Reversals of fortune. Institutional turmoil. Environmental stress. This could be a pencil sketch of 2017 in America — and a way to envision the year on Martha’s Vineyard as well.

Among those who saw their fortunes take a sudden turn was the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), as a federal appeals court gave a thumbs up to gambling at the western edge of the Island. At the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the chief executive officer was unceremoniously dumped, triggering a community backlash. And on an Island that pays particular attention to its natural surroundings, worrisome trends played out on land and in the water.

This is just a small sampling of the Island news from the past year — and the myriad issues, trends, highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks that tend to defy end-of-year lists.

Noelle Lambert gave thanks to Island first responders. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The year saw new structures rise up, one centrally located complex come down and some forlorn buildings get propped up, dressed up or taken up — from Squibnocket in Chilmark to Main Street in Edgartown, Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs to the airport business park in the middle of the Island.

Islanders paused to grieve the loss of some prominent figures and characters, and primped for their annual rollout for summer visitors, including the former President and First Lady, who returned for an extended stay. Residents renewed their efforts to support and comfort seniors, immigrants rattled by a bellicose President and Islanders caught in the chokehold of opioids.

True to the Island’s character, there were ample tales of kindness, inspiration and even heroism. One such example was when college lacrosse athlete Noelle Lambert, who lost a leg in a grisly moped accident on the Island in 2016, returned in November to thank the first responders dispatched to her accident scene. They in turn expressed their admiration for her guts and grit, adapting to her prosthetic leg and training for next season at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Lifesaver Olivia Paolano. — Mark Alan Lovewell

As she mingled with the EMTs, thanking them repeatedly, Ms. Lambert handed out custom T-shirts that read: “Thank you for saving my life.”

That refrain could be heard across the Island, as police and emergency personnel responded to accidents, fires and drug overdoses. And then there were the lifeguards and bystanders who pulled swimmers, boaters and a fisherman out of the drink — in Oak Bluffs, Edgartown Harbor and Menemsha. Consider one summer day in the life of Oak Bluffs lifeguard Olivia Paolano: she was part of three separate rescues in the space of 40 minutes off Inkwell Beach.

At least one Vineyarder literally exercised a commitment to help others. Todd Hitchings hiked the 272-mile Long Trail up the spine of Vermont, from the Massachusetts border to the edge of Canada, raising awareness about the opioid crisis and funds for programs at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. More than $11,000 poured in.

The June firing of hospital president and chief executive officer Joe Woodin and the community reaction that followed became a running drama that dominated Island news from early summer to fall. Mr. Woodin had been on the job for just 13 months, and his abrupt departure triggered a wave of questions about board governance, long-entrenched trustees and poor community relations at the Island’s only hospital.

Hospital president and chief executive officer Joe Woodin was fired in early June. — Jeanna Shepard

“I just got summarily fired at 8 a.m. with no notice and no discussion of anything I’ve done wrong — by the board chairman,” Mr. Woodin said, after the hospital issued a press release reporting that he was “stepping down.” While board leaders stayed mum about the specific reasons for the firing, chairman Timothy Sweet cited a “widening difference between the vision of the board and the ideas and leadership style of [Mr. Woodin] regarding the right direction and path for the hospital.” Former president and CEO Timothy Walsh, whose retirement in 2016 led to Mr. Woodin’s hiring, was reinstalled on an interim basis.

Concerns expressed through petitions, letters and social media posts led to the formation of a concerned citizen group. The group met with hospital leaders and later launched a community survey that found strong interest in a public meeting that would allow Islanders to air their concerns.

By year’s end, no such meeting had been held.

But hospital leaders pledged to do better by the Island. “We’ve done a lot of listening this summer,” said Mr. Walsh in an open letter to the community. A search committee was said to be close to selecting a new president and CEO for the Island’s only hospital.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) enjoyed a stunning legal reversal when a Boston-based federal appeals court ruled that it has the right to operate an electronic bingo parlor on tribal land.

Fall storms were good news for Vineyard surfers. — Timothy Johnson

The case revolves around two laws passed by Congress within a year or so of each other in the 1980s. The first one, the Massachusetts Settlement Act, provided land to the Vineyard tribe in exchange for state and local jurisdiction over tribal lands, including restrictions on gaming. Two years ago the town, state and a community group won a ruling from a federal judge that found the Settlement Act effectively barred gaming on tribal lands in Aquinnah.

But in April this year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found otherwise. The higher court said a law adopted by Congress providing a national regulatory framework for Indian gaming in fact prevails over the Settlement Act. Tribal chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais called the decision a “great day for our tribe,” and said she hoped opponents would now acknowledge the tribe’s right to economic development through gaming, like other federally recognized tribes.

