Laughter, barking and the sounds of summer drifted in through the windows of the Federated Church in Edgartown on Monday. Friends of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum were gathered for the museum’s 92nd annual meeting and fifth annual Martha’s Vineyard medal award ceremony.
Renee Balter, Richard Paradise and the late Dorothy Bangs were honored for their commitment to preserving the art, history and culture of the Island.
Denys Wortman, a museum board member and former Tisbury selectman, was a close friend of Mrs. Bangs, who died last April at the age of 88. Mrs. Bangs taught vocal music to generations of Island students and “is likely to be the single most important influence on the harmonies heard across the Island,” Mr. Wortman said.
She was a cancer survivor who volunteered at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the Tisbury Senior Center and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. For 30 years she also helped lead the annual Daffodil Days fundraiser to support the American Cancer Society. “She was devoted to that cause, of bringing spring to all the Vineyarders with those beautiful daffodils,” Mr. Wortman said.
Her son Dana accepted the award on behalf of his two brothers. Dana is a supervisor at the Stanford School of Medicine, and his twin brother, Jay, is a professor at the University of Buffalo. Their older brother, Paul, is a tugboat captain who helped guide the whaleship Charles W. Morgan on her historic voyage along the New England coast this year.
Richard Paradise has partnered with the museum many times to present vintage and classic films, and documentaries related to museum projects. Standing behind the altar at the Federated Church on Monday, he recalled organizing a screening of outtakes from the movie Jaws, and projecting the film onto the wall behind him, where there was now a large, gold-painted cross.
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, which he founded in 1999, started out by showing films around the Island, including at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven and the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. But that approach took a dramatic turn in 2012 when the society opened the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center at the Tisbury Marketplace.
Jennifer Smith Turner, a local author and film enthusiast, recognized Mr. Paradise’s passion for the Island community. Film is “one of those wonderful cultural experiences,” she said. “The lights go down, we all have this moment to have a similar experience yet in a different way. And what Richard brings to all of us, in his passion and dedication, is that experience.”
Under his direction, the film society has grown into a 1,900-member organization with 30,000 viewers annually. Several film society volunteers and advocates were present Monday, and Mr. Paradise thanked many of them by name for contributing to the society’s success.
Renee Balter, an Oak Bluffs resident and artist, helped form the Oak Bluffs Association in 1990, and in 1998 took part in the efforts of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to reinstate the Oak Bluffs historical commission. Under her leadership, the commission founded the Cottage City Historic District, to preserve some of the town’s oldest buildings and neighborhoods.
“The day I fell in love with Renee Balter was April 8, 2003,” said Skip Finley, a museum board member and media specialist who served with Mrs. Balter on the historical commission. He was at a national news conference when “Renee called to tearfully tell me the Cottage City Historic District article had passed unanimously,” he said. “This was despite the Byzantine politics in Oak Bluffs at the time.”
“I always wanted to be here,” Mrs. Balter said on Monday. “I came here in 1954 as a waitress at Menemsha Inn, and then I spent 30 years trying to figure out how I could live here and be part of the community.” She and her husband, Bruce, bought a guest house in Oak Bluffs in 1981 and became year-round residents in 1987.
“Every year that I used to come on vacation, the first thing I would do was make a check of everything that was here, and I would hope that it was still here,” she said. “Landmarks, the beaches, the events. Everything that happened here. I guess that’s why I wanted to get involved with the historic preservation and why I think it’s so important.”
While living in Oak Bluffs, Mrs. Balter also developed her passion for the arts. She helped establish the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts in 1996, and her studio is included in the Oak Bluffs Arts District. Her acrylic paintings bring to mind Edward Hopper and capture the spirit of Oak Bluffs and its uniquely American streetscapes.
Seventeen Martha’s Vineyard medals so far have been awarded to members of the community, including teacher and author Della Hardman, historian David McCullough, landscape painter Ray Ellis, former museum president S. Bailey Norton Jr., and Tobias Vanderhoop, chairman and spiritual leader of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
The ceremony on Monday was preceded by the museum’s annual meeting, where directors highlighted the accomplishments of 2013.
Board chairman Elizabeth Beim said the two biggest accomplishments last year were the development of conceptual plans for the museum’s new location at the former Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven, and the successful start to a major fundraising campaign.
Developing the property and relocating the museum will cost about $11 million, she said, and supporting operations for the next five years will cost about $5 million. She estimated a goal of about $4.5 million for growing the museum’s endowment.
Mrs. Bangs was an early supporter of the museum’s efforts to purchase the old hospital, which was visible from her home on Skiff avenue. Mr. Wortman recalled her polite but firm advice at a public meeting for neighbors a few years ago: “Just do it, do it, do it!”
A $1.5 million gift was received at the end of the year and will be used to generate $250,000 in matching funds to create a fellowship program in honor of former board chairman Sheldon Hackney, who died last September from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mr. Hackney was awarded a Martha’s Vineyard medal in 2013.