit “silly” receiving the award because all those present had a hand in the accomplishments attributed to him.
“Getting things done on this Island — it takes a village,” Athearn said. “And that’s what we have … Everything I do, I do on the shoulder of all of you. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. Thank you for all your support. Thank you for all your help.”