A last-ditch effort by the town, the state and community group to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the case is due for a decision in early January. The odds are long that the nation’s highest court will take the case.

Skull of North Atlantic right whale that washed up on Chappaquiddick. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The health of the Island’s ecosystem is usually front and center in the lives of Islanders, and 2017 was no different.

Officials worked with hunting groups on a variety of fronts to reduce the deer herd, part of an effort to address the spread of tick-borne illness, including Lyme disease. The efforts saw some gains: a program encouraging private property owners to open their lands to hunting got some traction in tandem with a program for processing fresh venison and making it available to community food banks and senior citizens. But setbacks include the documented spread on the Island of the lone star tick, an aggressive species previously believed to be isolated to habitat in Aquinnah and Chappaquiddick. A warming climate appears to be a contributing factor in carrying the species northward from its South Carolina origins, wildlife biologists say.

For the first time, a bat on Martha’s Vineyard tested positive for white-nose syndrome, which is ravaging populations on the mainland. Once thought a sanctuary for bat populations, the Island registered a case of the fungus Pseudgymnoascus destructans (Pd), which causes the syndrome, in a northern long-eared bat.

Proposal to add fluoride to Edgartown water drew criticism. — Mark Alan Lovewell

At sea, three right whales washed up on or near the Vineyard, lending yet further evidence that the species is nearing dangerously low numbers. The North Atlantic right whale is the Massachusetts state marine mammal.

On land, Eversource Energy announced plans to employ herbicide spraying under its power lines to manage vegetation, sparking renewed protest from residents as well as town selectmen, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Vineyard Conservation Society. A demonstration was held outside the company facility on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in October.

Edgartown voters agreed to take the Yellow House by eminent domain for $3 million. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Deplorable conditions at the so-called Yellow House on Main Street in Edgartown and the Island Theatre on Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs, both controlled by Hall family trusts, had long vexed officials and frustrated residents. But in 2017, both towns forced changes. Oak Bluffs went to court to demand structural and cosmetic work on the shuttered movie theatre, while in Edgartown voters agreed to take the Yellow House by eminent domain for $3 million.

“The time has come,” said selectman Margaret Serpa, as the board signed an order of taking in June. By the end of the year, the town was soliciting proposals from potential developers to lease and renovate the house at 66 Main street.

Meanwhile, the building that serves as the nexus of the Island’s civil and criminal justice system, the Edgartown courthouse, attracted intense scrutiny from fire officials, who said the building was ill-equipped with safety measures. The Hon. Gary A. Nickerson, an associate justice of the superior court, came off the bench and took up the cause to upgrade the building, saying the lack of access for people with disabilities raised “grave constitutional issues.” County officials freed up funds to address immediate problems, but longer-term plans for better maintenance of the aging brick building, which dates to 1858, remained vague.

Michael Rotondo, owner of Airport Mobil, lost his lease this summer. — Mark Alan Lovewell

At the height of the summer season, the Airport Mobil gas station and car wash were shut down and later demolished by longtime owner Michael Rotondo, after he lost a lengthy court fight with the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission over his bid for a new 20-year lease. The commission voted in March to award the lease to another Edgartown gas station owner, Louis Paciello. When the two men could not agree on a price for his infrastructure, Mr. Rotondo leveled the buildings and dug up the tanks. “Everything is coming down,” he said. “They didn’t leave me much choice. That’s a wrap. It’s heartbreaking.” Last month the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved Mr. Paciello’s plan to build a new Shell station, convenience store and car wash at the site.

At the airport proper, work was completed on a $10.47 million facility to house firefighting and rescue equipment. The vast majority of the cost of the two-story, 23,000-square foot facility was underwritten by grants from Federal Aviation Administration and state aeronautical division funds. Mary Walsh, FAA regional administrator, traveled to the Vineyard for the November ribbon cutting. “I think it’s spectacular,” she said. The airport had faced an ultimatum from the FAA in 2015: replace the aging fire and rescue building or risk losing federal funds.

A structure of another sort began to go up in Chilmark after waves of unsuccessful challenges in court and town hearings. A 300-foot raised causeway across beach and marshland will provide access to about a dozen homes and hundreds of acres at Squibnocket Farm, an exclusive residential enclave. The complicated public/private project still faces opposition from a citizen group claiming procedural and environmental violations. To date, all the challenges by the group have failed.

Featherstone Art Barn is big success. — Ray Ewing

In Edgartown, the Stop & Shop market on upper Main street unveiled a dramatic expansion plan to nearly double the size of the store and reconfigure its parking lot. In early December, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved the plan with a list of conditions that include a building redesign and more energy-saving measures.

