25 People Who Make a Difference -November/December 2011
by: Joshua Balling, Ingrid Feeney, Allison Goldsmith, Jason Graziadei, Lindsay Pykosz, Hana Schuster and Marianne Stanton
The people on the following pages contribute to island life in a variety of ways to enhance the Nantucket experience for all of us. From their contributions in commerce to conservation, health care and senior assistance, creating vibrant experiences for all of us. From their contributions in commerce to conservation, health care and senior assistance, creating vibrant experiences in the arts and education, feeding the island responsibly through sustainable farming and making sure no one goes hungry, working with the island's youth and mentoring their development, these people pay it forward and are making a difference for all of us, creating a community that is undeniably our home.
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
Joe Aguiar retired to Nantucket in 1999 after a 30-year career as a school superintendent in Ohio.
His recent resume, however, would suggest he never really retired, at least in the traditional sense of the word.
In just over a decade on the island, Aguiar has served stints as a principal at Nantucket High School and Nantucket Elementary School, and has worked tirelessly as an advocate for senior citizens.
As a member of the town's Council on Aging and the regional advisory council of Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands, Aguiar has worked to dispel the traditional stereotype of senior citizens, he said, and volunteered to lead aerobics and exercises classes at the island's Saltmarsh Senior Center. Aguiar also founded the Nantucket Elder Expo, now in its fourth year, as an annual event dedicated to island residents over 50 years old.
His work on behalf of island residents at both ends of the age spectrum – Nantucket's oldest and youngest citizens – has kept Aguiar busy indeed since his alleged retirement. But answering the call to volunteer came naturally to a man who believes it's an obligation to give back to the community in which you live.
"If I have the skills to address a need, I feel it's a community obligation," Aguiar said. "If you're a citizen of this community, and you have the skills, abilities or characteristics to help, I feel you're obligated to help. Just because you live here doesn't make it your community. If you're involved in it and do something for the betterment of others, then you truly are a member of the community. That's been my philosophy for years."
Aguiar was honored in 2009 with Louise McGarvey by the Nantucket Council on Aging with its Senior Citizen of the Year Award for his volunteer efforts on behalf of the island's elderly residents. The acknowledgment was nice, Aguiar said, but the real reward doesn't come on a plaque or certificate.
"The reward is getting something accomplished, not the actual award," he said. Aguiar, 74, said part of his motivation in volunteering at the Saltmarsh Senior Center and serving on the
Council on Aging was to combat a negative stereotype of senior citizens.
"The perception of seniors was really not what I thought it should be," he said. "I was a senior, and the perception was that we're doddering, or that we'll repeat ourselves. So I got actively involved in the Saltmarsh Center and asked for an appointment on the Council on Aging."
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
Ornithologist Edith Andrews remembered the day a Golden Eagle, now stuffed in the Maria Mitchell Association's collection at the Hinchman house on Milk Street, fell from the sky. Its left wing had been severed by a live wire near Sesachacha Pond. The date was Nov. 15, 1962.
"I saw that bird alive on Nov. 11," said Andrews in an interview with The Inquirer and Mirror in 2006, when she was 91, and on the eve of The Maria Mitchell Association naming their 1,500-specimen bird collection the Edith F. Andrews Ornithology Collection.
For over 60 years, Andrews served as a teacher and staff ornithologist for the Maria Mitchell Association. Now 96, Andrews continues her fascination with birds, writing the weekly "Island Bird Sightings" column with assistance from her daughter, Ginger.
"She has the same spirit of inquiry that Maria Mitchell had," said Maria Mitchell Association executive director Janet Schulte, in describing Andrews.
Legendary in the birding world, in 1948 Andrews co-wrote "The Birds of Nantucket," a book on the island's bird population with renowned ornithologist Ludlow Griscom, published by the Harvard University Press.
Ten years earlier, Andrews, then Edith Folger, accompanied her father on a visit to Nantucket and during the trip toured the Maria Mitchell birthplace.
Andrews was inspired by Mitchell, the first woman astronomer and astronomy professor.
"I just fell in love with Maria," Andrews said. By 1942, she was teaching classes at the Maria Mitchell Association.
Andrews' passion for birding has garnered recognition and awards from the region's science community, including the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Allen Morgan Prize in 1994, and the Maria Mitchell Association's Women in Science Award. She became an honorary member in 2000 of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, an elite birding group that was founded in 1875 as a division of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.
"When I found a dead bird, I couldn't resist it," Andrews said, remembering her early contributions to the collection. "Of course, I did a bit of everything."
Andrews studied ornithology at Cornell University with some of the most distinguished professors in the field at the time, Arthur Allen and Paul Kellogg. After graduating, Andrews took a museum-studies course with Chauncey Dapioux, a friend of thenMaria Mitchell Association president Margaret Davis. Dapioux introduced the two, and Davis ultimately offered Andrews a teaching job in the organization's nature study program for children.
Then Maria Mitchell director of natural science, Bob Kennedy, called Andrews his Nantucket mentor.
"She has been the ornithologist on the island for more than half a century, and everything with birds that's been done on the island she's had some influence on – either started it, created, or influenced it," Kennedy said, like the bird-banding program Andrews administered each year for nearly five decades, or the Sunday morning winter bird walks, that she started, and participated in up until her early '90s.
Anything avian, Andrews has been there, and she has been an inspiration to countless members of younger generations over the years
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
When Karen Beattie first arrived on Nantucket in 1989, she came with the understanding that she would be here only three months for a temporary job with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Little did she know that 22 years later she would be the manager of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation's Department of Science and Stewardship, managing its invasive species and rare breeds programs and helping ensure the future health of the organization's 9,000 acres that are so fragile.
