Hector Asselin died peacefully on March 21 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital after a brief illness. He was 93.
He was born in his childhood home on State street in Warren, R.I., on Nov. 16, 1920, the son of Beatrice Nelson Miller and Hector Asselin Sr. As a young boy he attended Warren Public Elementary School, St. Dunstan’s School in Providence, and completed his high school education at LaSalle Academy, also in Providence. It was during these years that Hector started showing an interest in music and began playing the harmonica — a talent that never left him and that many never knew he had.
On Sept. 26, 1942, just seven weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, he enlisted in the Navy. He and 12 buddies left by train from Providence to a school in Detroit, Mich., to be educated in teaching conversion recognition to sailors and gunners in planes so they could identify Japanese and German warships and planes. After his gunnery training and after being transferred back to Rhode Island, he and the others shipped out from New Bedford on the vessel Naushon to a place unknown. The year was 1943. As the vehicle carrying these young sailors disembarked the ferry, their destination was still a mystery to them. It was not until they reached the airbase (the present day Martha’s Vineyard Airport) that they were told that they were on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. And so after setting up their bunks, their new lives began. The base would eventually house approximately 500 servicemen. Hector enjoyed his job running movie projectors as an aerial gunnery trainer. So much so, that he set up a small movie theatre complete with stage, 16 mm movie projector, projection booth, and ran old-time movies for the guys at night. It was such a success that when Quonset Point “got wind of it” they notified the Vineyard Airbase to tell them that they would be sending over 35mm projectors with the latest releases as they came right out of Hollywood! Hector was in his glory. He remembered Clark Gable as being in the first film that he showed. Hector had found his niche and decided to set up another theatre on the base with an even bigger screen, so that the servicemen could bring their girlfriends to the movies. During World War II, the servicemen left this base with the best training possible to deal with their mission ahead. Upon returning to the base, they could look forward to some rest and relaxation before readying for the next mission.
The USO was located on Main street in Vineyard Haven, currently the site of Cronig’s Real Estate. It was there that he met Eva Mae Allen, a local girl, in 1944. He would tell of how while courting Eva, he would walk each night from Daggett avenue in Vineyard Haven back to the air base in West Tisbury and “one could hear a pin drop.” He mentioned that along with meeting Eva, he met so many other nice people as well. He spoke of how he felt so very blessed to have been stationed on Martha’s Vineyard.
As the war came to an end, Hector was honorably discharged from the service on April 18, 1946. He married Eva Allen on April 26, 1946. Theirs would be a marriage that would last 58 years until Eva’s passing in 2004. They moved into their first home, a rented apartment, in the old Chapman house, which was located where the parking lot is today, next to Brickman‘s on Main street in Vineyard Haven. Hector started his first job working for Bill Toth as an upholsterer’s helper. He then went on to work for E.T. Walker Paint Contractor on the Vineyard Haven corner of Spring and Main — the present site of the Beach House. The young couple welcomed a son, Douglas, on March 27, 1947. For a couple of summers Hector had the privilege of working under Erford Burt at Burt’s Boat Yard on Lagoon Pond Road, which later became Maciel Marine in Vineyard Haven. He emphasized that he enjoyed every aspect of working on the boats and the excitement of meeting such customers as James Cagney.
Around 1948 he started his employment at the Dukes County Garage, which was located at what is known today as Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. He did everything from pumping gas and auto maintenance to preparing new cars for sale. Detailing cars would forever be a favorite pastime of Hector’s. While working one day in September of 1949 at the garage, a fellow employee persuaded him to take a walk “up the hill” and attend a house auction. Reluctantly and unprepared, Hector went. Once there, he decided that he did indeed want to bid on the house, but unfortunately he had no money. Much to his surprise, his parents had decided to make an unannounced visit to the Island and they were delayed in traffic due to bidders in the street.
Hector could not believe his eyes when he looked over and noticed them sitting in their car less than 40 feet from where he was standing. And so with a $200 deposit borrowed from his parents, he was able to purchase the beautiful stately house on the corner of William and Spring streets that would be home to him and his family for the next 65 years. The family of three became a completed family of four as a daughter Amy joined them on Oct. 26, 1951. Hector took great pride in his family and his home, doing most of the home maintenance, repairs, improvements and yard work for as long as he was physically able — never tiring of always wanting to “improve the property.” In his late 80s it was not uncommon to see him standing atop a ladder cleaning the leaves out of the gutters on the garage.
In November of 1958, Hector was hired to work in the Vineyard Haven post office as a postal clerk. The post office at that time was in the building which houses the present day Rainy Day Store. Hector became a familiar face behind the counter for many years. He retired in about 1983 after 25 years, finishing out his last several years of employment at the post office after it had been relocated to its present site at Five Corners. He often reminisced of how life in the 1950s and 1960s was a much slower pace. He remembered how everyone knew everyone back then, especially in one’s own town. Hector and his family, like most other Island families, didn’t very often venture outside of their home town unless it was for something special on a weekend, such as a wedding, fried clams in the Bluffs, watching the planes land in West Tisbury at the airport, or an ice cream sundae at the Corner Drug Store in Edgartown. After promising the children, that long-anticipated family drive from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown (in search of ice cream) could be made without ever even seeing a car. He reflected fondly upon an era when people would and were able to stop by the workplace and chat. One of Hector’s fondest memories was that of Mary Martin who starred as Peter Pan in the Broadway musical. She stopped by the post office and asked if he would whistle for her. She had been told that he had the most unique whistle (and he did ). Hector loved to whistle and he perfected that whistle with the most melodic trill. If angels ran out of harps, Hector’s whistle would be the perfect substitute. It was beautiful. And so much to the delight of them both and all who listened, Hector whistled for Mary.