Drawing rave reviews, Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs snipped the ribbon on its new Art Barn, a 6,200-square foot building with a gallery, classrooms, conference room, office space and kitchen, along with a separate 2,400-squre-foot pottery studio. In late September the Gazette hosted a monthlong photography and photojournalism show in the space that attracted some 2,500 visitors.

Felix Neck Wildlife Refuge in Edgartown also christened a new barn that will house year-round education and camp programs for children.

Jason Leone (left) was cleared by courts to continue renting mopeds. — Maria Thibodeau

Mopeds once again were a lightning rod for controversy. In Oak Bluffs, the town selectmen tried to curb rentals by refusing to grant waivers to a test track requirement that had long been on the books but never previously enforced. A superior court judge rejected the move, saying it was at odds with state law that said anyone with a valid driver’s license could own or operate a moped. It was a victory for Jason Leone, owner of two moped companies and co-owner of a third, who said he had made every effort to employ safety measures. The court decision cleared the way for another summer of moped rentals in town. A possible home rule petition and stricter enforcement of traffic laws loomed as the next step.

As if to underscore safety concerns, two riders were injured — one seriously — in early July when their moped lost control and collided head-on with a Vineyard Transit Authority bus.

In law enforcement, police chiefs in half the Island’s six towns were making retirement plans. Dan Rossi in West Tisbury announced in late October that he would retire after nine years as chief. A month later, his brother David Rossi suffered a heart attack and stepped down as Edgartown police chief. In Tisbury, it was announced that police chief Daniel Hanavan would not renew his contract in 2018. Earlier in the year, Chilmark selectmen swore in former Sgt. Jonathan Klaren as the new chief in that town, following Brian Cioffi’s resignation in late 2016.

Digging for munitions at Long Point. — Jeanna Shepard

The year saw disciplinary action against a Tisbury police officer. Mark Santon, a 25-year veteran of the force, came under fire for his handling of a prisoner in his custody and his behavior during a subsequent investigation. The selectmen fired him in early December.

And longtime Cape and Islands prosecutor Laura Marshard was subject of a state Board of Bar Overseers disciplinary hearing that stretched over eight days in May and June. In late October, a panel found her responsible for one of three counts in a petition lodged against her: a claim that she met with a defendant in a case without his attorney present. The panel recommended a public reprimand to the full 12-member board. Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’Keefe pledged support for Ms. Marshard and vowed to appeal.

John Kerry Island-hopped, choosing the Vineyard over Nantucket. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The Island’s charms once again worked wonders, as the summer season brought the predictable surge of day trippers and seasonal residents alike. At least one high-profile visitor made plans to put down seasonal roots on the Island. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Massachusetts senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry and his wife bought a house at Seven Gates Farm in Chilmark. In a rare, sold-out summer public appearance at the Old Whaling Church, Mr. Kerry took a moment to point out that he’d experienced Thomas Wolfe’s admonition that “you can’t go home.”

“But I want you to know that after four years on the road and 1.5 million miles as Secretary of State, I can tell you right here, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, it is really good to be home.”

Three-time champs. Girls tennis team brings home division state title again. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Former President Barack Obama and his family also returned for a summer vacation for most of the month of August. The Obamas had vacationed on the Island seven times during his presidency, but this year tacked on an extra week and saw a much lower profile. There was even chatter that the former First Couple had spent some time scouting up-Island real estate, but by year end there was no evidence of a purchase.

Action on school athletic grounds — and about the playing fields themselves — saw highs and disappointing lows in 2017.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School girls’ tennis team swept to a third straight division 3 state championship, dominating in straight sets against Monument Mountain of Great Barrington. A word to the wise for any team with aspirations of breaking the championship streak: all the team members are underclassmen. “We’re just going to be that much stronger next year,” said Kat Roberts, team captain and first singles player.

Though Island Cup was cancelled, Vineyard football ended season on a high note. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The high school football team’s 2017 season began with great expectations, with new head coach Ryan Kent eager to avenge a lopsided loss to Nantucket in the 2016 Island Cup game. But as the season progressed, the team was depleted by injuries and disciplinary dismissals, and administrators were forced to cancel the last two games, including the storied Nantucket rivalry, for safety reasons. Playing as though for the championship, the Vineyarders ended the season with an emotional 14-0 win over Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School.

The playing fields themselves became news. A community group called MV@Play signed an agreement with the high school to replace the athletic fields with artificial turf, sparking widespread debate over safety and aesthetics. The turf group abruptly stepped back when another community group offered an alternate plan for all-grass fields at the high school and other schools across the Island. By late summer those negotiations had veered into the weeds with key terms of a contract still in dispute, although talks continued, according to superintendent Matthew D’Andrea.