Those couple of months turned into a couple of years, and Beattie wound up studying and earning her master's degree in wildlife management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her studies led her to form relationships with organizations like the Conservation Foundation, as she had to ask its permission to do research on its properties. She was later hired as a staff ecologist and began working for the foundation in June 1992.
"When I was hired, I was hired on a seasonal basis," Beattie said. "I was doing a lot of patrolling and was out as a presence on our properties. I was working with nesting shorebirds – that was something I had a background in and I was doing in previous jobs off-island – and I did a lot of work on the beach, set up some research projects, and the end of the summer rolled around, fall came along and no one said anything so I just wound up staying there."
One of Beattie's major roles since the early 2000s has been writing conservation plans for each of the foundation's properties, which help define management objectives and research needs that are eventually carried out by its science department.
"A lot of what we do is management-oriented," she said. "Nantucket is the kind of place where management and people have always influenced the environment. We need to protect the rare resources that we have."
Another big focus for Beattie and her team is monitoring invasive species and managing and conducting a basic inventory of the plants on-island. Growing up on Long Island in New York, Beattie said this island is similar in terms of geology, natural history and species, but so much of her former home has been developed. Here, she likes to see how different ecosystems interact instead of viewing them in their fragmented state in her hometown.
"I love Nantucket because I've always wanted to work with endangered species, and this is such a great place to do this," she said. "So much has been protected. One of the things that's really gratifying for me, since started writing our management plans five years ago, is seeing them get implemented. That's really rewarding."
Of all the properties that the Conservation Foundation owns, Beattie's favorites include Head of the Plains, where she completed her master's work; Eel Point because of its birds; the Middle Moors; Squam Farm, where the foundation keeps its sheep; and behind the Windswept Cranberry Bog, although she admitted narrowing it down is very difficult.
Beattie acknowledged that one of the nicest things about her job is that by overseeing the science and stewardship department, she is able to learn a little bit about every property, and she has to know enough to understand what each scientist is doing and why they're doing it.
While she didn't anticipate staying on Nantucket longer than three months, Beattie is happy and content with her life here with her husband, 12-year-old son and two dogs, which she loves walking through conservation land.
"When I decided to stay here year-round, I didn't say I wanted to stay here for two years and then leave. In my mind, it was open-ended. I'm here because I still love it and I'm still feeling like I'm learning a lot," she said.
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
For most of her adult life, Benoit has been an advocate for people who couldn't speak for themselves: a gift she recognized as one of her strengths when she took care of her parents. With a background as a substance-abuse clinician, she worked at Nantucket Behavioral Health Services as a voice for those who had lost theirs, and eventually became a licensed nurse at 52.
Around the same time the recession began, Benoit began raising money for those who she described as being in "dire straights," and were looking for housing and food. Although her first idea of having a large yard-sale fell through, she woke up one night and knew exactly what to do.
"I said, 'I'm going to have a program called Island-Wide Giving, which would involve the whole island," she said. "What I was trying to do was bring the whole island together as a community, to bring everyone together."
Benoit spoke before different groups on-island asking each of their members to contribute an item for the food pantry and $1 for the rental-assistance program. She has also placed collection cans at different businesses seeking donations.
After reading a newspaper article about a woman who knitted hats for infants at a hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., Benoit was inspired to start a similar project on Nantucket, knitting hats for every baby born at Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Although she has never kept track of how many hats she created, from 2002 until about 2005, she made a hat for every single baby born on Nantucket. She estimated making close to 500 hats, with each one taking about two hours of her time.
"I always put something different on them," she said. "If it was near Easter, I would put little bunnies on them."
The project has since been taken over by community members, but Benoit said she looks forward to the day when she can start making them again.
Benoit said that everything she has been a part of has been the result of it finding her, not her finding it, and she doesn't regret a single moment since returning to the little island she has always called home.
"God gave me this gift that I'm so good with people, but I think that people find me versus me finding them. I just put myself in the right place at the right time. I love Nantucket, I love this community. There are just so many wonderful, great people here. We are so blessed and God has been so good to me," she said. If people ask what Louise Benoit has done in the 80 years since she was born, the better question might be to ask what she hasn't she done. From opening her heart and ears to those who need someone to talk to, to knitting wool hats for newborn babies at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, it's safe to say there isn't much that Benoit hasn't done for the young and old on Nantucket, and continues to do to this day.
A Nantucket native, Benoit lived on Nantucket until she was 11, when her father joined the Coast Guard and her family moved to Rockland, Mass. She moved back after marrying, only to move off again, this time to Florida, in the 1980s, where she took
care of her parents until her father died in 1999.
"I said to mom, 'Would you like to come home?' And she's always wanted to stay on the island. She didn't want to leave, so I brought her back," Benoit said.
After taking care of her mother for many years until her passing, Benoit knew Nantucket was where she needed to be, and Nantucket is where she stayed.
"Every single time I came home, because I consider this home, I would leave here and I would leave here crying," she said. "I wanted to come back here to live, and it just wasn't possible until then, so I'm really happy to be here. This is where my roots are and this is where they'll plant me."
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
Tom & Leslie Bresette
Tom and Leslie Bresette, who oversee the Nantucket Golf Club Foundation, in just 10 years have helped raise over $12 million and benefited 66 island organizations, including the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, Maria Mitchell Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nantucket, Strong Wings adventure program and many more.
