Bob Tankard wins Buchwald Award

The longtime educator and role model looks back.

Bob Tankard at his desk. —Sam Houghton

Vineyard educator Bob Tankard has won the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ 2024 Buchwald Award, the organization announced on Monday.

Tankard, in his fifth year as the veterans outreach coordinator at Community Services, has had a lifelong career giving back to Vineyarders since moving here from Newark, N.J., as a teen. He has mentored Island youth throughout his life, whether as principal of the West Tisbury School, football coach at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, or chair of numerous school committees.

The Art Buchwald Award for Outstanding Community Service is named for the Pulitzer prizewinning humorist, also the host of Community Services’ Possible Dreams fundraising auction for 28 years. Recipients embody six characteristics: service, generosity, kindness, creativity, longevity, and perseverance.

Community Services has high praise for Tankard in its award announcement. “Dr. Tankard can rightfully be considered as one of Martha’s Vineyard’s greatest treasures. It was hard for us to imagine any nominee more befitting than Bob for the award,” the release states.

“Bob brings quiet authenticity and wisdom to all he does,” stated Beth Folcarelli, Community Services CEO, on Monday. “He cares deeply for Martha’s Vineyard, and gets things done. Bob has inspired so many to find and pursue purpose and meaning in life, and to focus on helping others.”

Tankard told The Times this week that his award came as a complete surprise. “This is blowing my mind,” he said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘How did this happen? What did I do to make this happen?'”

Though Tankard is still processing the announcement, he does remember how he came to serve in so many roles on-Island. “All my life, my parents and a lot of the people I dealt with always talked about giving back,” he said.

He recalled a moment of early inspiration during his military service, stationed at the DMZ in Korea during the Vietnam War. He remembered being asked once to transport commanding officers who wanted to see their college friends. “I had to sit over in the corner, because you don’t fraternize with officers,” he recalled.

He said that the officers called him over anyway. “They asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you get out of the service?’ And I was 19; I didn’t know. I almost had a year and a half left.”

“They said, ‘You’re going to get out of the service, you’re going to go to college.’ They said, ‘You’re going to go to your hometown community and give back.’ And when I got out of the service, that was exactly what I did,” Tankard said.

Tankard’s many positions within Island and regional education include coaching Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team in the 1980s, and serving as principal of the West Tisbury School until 2001. He has chaired the Tisbury School Committee and Cape Cod Collaborative; he was also the vice chair of the high school committee.

Being a positive influence on Island youth was always his purpose, Tankard said. “Most of my time was working within the educational system,” he remembered. “Working with [kids], trying to help them become all that they could be, and helping them feel confident in themselves. I told kids, ‘You’re going to be mad at me, because I’m not going to let you fail.’

“My main goal was that when that kid left me, that he had a good, positive image of himself,” he added.

Staying in education was important for Tankard even as he ended his tenure as principal. “I left the West Tisbury School in 2001. The hardest thing for me to do was to leave those kids … and when September came around, I really had trouble saying I’m not with them anymore, I’m not helping them anymore. And that’s when I was on the school committee,” he said.

Nowadays, Tankard said, he finds purpose helping Vineyard veterans at Community Services. “I enjoy working with these guys, helping them along. Helping them with PTSD, helping them with housing.”

Tankard has also contributed to the Vineyard community via media, hosting his show “Tank Talk” on Martha’s Vineyard Television. Originally named “Forum on Education,” Tankard estimates that the show spans 1,500 episodes so far. He has interviewed figures including John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Kitty Dukakis.

“As long as they’re not vulgar, I’ll do a show with them,” Tankard said.

For Vineyarders looking to get involved in their community, Tankard does have some advice. “When you are going to participate in a committee or group or whatnot, be a part of a team. You don’t always have to be a head of a team … And look at what you can bring to the table that’s going to benefit the team,” he said. “I think my athletic abilities and participation helped me to be that person. It didn’t always have to be my way.”

The Buchwald Award will be presented on July 21 at the Possible Dreams auction, held at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort. Tankard’s Buchwald Award follows inaugural winner and former Community Services board president Wiet Bacheller’s.


  1. When he was principal of the West Tisbury School, he would eat lunch with the kids. That doesn’t say it all, but it says a lot

  2. I’ve have been lucky to have Coach as a mentor for 45+ years, first as a coach at MVRHS and then when ever I would see him around the Island. He always wanted to know how my family and I were getting on. An outstanding human being that is the true definition of a Giver….

  3. Glad to hear that Coach I’m just glad to be the one to start the outreach program years
    ago with Woody Williams with the guys from the New Bedford Vet Center outreach program we met at the old telephone office in VH On my Birthday what a surprise when so many Nam Vets showed up ! Took a lot of work to keep things going,and we were so fortunate to get Tom Bennett to help me and everyone on the Island.
    Keep up the great work our new Vets need help also .

  4. While new to the island since 2020, I have come to understand why so many seek Bob’s wise advice on matters large and small. He has a keen insight that cuts through the weeds and helps to guide the course. In my role at Community Services I have come to greatly enjoy impromptu talks with Bob, as well as “borrowing” the various snacks from his office! I know that there are many at MVCS with long-term relationships with Bob who feel similarly. I am happy to jump on the train of adoration.

  5. Congratulations Coach..!!..Coach Tankard was my Coach from 5yrs old @ The Tisbury School until graduation..A Great Man and deserves all the accolades..

  6. Congratulations Coach T! You never actually coached me, but I always looked up to you (both literally & figuratively!) as a kid growing up in our neighborhood. The honor is well deserved, thank you for being you!

  7. Congrats Robert,

    I do not know of any individual who comes close to qualifying for this honor. My friend Bobby Tankark is the Island role model and always has been..

  8. Thank you for letting those of us who didn’t know this man what a special person he is. The Island is blessed to have him.

  9. Bob, Coach Tee, Bobby, Mr. Tankard….Has inspired island children and adults alike for a very long time. We owe him a great deal of gratitude for his work and a heart that never stops loving.
    And besides he is a Tankard, an amazing island family.
    Thank you, Bob, Mr. Tankard….You are what we all should aspire to be.
    Dave Damroth

  10. Coach was a real influencer for me at the age of 9 pushing me to challenge myself and go beyond. Today he is still doing that and when I think of role models that I want to emulate he is one of the tops! Thanks for all you do Coach! Keep it up.

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