Nelson Smith, captain, fisherman, and legendary storyteller, died at 92. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The Vineyard said a final goodbye to Islanders who died in 2017. Among them were Cheryl B. Stark, 70, the artisan jeweler whose store has been a Main street fixture in Vineyard Haven for five decades; Nelson Smith, 92, captain, fisherman, legendary storyteller and descendant of the first colonial settlers of the Island; Gerald Jeffers, 84, a Chappaquiddick native and fixture who traced his Island Wampanoag roots back more than 200 years; AnnaBell (ABell) Washburn, 90, a pioneer in the animal rights movement who was also known as Martha’s Vineyard’s cat lady; Lynn Murphy, 88, longtime Chilmark resident and salty Menemsha character who helped inspire the character Quint played by Robert Shaw in the movie Jaws; Dr. Howard Attebery, 94, whose courtship of Island author Cynthia Riggs after 62 years apart, and their subsequent marriage, made news around the world; Tony Lombardi, 59, a champion of youth and former director of Alex’s Place at the YMCA; and the Rev. Alden Besse, 93, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Peace Council and spiritual leader of the Vineyard Crop Walk.

Many Island institutions celebrated their continuity in 2017, anniversaries that served as testaments to their persistence, dedication, pluck and perhaps a dollop of luck. The Federated Church in Edgartown marked its 375th year with a pageant. Also celebrating milestones were Cronig’s markets and Cronig’s Real Estate, 100 years; Camp Jabberwocky, 65 years; the West Tisbury Library book sale, 60 years; Tea Lane Real Estate, Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary and the Chilmark Flea Market, all 50 years old; the Chilmark Road Race and Tivoli Day in Oak Bluffs, 40 years old; Vineyard House, which offers sober living facilities, 20 years; and Morgan Woods, the Island’s largest affordable housing development, turned 10.

Warming up in the wings was the Vineyard Haven Band, which is planning its 150th anniversary in 2018. The Possible Dreams Auction, which benefits the programs of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, will turn 40 in the new year. Somewhere Art Buchwald, the late, iconic auctioneer for the glittering event, is smiling.

In addition to the police chiefs, other Island figures announced their retirements in 2017. They included Cathy Chase, who started the midwifery practice at the hospital 20 years ago. At Community Services, several prominent employees retired, each after decades of service, including Debbie Milne, director of Early Childhood Programs, Marney Toole, who directed the Martha’s Vineyard Family Center, Bernadette LaPorte, director of administration and finance, and Head Start director Mary Brissette.

Barbara Dacey decided to turn off her mic at mvyradio. — Maria Thibodeau

At WMVY, on-air stalwart Barbara Dacey decided to turn off her mic beginning in 2018 — although she left the studio door slightly ajar for a return some day. Rick Karney retired as full-time director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Hatchery, taking on the role of director emeritus.

At the regional high school, English and journalism teacher Dan Sharkovitz decided that 38 years was enough. Joining him was Michael McCarthy after four decades in education, 18 of them as director of guidance at the regional high school.

The retirement of popular teacher Elaine Cawley Weintraub from the regional high school stirred controversy. Head of the history department for more than 20 years, Ms. Weintraub stepped down amid blunt public criticism of the administrators she had worked with. In a bizarre coda, another teacher and co-worker promptly painted over some of the murals Ms. Weintraub’s students had created over the years. The teacher later apologized and also was placed on leave from his job.

And finally, while Edgartown citizens decided to vote in 2018 whether to add fluoride to the town’s water, some Islanders wondered what’s already in the water in Oak Bluffs.

Oak Bluffs police department had a fertile year. — Maria Thibodeau

Over the course of four months, four Oak Bluffs police officers and one state trooper stationed in Oak Bluffs welcomed newborns at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. In July, the mothers, fathers and babies all gathered for a photo shoot, the first time they’d all been together.

“I guess the stars aligned,” said officer James Hagerty, who with his wife Alessandra became proud parents of William.

So Happy New Year to Lowen Jane Shaw, Lark Elizabeth LaBell, Gunner Robert Harlow, William Michael Hagerty and Julian Joseph Millerick. (No pressure, but it’s never too soon to think about a career in law enforcement.)


More from 2017 on the Vineyard:

The Year in Nature and Science

The Year in Food

Most Read Stories of the Year

Most Popular Photos of the Year

The Year in Photos

Farewell to Beloved Islanders

The Year in Arts

Photos from the Year in Nature and Science