A common complaint in America today is that education is underfunded. But every year, thanks to the Bresette's dedication and commitment to their cause, the Foundation raises over $1 million through its Children's Charity Classic golf tournament and auction to fund educational and recreational opportunities for island children.
Over the past six years, they have provided 12 Nantucket High School graduates full-tuition scholarships to four-year colleges through its Nantucket Scholars program, and its Excellence in Teaching Award annually recognizes two teachers for their dedication to education with a $15,000 prize.
Tom Bresette is general manager of the club, and began working there before it even opened its doors in 1998.
"It started more as just an idea of what we wanted the club to be, and the foundation was a part of that. But it grew really quickly and we knew the foundation needed some kind of philanthropic goal, so I approached the board and we all agreed on children.
They mentioned scholarships and grants, we threw around lots of different ideas, but all we knew was that whatever we did would benefit local kids."
Leslie first got involved when the couple realized how quickly the annual fundraiser was growing.
"The auction became really popular really quickly and all of a sudden, we were dealing with larger amounts of money than we had expected," she said.
She felt the scholarship fund and grant program needed more direction.
"I saw pretty early on that the money really needed to be administered and spread out and managed on a year-round basis," she said. "Since I was always good at the details, at organizing things, Tom and the board were really open to me helping out."
"There was no way I could do all that work with the grants and scholarships and still run the club at the same time. When Leslie stepped in, it was such a huge help," Tom said.
The Bresettes – who have four children of their own – soon sought additional help from people with finance and small-business backgrounds to help review grant applications and make sure each nonprofit receiving grant money was stable and sustainable.
"Something like (the grant program) can actually backfire if it's not well-managed," Leslie said. "You want to maintain some control over the process because you're responsible for other people's money. You want to make sure it's being maximized, that it's being used in the best and most efficient way.
The Bresettes said the hardest part of their job is deciding on the winners of the annual scholarships.
"The kids who apply for those scholarships have all worked so hard. They all deserve it, so it's incredibly difficult for us to make that final decision," Leslie said.
Simply establishing the grant and scholarship programs encouraged island nonprofits and students to work harder, she continued.
"We saw a lot of concerted efforts from all the organizations to work toward their goals," Leslie said. "The students had to be interviewed as a part of their scholarship applications, and some of them had never had a professional interview before. I think just going through the process taught them a lot and is a valuable thing to experience at their age."
"We are so blessed to be able to do what we do," Tom said. "It's amazing to see what some of the organizations have done with their grant money. To see how that money has directly benefited this island – our community where our own children live – is a great feeling. And being able to give really smart, determined kids a head-start in this world with the scholarships is rewarding every single year."
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
Zona Butler wanted to be a Girl Scout all her life, but never got the chance. To make up for lost time, after moving to Nantucket 23 years ago, the president of Nantucket Bank started her own Girl Scout troop, which has grown to involve over 180 island girls who, Butler said, are learning "the value of valuing themselves."
Butler moved to the island in 1988. "I was just out of college, just married, and ready for an adventure," she said. "Nantucket was my adventure."
She began working at Nantucket Bank, and her years of hard work and diligence paid off. Having run the I.T. department and worked as a branch manager, when long-time president Bill Hourihan retired last year, Butler was chosen to take the reins, making her the first female president in the bank's history.
While she loves the small-town feel of Nantucket, Butler initially found the long, lonely winters difficult to deal with and searched for ways to add meaning to her life and enliven the off-season.
"To be totally frank, I've really struggled with the winters here. I was just out of sorts, almost like a seasonal depression," she said. "I needed outlets for my energy and Girl Scouts made me feel like I was really contributing to something bigger than myself."
Having grown up with a large Mississippi family, Butler developed strong family values and found that she missed the arguing, the drama and the constant chaos of her five siblings after the move to Nantucket.
"I missed my family a lot, but Girl Scout troops really can feel like families, I think. I feel like I'm teaching these girls something they may not be getting elsewhere, just like my mom did for me and my sister," she said.
Butler started her first troop after noticing a group of young girls at the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, where she has sat on the board of directors, who "seemed like they could be doing more." She asked them if they would be interested in being a part of the island's first troop, and "the rest is history," she said.
Through character-building activities, island-wide projects, and community-service initiatives, the girls learned to make a difference, and Butler noticed the changes.
"They were treating each other differently – with more respect, more kindness," she said. "They were even interacting differently with boys because I try to teach them about how to respect themselves and take care of themselves. They're just a little more careful about how they treat each other. It's subtle things, but you start to really notice the changes over time."
Butler, who is also active in Nantucket's Methodist Church, is pursuing a law degree and with her husband Elvis raised three children on the island, encourages girls to reach out to one another and show small acts of kindness.
"It's amazing what a difference something so small can make," she said. "There are always new kids coming into the schools here. They're in a brand-new place where they don't know anybody and the small gesture of someone going up to them to say hello is all it takes to make a child feel accepted and feel welcome."
Butler believes her work with island girls will ultimately enhance the greater community.
"These are the kids that are going to be running the island in 10 or 20 years from now and you want them to add value to the island, not be just bodies. Our kids really are our future, but they are what we make them," she said.
Butler has even been recognized by the council of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts for her significant efforts in the Nantucket community. In February, she was awarded the Girl Scout Honor Pin, a prestigious symbol of her commitment to helping Nantucket's girls become leaders of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Bill Connell is a man who has admired Nantucket's pristine beaches and natural landscapes since he first stepped foot on this little island in 1965. It is this love of the land that prompted him to create the Clean Team, a group that just completed its ninth summer of efforts to increase awareness and decrease litter across Nantucket.
