When I learned that Peter Herrmann had died recently, I thought about the smiles, laughs and fun times he had inspired.

Peter, a Navy veteran and longtime commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9261, was the driving force behind the VFW Martha’s Vineyard Fluke Fishing Derby that began in 2000 and ran for 16 years.

In a typical Island summer (before Covid), Martha’s Vineyard hosts nonstop, big-ticket fundraisers for organizations large and small. These events rely on the generosity of seasonal visitors and residents.

The VFW fluke tournament (and its successor, Fluke for Luke) was different. It was a no-frills affair. Island businesses and individuals chipped in to donate cash and prizes. All were welcome, but there was no question this was a local fishing tournament.

That would have been clear to anyone who surveyed the dozens of boats drifting between Cape Higgon and Cedar Tree Neck in Vineyard Sound when it was a consistent hot spot for fluke. The fleet included wooden work skiffs, small center consoles and commercial fishing boats. On board were Island families, husbands, wives and children — the familiar faces that still make up the Vineyard’s year-round community.

The fluke tournament was a success in large part because of Peter, who put his stamp on it. He had a wry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that suggested that the retired teacher had inflicted a great deal of mischief on his teachers when he was a student.

The highlight of the tournament was always the awards ceremony. As hamburgers and hot dogs sizzled on a grill outside and sunburned fishermen compared notes and drank beer, Peter, in his trademark shorts (that he wore year-round,) would be pulling all the loose ends together.

His real skill was the auction part of the ceremony. It was a generous crowd, mostly Island plumbers, electricians, landscapers and builders — and spirited bidding would go on.

“Sure to be a collector’s item,” Peter said one year as he held up a beer mug engraved with the fluke derby logo. The winning bidder forked over $50. Peter held up another glass. “I’m not a wine connoisseur, but we have two of these,” he said. The brandy snifters sold for $40.

One year, he held up an envelope and said it was good for a round of golf for four at Mink Meadows, one of the Island’s prettiest courses, with two golf carts included. It was a generous donation worth about $400.

Peter began the bidding at $300 but heard no offers. He went to $200 and the crowd remained mum. “Do I hear $150?” Peter asked. “$100?”

Billy O’Brien of Oak Bluffs, who had spent two days at the helm of his boat trying to put his wife, Kris, their two daughters and friend Heather Maciel (team girl power) on fish, looked around and observed: “There are no golfers, they’re all fishermen.”

It was true.

The resourceful Peter didn’t miss a beat. “Okay, I’ll bid $125,” he said. “It looks like I’m going golfing.”

From its inception, the tournament focused on kids. And many of them embraced the spirit of generosity the tournament exemplified.

I remember one year when young Brian Fraser was holding an armful of gear he’d won. I jokingly asked him if his dad was going to build a shed to hold all his trophies and prizes.

A little boy stood next to him, admiring all of the prizes. As he walked away Brian’s dad Jim called the boy back. With Brian’s okay, he gave the boy a new spinning rod and reel.

Peter once told me that one of the best parts of the tournament was seeing the kids so happy.

That was Peter.

Nelson Sigelman lives in Vineyard Haven.