Fran Resendes lit the tree of lights on Wednesday.

A long-time friend of Martha's Vineyard Hospital and its volunteers, Mrs. Resendes flicked the switch at dusk before a small gathering, and hundreds of red and white lights lit the familiar 30-foot tree at the entrance to the hospital. Anyone driving past this holiday season has an opportunity to remember friends, both here and gone.

This was the 19th year of the annual event, and Mrs. Resendes has seen her share of lightings. Each light on the tree is intended to commemorate one person important to a donor, someone who has shared a memorable life.

Mrs. Resendes is important to a lot of people at the hospital, said Michael Dutton, who heads up the hospital development office. He spoke at the ceremony in the hospital lobby, prior to the lighting. Fred B. Morgan Jr., chairman of the hospital board of trustees, also spoke.

Mrs. Resendes is truly one of the Vineyard's own. She was born and raised here, and attended and was graduated in 1937 from the Edgartown High School. She went on to nursing school at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford and was graduated in 1940.

In an interview with the Gazette a few days before the tree lighting, Mrs. Resendes said she was always appreciative of the life that had come her way; volunteering, she said, was her way to offer thanks.

"I like to give back to the community," she said.

When she was graduated from Edgartown high school, Mrs. Resendes said, she received a $200 scholarship, which helped pay for her books and uniform. In those days, near the end of the Great Depression, $200 was a significant amount of money.

"I was so grateful for that scholarship," she said. "We didn't have much. We were just coming through the depression, my father [who worked at the boatyard] had four kids and a wife to support," she said.

"If you give back, you always get more than you give," she said.

After graduating from nursing school she worked at St. Luke's and became a head nurse in maternity. In 1973 she moved back to the Vineyard with her husband. She worked in the operating room at the hospital and became the head nurse before retiring in 1984.

"The day I retired from the hospital, I found myself wearing a pink smock [as a] volunteer," she said.

The Tree of Lights was the idea of Peggy Scott of Chilmark, one of Mrs. Resendes's dearest friends. Mrs. Resendes remembers driving up-Island to attend organizational sessions or teas.

She recalled key participants, including Helen Schneider and her sister, Marge Hillner, as well as Marion Morton and others.

Humor has a place both in Mrs. Resendes's life and on the tree of lights. One year, in a curious tribute to her shellfishing buddies, she paid to hang a red light on the tree in honor of a duo she called the Geriatric Quahaugers - Bob Hathaway and her brother, Richard Prada, both of Edgartown. She still goes quahauging with them each summer.

Regarding the tree lighting, she said, "I remember now all the people I have been involved with over these many years."

Mrs. Resendes is also an active member of the Federated Church and remains involved in their Unity Club.

In the 19 years that the Tree of Lights has been a function of the hospital auxiliary and volunteers, Mrs. Resendes said they have raised $100,000. A light can be purchased for $8. A perpetual light - one that will shine year after year - can be purchased for $125. Red lights honor the living; white lights are in remembrance.

At Wednesday's tree lighting ceremony, Mr. Dutton said the money raised from the Tree of Lights last year was used to install power-assistance devices on the front doors to the hospital. Now anyone arriving at the hospital in a wheelchair or carrying a child, for example, can easily gain entry into the building.

At the lighting ceremony, nine members of the regional high school Minnesingers sang four holiday pieces.

M. Sue Mill of the hospital auxiliary said, "In these troubled times of terrorism, economic turmoil and heightened security everywhere, our tree of lights stands before us, as a symbol of hope and unity for all who see it."

The highest light atop this year's holiday tree was donated by Father John Ozug. Mr. Dutton said it was given in remembrance of all the victims of that unforgettable date of Sept. 11.

"It is also a symbol of hope for world peace," he said.

Rev. Robert D. Edmunds of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church gave a prayer before the lighting ceremony.

"We light this tree with these lights of remembrance," he said, "lights which remind us of the lives of special people; lights which bring our lives out of darkness; lights which inspire us in the lives of those we love."

For more information on the Tree of Lights, call Cindy McIntosh at 508-693-0410, extension 826.