Clad in bright yellow T-shirts, rubber gloves and carrying trash bags, Connell and his team tackle a new spot every week for one hour, rain or shine, to help keep Nantucket as clean as possible.
His journey to discovering Nantucket is an interesting one, and all began when a college classmate had the idea of following Herman Melville's geographic haunts in "Moby-Dick," Connell said. On Aug. 1, 1965, he and his friends set off on three-speed English bicycles from his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. bound for Provincetown.
"We cycled all of Long Island, to Orient Point; the Connecticut coastline; Block Island; New Bedford, the Massachusetts coastline to Woods Hole; spent extra time (four days) on the Vineyard; and then blew out our time schedule by spending six nights on Nantucket," said Connell. "I had not traveled widely at that point. I now have. But the conclusion remains the same: Nantucket is unique in the world; a place of great natural beauty and strength and character in its people."
In 1987, Connell and his family purchased their home in Tom Nevers, and he has been commuting every weekend during the summer months ever since.
He still loves bicycling. His first trips picking up litter along the island's roadsides were done on a bike, as he would pick up any trash he would see during his trips. He then became more ambitious and "adopted" his road, ultimately adding a stretch of Milestone Road then more and more to his weekly labors.
He was quickly reminded that he couldn't do this alone.
"Friends would see me laboring with garbage bags filled with trash. Many honked. One said, 'Great what you are doing, Bill. But it is tilting at windmills. One person cannot do it all. You need to 'leverage' yourself.' He was an investment banker. He was dismissive, rude, crude and dead right."
After an islander sent a letter to the editor of The Inquirer and Mirror asking if anyone on the island had seen the good that Connell was doing, he wrote a letter of appreciation in response and began organizing a way to pick up trash with the help of other people. Islanders Sarah Oktay and Grant Sanders were the first to respond to Connell's request, and the Clean Team was born.
Today, the Clean Team has 425 members, and as many as 50 have joined to clean up a roadside or beach each week, with an average of 25 during the peak of the summer season. From mid-April to mid-October, they begin every Saturday at 8 a.m., finish at 9 a.m. sharp, and always rotate around the island, to be sure to give equal time and energy to all locations.
With the help of John Smith from the Department of Public Works, Connell estimates that they clear away eight tons of trash each season.
While this project may have become something bigger than he imagined, the goal has stayed the same from the very beginning: Keep Nantucket as clean as possible, letting its natural beauty shine through.
"I am sure I speak for Sarah, Grant and our volunteers when I say we do this task out of love and respect for Nantucket," Connell said. "We are trying to keep the island as pristine as it was when we first happened upon her. We look forward to the day when all homeowners and all shopkeepers see it as their duty to keep their properties (and, ideally, a few extra properties) litter free."
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
"I want to learn something that is extraordinary," is Greta Feeney's reply when I asked her what it was that drew her to opera above all other musical arts. And learned it she has.
Feeney's impressive resume boasts studies at the Mannes and Juilliard schools, and gigs with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, the San Francisco Opera and the Spoleto Festival, to name just a few. But as far as she has traveled to sing and to continue to perfect her craft, Nantucket will always occupy a special place in her heart.
Nantucket's vibrant artistic community nurtured Feeney as a young artist recently washed-ashore from the mainland. "The formative experiences (I had here) were not just in the high-school music program, though for me those were particularly formidable and I think that was a particularly special time in the development of the high-school music program – but it was also the theater, Theatre Workshop. I guess the only way that I can describe it is that it was intoxicating. The better part of my adolescence I spent intoxicated and I don't mean on drugs. I was on a cloud because of music and theater."
Now Feeney is in the position to give something back to the artistic community on Nantucket. She spends part of her time between New York and San Francisco performing, competing and studying, and part of her time on Nantucket, running Nantucket Island Arts and Music, formerly the Nantucket Island Academy of Music. Originally conceived of as both a school and a concert series, NIAM's mission has been altered to eliminate any perceived conflict with the Nantucket Community Music Center, which offers an extensive list of music-lesson opportunities.
NIAM, whose slogan is "Extraordinary Music in an Extraordinary Place," had a great run this season. Feeney presented a sophisticated series of concerts and parties featuring both traditional opera and contemporary chamber music. The summer's program included the wildly avant-garde "Fluxus Happening," which featured atonal and non-traditional music as well as performance art and an art installation, and "Opera Under the Stars," a breathtaking performance by three world-class female vocalists. Feeney is planning a concert series for the off-season, though without bottom-line funding from lessons to defray the cost of bringing sought-after musicians to the island, the effort is proving difficult.
Not to be disheartened, however, Feeney has big plans for the future. "The coming year for NIAM will be an expansion of our first year, in which we offered classical music in different settings. We're taking a creative approach to venue because obviously venue is a real problem here on Nantucket and there is a lot of competition for space."
Plans for 2012 include a jazz festival in September, another Fluxus Happening, and concerts in all of NIAM's genres (presently opera, chamber music and jazz, and later, hopefully a world music component). This expansion of genres reflects Feeney's philosophy that "classical music is not just Mozart, Beethoven and Handel. We are getting closer to this idea that the public has to embrace, that classical music is simply music with lasting value."
Feeney is modeling NIAM after large-scale, successful festivals like Tanglewood, Spoleto and Caramoor, and hopes to create a festival here, thus putting Nantucket on the map as a real performingarts destination. The dream is to get a country estate out of town on which to host a real bucolic music festival, because "there is nothing like nature and music. Nature and music is the ultimate healing balm, I think," Feeney said.