Hector was proud to be an American. He served as commander of the American Legion Post 257. He is credited for volunteering to paint the Tisbury town hall, the Tisbury town hall annex and the D.A.R. building. He was solely responsible for single-handedly digging holes and pouring cement for 40 flag mounts in front of stores on Main street in Vineyard Haven and soliciting those stores to purchase the 40 flags. It was a proud day when he, with the much appreciated assistance of the local Boy Scout troop 91 under the leadership of scoutmaster Jerry Goodale, placed those flags in their mounts for the first time on that Memorial Day back in the 1970s, and started a tradition that would continue with flags being displayed on every American holiday from that day forward.
His love for the Island became evident through his deep concern for preserving its history. On one occasion Hector made a phone call to the Martha’s Vineyard Times. An antique horse watering trough, which had been moved once already from Brickman’s Clothing Store on Main street down the road to Memorial Park was in danger of being destroyed. It was through this phone call and his efforts and determination that this piece of Island history was preserved and moved to its present location where it now sits at the top of the hill next to the Vineyard Haven stone bank. He felt that any piece of Island history was deemed as being a treasure. Every historic treasure told a story of times past — of an era gone by. These were the roots from which stories grew like plants from seeds. These footprints of the past taught us about times we hadn’t experienced. He felt so strongly about preserving them. They continue to engage us in conversation and connect us to our past, and hopefully we all gain an appreciation for what once was and never will be again. We are fortunate to live in this very special place in the world, and Hector knew it and showed his appreciation accordingly.
It was not uncommon to see Hector cutting bushes down for the town anywhere from the Owen Park bandstand to the Tashmoo overlook on State Road. He volunteered his time and services. He trimmed hedges around the police station and cleared out brush and rocks from between the Capawock Theatre and the taxi stand/Bowl and Board building, which is now the current site of the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, making the area passable for foot traffic. From 1962 to 1971, debate became heated over clearing the land for town parking behind the bookstore. There was a maple tree that was in danger of being destroyed. Hector insisted that tree not be cut down. And so it remains there today. Many years later on occasional walks from his home down to the Steamship Authority, Hector would pass by that tree and always give it a tap as an old friend would pat a friend on the shoulder, and could be heard uttering the words, “Ah, it’s a fine tree.”
His love for the Island was also made apparent in his joy to show the movie This is Our Island at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. Hector recalled with such delight, a standing ovation.
He had a great interest in trains, ship models, and the preservation of old movie theatres, cathedral organs, and things of the like from an age past and he never grew tired of listening to the music of Vaughn Monroe. He and his wife Eva always enjoyed having yard sales. They took such pleasure in being stopped on the street and asked, “When’s your next yard sale?” He and Eva went on numerous senior trips. He enjoyed sharing tales of their adventures, all the while laughing, with all of us contagiously joining in. Hector loved to sing and had a beautiful voice. On one of his memorable senior trips to Indian Head Resort with his beloved Eva, he sang New York, New York on stage while doing an impersonation of Frank Sinatra.
Hector loved life, he loved the olden days, he loved his friends, church, community, he loved his family, he loved his country and he loved this Island. As he so eloquently put it, he “felt so blessed to have been stationed here.” And we were so very blessed to have had him in our lives.
He is survived by his son, Douglas M. Asselin and his wife Sandra Kenney of Vineyard Haven; daughter Amy Asselin Lawry and her husband Harold B. Lawry 3rd of West Tisbury; grandchildren, Douglas Asselin of Vineyard Haven, Harold B. Lawry 4th and his wife Melissa of West Tisbury, and Lindsey Lawry Resto and her husband Carlos Resto of Sharon; and two great-grandchildren: Harold B. Lawry 5th and Noah D. Lawry of West Tisbury; his sister in law Roberta A. Morgan and her husband James of Chilmark; a cousin, Rev. William Romer, and his wife Molly of Acton; son, Bret and two daughters, Sarah and Jennifer and their children, and many much loved nieces and nephews, as well as many friends and acquaintances that we know thought the world of Hector, and he of them. He was predeceased by his wife Eva and his granddaughter, Rachael Fawn Lawry.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 29, at the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven with the Rev. Ellen P. Tatreau and the Rev. Roger Spinney officiating. There will be a graveside service on the West Spring street side of the Oak Grove cemetery in Vineyard Haven with full military honors offered by the Veterans of Martha’s Vineyard. A gathering at the American Legion Hall will follow. All are welcome.
Donations in Hector’s name may be made to the First Baptist Church, P.O. Box 806, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; the American Legion Post 257, P.O. Box 257, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, and Meals on Wheels, P.O. Box 2337, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557
Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs. Visit ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.