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Chris "Willis" Ferreira knows the value of hard work and dedication. The 18-year girls basketball head coach has focused his players on tough defense and commitment to the game and produced a competitive team nearly every year.
His relentless approach to the Lady Whalers' success were recognized two years ago as the tenured leader earned his 200th career win at home over Nauset.
While Ferreira played off the milestone to longevity, his assistant coaches, players and parents praised his coaching style, respect for his players and love for the game of basketball.
The girls team, which struggled prior to his arrival, has had only four losing seasons over his tenure and has qualified for the playoffs every year since 2001. He has also coached three 1,000-point scorers.
It's not an easy job coaching a girls' team, but Ferreira loves what he does.
"You have to be tough sometimes. You have to yell a little bit, but at the same time, you have to have some fun," Ferreira said. "Sometimes you like your coaches, sometimes you don't like your coaches, but you have to respect your coaches and the coaches have to respect you as a player. I always wanted to be a coach I would like to play for."
Ferreira started with a philosophy of tough defense and a wall-to-wall game of hustle. The Whalers won five games in his first season in 1994 but the change in mentality was already evident among the players.
No one has questioned his commitment to the team over 18 seasons, which is often why that commitment is reciprocated. He has not gone on a winter or February vacation in 18 years. He leaves work at Visco Pumping early for home games and even earlier for off-island games and comes home late to his wife Jennifer and son Will throughout the season.
"I think in building a program, it takes a lot of extra work. You try to lay a foundation of building blocks to instill an attitude and the bottom line is Willis has done a great job with it," Nantucket athletic director Chris Maury said. "I think Willis has a great approach for coaching high school athletics. He is firm, but fair. He has a great relationship with his kids. They know that there are rules and you have to stick by them in order to be successful."
To earn his 200th win over Nauset was even more special since the Warriors were tough competition for the Lady Whalers in the old Cape and Islands League and one of Ferreira's fondest memories of playing at Nantucket High School was hitting two foul shots with no time on the clock to beat a then-undefeated Nauset team.
"I love the game. Whether it is watching it on TV or watching at the Boys & Girls Club or watching the CPS games, it doesn't really matter," Ferreira said.
PHOTO BY JIM POWERS
Growing up on Nantucket, Rocky Fox wanted to be a gym teacher. He attended Springfield College to study physical education, but it wasn't the right fit, so he returned to the island, and bounced from job to job for a time, bagging groceries at Stop & Shop, mowing lawns, working for UPS, whatever he could to put money in his pocket.
Then he hooked up with Robert "Seaweed" Reed, owner of The Chicken Box, and asked for a job. A former Navy man, Reed believed in starting at the bottom and working your way up, and that's exactly what Fox did. He cleaned bathrooms and mopped up spills at the popular Dave Street nightclub, graduating to doorman and bar-back before taking his first shift behind the bar. Today, two and a half decades later, he owns the place with partners John Jordin and Thomas "Packy" Norton.
Those early days, when he was still trying to find his way in the world, resonate with Fox, and imbued in him a strong work ethic and volunteer spirit, thanks in large part to Reed and longtime Box bartender Robert Harris.
"It was because of Robert Harris that I am who I am. He was my mentor. He said keep your head down and work hard. He took me in and taught me exactly when I needed it. He was an old, wise man, and he preached. What he said, it made sense. It might not have made sense that day, but it did 10 years later. The same with Seaweed," Fox said.
"In his elder years, Robert had to deal with Meals on Wheels. He had to have people come in to his home and care for him. He was a proud black man from Tennessee, and he wasn't down with that. He always tried to take care of himself. I learned a lot about pride and respect from him," Fox said.
"I was damn near 30 years old when I got the epiphany. Robert always said, 'if you're not giving, you're taking.' Pay it forward, that's what he meant, before anybody ever used those words."
Meals on Wheels provided the entrée for the volunteer work Fox does today. He does a lot, but quietly, preferring to stay out of the spotlight. He focuses primarily on causes involving children and the elderly, helping out in his son's classroom three times a week at Nantucket Elementary School, hosting events at The Box for groups like the Small Friends on Nantucket early-childhood education center and S.T.A.R. (Sports and Therapeutic Accessible Recreation); working with the Boys & Girls Club and the Nantucket Little League, and continuing to deliver Meals on Wheels several times a week. The Box also hosts the annual Ozone Surf Classic, whose proceeds benefit island nonprofits.
Fox, 46, is particularly passionate about the work he does with the elderly. He gets out of it far more than he gives, he said.
"We need to get more people on board to speak for the elderly. No one else is doing it. They have all the knowledge, and the common sense. And it's free for the asking. All they want is conversation," he said.
"I will go to the mat for the elderly. There are so many organizations for different things on Nantucket, but where is the party for the elderly? Where is the fundraiser for the elderly? For all the nonprofits here, not enough think about the elderly. There is no voice for them. If I have to be the voice, bring it."
Fox credited his family – his wife Lori, daughter Katie and son Tony – and his business partners for allowing him to do what he does.
"To volunteer, you take time away from your family. My family gets that. They have to get it. Otherwise it creates conflict. My daughter and son get it. My daughter's volunteered at Our Island Home, she's come with me on Meals on Wheels. Without them, I couldn't do what I do. There has to be a commitment on both sides. You're taking time from your own family to give to another."
His work family "gets it" too.
"They've gotten it from the beginning. Packy and John buy into it. Even the guys who work here never hesitate to help. Sometimes it's just an hour or two, but it all matters."
Fox has one piece of advice for anyone interested in volunteering on Nantucket.
"There are plenty of opportunities. It will make you a better person. It will change your life."
PHOTOS BY JIM POWERS
John Shea & Gabrielle Gould
Theatre Workshop has been providing extraordinary live theater to the Nantucket community since its inception in 1956. By the dawn of the new millennium, however, this landmark cultural institution found itself struggling under the weight of increasing debt, and searching in vain for an identity as it grappled with a lack of central leadership. Enter stage left: Gabrielle Gould and John Shea, the new executive and artistic directors (respectively) of Theatre Workshop of Nantucket.
Many islanders and visitors know that Yale-trained actor, director and screenwriter John Shea has enjoyed a life-long connection to the island. What some of us might have been unaware of is that Shea was mentored by Mac Dixon (Theatre Workshop's first artistic director), and that his earliest theatrical awakenings took place on Nantucket stages. In 2009, Shea came on board as TWN's artistic director. Once in that position, it became apparent that he could not turn the theater around on his own, and what had been one job since the days of Mac Dixon should indeed be two distinct positions.
Gabrielle Gould came on board as executive director in January of 2010. Gould was trained at the Juilliard School and the prestigious Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City, and had extensive experience working for nonprofits on Nantucket. Together, Shea and Gould set to work in creating what would be the most successful season for Theatre Workshop in over 20 years.
"The main tactic was to bring the theater up artistically," said Gould, "which was all John. In choosing the 2010 season, which was the most successful season the theater has had in 20something years, really going out on a limb not only with the amount of shows – we did seven full productions; the theater was used to doing four a year – but also in what was chosen: from the biggest production Theatre Workshop has ever done, "Peter Pan," with 50 people on stage and flying; to the smallest production Theatre Workshop has ever done, "Blackbird," on a $1,000 set with only two actors about sexual abuse. So John really chose a season that was not going to fall into the confines of safe community theater and he hit a home run. It was brilliant."
Says Shea of Gould: "Gabrielle has brought such innovation to the process of (revitalizing) this theater and has been the single most driving force in its transformation. This is what she does and nobody, in my opinion, has ever done it better." Both Shea and Gould, as well as Frank Morral, the long-time president of TWN's board of directors who stepped down from the leadership role in October, make one thing clear: Theatre Workshop is a creative collaboration between Gould and Shea, the dedicated board of directors, local producers, and Nantucket's expanding community of theater artists.
In looking toward the future, the sky is the limit, Gould said. "There is no reason why Nantucket can't become the next Williamstown Theater. People should be coming to Nantucket to see theater and then saying, 'Oh look, there are some great beaches and some great restaurants'."
TWN is also dedicated to a new sense of collaboration with other cultural organizations on the island. This summer's successful staged reading of "Moby Dick Rehearsed" was a perfect example: a collective effort between Theatre Workshop, The Nantucket Historical Association, the Atheneum and the African Meeting House. TWN and the NHA also recently collaborated on another staged reading – Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" – in the historic Quaker Meeting House. "As time goes by, we see our collaborations expanding with the Dreamland Foundation, the comedy and film festivals, the Nantucket Community Music Center and any other group whose mission is to improve life on our island," Shea said.
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Khaled Hashem spends half the year traveling around the country, introducing the charms of Nantucket and the portfolio of luxury properties he oversees to travel writers, corporate travel offices and drumming up business for Nantucket Island Resorts and the island in general.
His efforts have paid off hugely, both for his NIR properties and the island in general, both of which have experienced strong growth in tourism the past two years, even as the economic mood of the country is still fighting off a recession.
"When people come and stay at our properties everyone benefits," said Hashem. "Our guests like to go out to the restaurants here, they like to shop, they like to experience the history. Nantucket is a unique place in the world."
Business has been so successful that this winter NIR will expand its ultra-luxe White Elephant Residences, adding 20 units, which appeal to wellheeled families who have "graduated" from the Wauwinet with the advent of children.
Born in Cairo and raised in Dallas, Texas, Hashem has spent 35 years of his life in the hospitality business, working in every position from finance, where he was even the night auditor, on up the ranks to increasing positions of responsibility and at some of the best hotel chains globally. Eventually he ended up with The Four Seasons luxury resorts and hotels, which is where he met his wife, Jennifer.
Nantucket has been his home for the last seven years and his accomplishments as managing director of Nantucket Island Resorts have been impressive. The NIR hotels routinely make the lists of the best places to stay. Consider that The Wauwinet, the luxury boutique hotel nestled at the Head of the Harbor that was NIR owner Steve and Jill Karp's first foray into the hospitality industry, has close to two dozen accolades including spots on the Condé Naste Gold List, Best Places To Stay, Top 10 Hotels in US, Top 10 Small Hotels in the US, Travel and Leisure's World's Best Awards for #1 in Massachusetts, World's Best Service, Top 10, and 500 World's Best Hotels for four years. Its restaurant, Topper's, is one of the top-rated Zagat restaurants on the island as well.
The White Elephant, NIR's largest harborfront hotel, has also received over a dozen awards including spots on Condé Nast's Gold List for Best Places to Stay and Reader's Choice Top 11 Hotels in the U.S., and Travel and Leisure's World's Best Resorts, World's Best Family Resorts, Top 40 Best Coastal Hotels. Its restaurant The Brant Point Grill is highly rated by Zagat and one of the few restaurants on island with a waterfront view.
In addition, the Nantucket Boat Basin, another NIR property, has just received its second win from Marina Life as Best Transient Marina in the U.S. as well as half a dozen other awards from Northeast Boating, Southern Boating and Motor Boating & Sailing.
Hashem credits the team he has built with the success of the organization.
"It is the people – the team – that makes this happen, and I have a great team," said Hashem from his Amelia Drive office which houses the administrative offices of NIR including human relations and reservations. One of the largest employers on Nantucket with 80 year-round employees, and over 400 at the peak of the season, Hashem can't do it alone. He has surrounded himself with a group of seasoned professionals who share the same values for service in the hospitality industry.
Every year he holds training sessions for key management and customer-service personnel, bringing in top management professors from Massachusetts universities such as Boston University and Bentley. He has received accolades from them for the quality of his management staff and what NIR has accomplished. To ensure the high quality of NIR staff, twice a year he makes trips to other top national resorts to recruit for seasonal positions for the summer and boasts a 75 percent return rate, which allows him to employ staff familiar with the NIR values and build on the consistency and high expectations from guests of top service which is so important in the service industry.
"You should see the guest comment cards we receive. People are so happy with the experience at our hotels and the service they receive from our staff," said Hashem.
Khaled Hashem has also found a place on Nantucket where he too is very happy. "I told Steve (Karp) I want to retire working for him." Only 51, he likely has many years and many more accomplishments ahead of him, before he is ready for that.
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Dr. Margot Hartmann
Margot Hartmann said Nantucket was an unlikely place for her to end up. The president and CEO of Nantucket Cottage Hospital attributes her arrival at NCH to "a combination of loving medicine, loving adventure, and being able to find a place where I love to do what I love."
She joined the NCH team in 1999 as head of the emergency department, where she said she learned the true ins and outs of patient care.
"There you often see people at their most acute stage of an illness. It's a fabulous puzzle," she said. "I'm constantly trying to figure out 'why this person, why now, why this illness?' I've always thought it was such a privilege to be let into a person's life in that way – when they are in the most need. I try to honor that relationship at all levels."
Hartmann assumed the presidency of the hospital just one year ago, at a time when NCH was facing serious turmoil. The hospital had seen its endowment and donations fall victim to the ongoing recession. Its financial struggles were exacerbated by diminished patient volume and shrinking insurance reimbursements, which accounted for 83 percent of revenue. Together, they precipitated a $4.3 million loss from the hospital's $36 million budget and led to the layoffs of 16 of its 175 full-time and seasonal employees in January, and the elimination of several departments. Morale was low.
"This community had an unusual puzzle to solve in terms of healthcare," she said. "Even apart from all the changes going on in the industry, the model that the hospital had been functioning in for the last 15 years had reached its maximum level of functioning. It was time for a new formula."
Hartmann was just the person to face the problems head-on and create a new template that would ensure the future of NCH and of its dedication to the community and to its patients.
"While in some ways I think I was a very improbable president because I'd had no business or financial background, I think there are different CEOs for different institutions at different times in their history, and maybe I'm the right person for this little hospital right now," said Hartmann.
Because the hospital was on the brink of so much change when she took on its leadership, "it was important to hold on to what was always good. We needed someone who had been in the trenches and knows what it takes to deliver quality care when you're 30 miles at sea and don't have layers and layers of support. The reality can be sobering," she said. "Figuring out how to create a healthy institution that can do that every day is very complicated. But it's so rewarding to be able to do that."
While the hospital still shows signs of struggle, in the last year, Hartmann has improved its functioning and works every day toward improving outpatient practices in order to attract more off-island specialists, undertaking major renovations – both to the building and the hospital's outdated computer systems, pursuing better reimbursement contractually and through financial counseling to decrease debt, and she is still working to identify a business model "that will allow us to achieve operational break-even within the next two years, "key to which is a new hospital building," she said.
Hartmann's childhood dream was to go into medicine, though she said she took a "round-about path" to get there.
She first studied sleep research and earned a masters degree and Ph.D. in clinical sleep studies.
"I realized, though, that if you're not a clinician, you can't take on clinical responsibility," she said.
To gain that experience, Hartmann went back to medical school in England at St. George's Teaching Hospital, affiliated with the University of London and known for its acute hospital services and advanced medical research. There, she said, she received "the most wonderful training."
At St. George's, Hartmann was encouraged to use bedside medicine for clinical assessments, rather than relying on hi-tech machines and equipment to make diagnoses.
"I learned to listen to the nuances of heart and breath sounds in a way that isn't done much anymore. It's a very different way to train and to diagnose, and as a result, we could take on more responsibility at an early stage in training," said Hartmann. "It was an amazing opportunity."
At NCH, Hartmann said she hopes "to bring credibility and common sense to the hospital from someone who believes in the mission and knows what it takes to deliver it."
"I don't really feel like patting myself on the back just yet," said Hartmann. I've been lucky enough to find work that I love doing in a place that I really believe in. Sometimes this island just needs all of us to grab an oar."
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Wendy Hudson, owner of Nantucket Bookworks, co-owner of Cisco Brewery and president of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, makes it her mission to think of innovative ways to keep downtown lively.
Hudson arrived on the island during the summer of 1988, securing her first job at Bartlett's Ocean View Farm. She would work mornings selling fresh produce from the farm's truck on Main Street. "That's how I became such a town girl," she said with a smile. And a town girl she remains.
Hudson joined the staff of the quirky and beloved Bookworks in 1995, and bought the business in 2000. Amidst a turbulent economic climate and the rapid proliferation of eBook and Kindle technologies, Hudson manages to keep customers walking through the doors of 25 Broad St. rather than logging on to Amazon.com. "As far as (selling) a commodity like a book, I just try to work hard to make the physical place that much more appealing, that much better than the mainland and that much more satisfying to spend your money at Bookworks than on Amazon," she said of her business philosophy.
Hudson sees many glimmers of hope for downtown Nantucket, with people beginning to understand that where they spend their money matters. The survival-of-the-fittest, rugged-individualist, bargain-hunting consumer-savvy that characterized the rise of Internet shopping at the beginning of the new millennium and destroyed so many town centers across America is being replaced by a more conscious, compassionate localism, she believes. People are realizing that community takes work, but it's worth it.
"I think that ReMain Nantucket is doing a lot of wonderful things, and I hope that with things like (Sustainable Nantucket's) Farmers & Artisans market, that community is growing and strengthening here. I don't know what Nantucket Island Resorts' plans are but if Nantucket wants to position itself as a yearround destination than I think that would work for us, but the money is tough because the season is definitely shrinking. We have definitely seen that."
Hudson has multiple ideas about extending the season on both ends of the summer and bringing islanders more of what they need and want in the wintertime. One of those ideas is what the Urban Land Institute has called "pop-up stores." Essentially this entails taking real estate that isn't being used in the offseason and then finding a different use for it at that time of year.
Another idea is a book festival. "I love to think about different ways of bringing interesting people here to enjoy this awesome place. I'd love to get a book festival going here. I would picture it being casual. Meet different authors at different places downtown or like at a clambake. A book festival we'd all want to go to, you know, not stuffy," she said.
Hudson doesn't only aspire to keep downtown hopping, but is invested in the entire island. Although she doesn't have much time to visit the brewery during the summer months, the scene there in the winter is dear to her heart. "(You can go there) all winter long, do some knitting with a little bluegrass, it's the best. I mean, what inspires me is that we can keep Nantucket a little funky between Bookworks and the brewery, and whatever else we can do to make sure that the right people stay here."
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Jim Lentowski remembers getting off the boat 40 years ago – July 4, 1971 to be exact – and showing up for his first day of work at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation wearing a jacket and tie.
"It was one of those classic meetings on Main Street. Roy Larsen, who hired me, took one look at me in that get-up and said, 'Where do you think you're going dressed like that?' I told him I wanted to make a good impression on my first day at work." Larsen shook his head and Lentowski instantly learned the Nantucket dress-code – Nantucket casual – where jackets and ties are reserved for special occasions: weddings, funerals and jury duty.
Since that summer's day 40 years ago, Lentowski, the executive director of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, has overseen an organization that has grown tremendously in size and scope. There are up to 30 employees now, including a science department, and the nearly 9,000 acres of open space which must be managed include iconic properties such as the cranberry bogs, Sanford Farm and Squam Swamp, Tupancy Links, large chunks of Coatue, the UMass field station, much of the Middle Moors and many of the properties we all take for granted as "ours."
Lentowski's first task, when he arrived on-island, was to fundraise for one of the most popular conservation properties on the island.
"The board had just approved the acquisition of Ram Pasture (abutting Sanford Farm) for $625,000, and so my first job was in writing to potential donors, describing the property and looking for support. I worked with s
PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER
Dylan Wallace is a busy man. On any given day, he might be found cultivating painstakingly-designed gardens of edible indigenous plants, milking sheep, feeding a small herd of heirloom pigs in Polpis, dipping the most delicious artisanal chocolates on this side of the Atlantic (and possibly the world), or tending to his chickens, turkeys and beehives.
As if that were not enough, Wallace sits on the board of directors of Sustainable Nantucket, where he is central to its Farmers' Market Committee, Farm to School Program and winter film series at the Atheneum. He is also the chairman of the island's two-year-old Agricultural Commission. When he can find the time, Wallace is also a painter, and most recently exhibited two pieces in The Artists' Association of Nantucket's 19th annual Arts Festival show earlier this month.
"When I think of myself, I think of being a cook, a farmer, a teacher, and an artist, those being the four things that kind of interrelate and interconnect throughout my life, but I see it as kind of a whole, balanced way of living," he said.
While in college studying studio art and art education, Wallace took a permaculture design course online and became interested in "whole system designs."
"The basic idea of permaculture design is a way of working with, rather than against, nature, and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions rather than treating any areas as single project systems," he said.
Wallace started his edible organic-landscaping business Nantucket Native in an attempt to encourage people to look at their landscapes and see the usefulness in them: getting them interested in a deeper understanding of the nature outside their door rather than just the aesthetic. That involved trying to lead by example in converting his work truck to run on vegetable oil, which helped to start the conversation with clients about the whole-system approach and ecological mindfulness.
While Wallace studied art, his fiancée Claudia Butler studied herbal medicine. Her knowledge inspired him to think more about the food-asmedicine philosophy, and together they have opened Ambrosia, a Centre Street shop specializing in organic spices and handmade, artisanal chocolate.
"I was always a swimmer and liked being active, and seeing how our whole culture and society could really benefit from eating good food and being more connected to nature got us into starting Ambrosia, which was very exciting," Wallace said.
Faraway Farm is his latest project, and utilizes the idea of permaculture design, integrating Wallace's knowledge with plants and his colleagues' knowledge of raising sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and bees. Wallace and his collaborators hope to be able to expand this nascent operation into a full-fledged organic dairy within the next five years. A more immediate goal is to acquire an MPPU, or mobile poultry processing unit. This would allow for healthy, happy, free-range, organic poultry to be raised, slaughtered and consumed – all on-island – providing Nantucketers with higher-quality meat with a lower carbon footprint.
Wallace's many projects all have one thing in common. They are small steps forward to a future of sustainable living, but not one without style and gusto: a future in which we can all "work with nature and live a full life while still being able to be respectful," he said.