In reflecting on the 175th year of the publishing of our beloved Vineyard Gazette I have been thinking about the origins and evolution of my own Oak Bluffs town column here in the paper. This column has been entrusted to four different writing styles, personalities and gifted writers since 1968. I am honored to follow Dorothy West, Della Hardman, Bettye Baker and Skip Finley in writing the Oak Bluffs column.

Isaac West and Rachel Benson married in Boston and gave birth to their only child Dorothy in 1907. Isaac was a very successful entrepreneur in the food and produce markets in Boston which enabled him to purchase a cottage in Oak Bluffs in the late 1800’s. Preferring to stay in Boston with the business, Isaac left the Vineyard to Dorothy and her mother Rachel.

In the meantime, Dorothy became a proficient and recognized writer early on in life. Winning prizes for submissions at the Boston Herald, Opportunity Magazine and more, she landed in Harlem as a young member of the Harlem Renaissance. After her stay in New York, travels to Europe and Russia, and starting her own Challenge Magazine, Dorothy moved back to the Vineyard in 1947 where she would live the balance of her life.

Taking a number of odd jobs here and there, she soon found her way to the Vineyard Gazette, initially as a file clerk. Two decades after she started at the paper she began writing a weekly column in 1968 called Cottagers Corner which she wrote for some 30 years. Her column covered a wide range of events, people and places but mostly the emerging African American community.

In the summer of 1931, Della Harman joined her aunt Della Louise Brown on a visit to the Vineyard and they rented a cottage in the Highlands in Oak Bluffs. Subsequently, she would return with her father to meet with a local realtor to consider purchasing property. Her father was hesitant about relying on a ferry to take his car over on a consistent basis so her dreams of owning here were dashed. Della would eventually purchase her own cottage and move permanently to the Vineyard in 1986. Della was a personal tour de force that literally attacked life every day. The Nathan Mathew Seminars, the Oak Bluffs Library, the Chamber Music Society is a sampling of her eclectic interests as she pursued her personal mantra about life, “Savor the Moment!” Succeeding Dorothy West was a formidable task and Della more than met the moment.

Bettye Foster Baker and her late husband Col. William Baker came to the Vineyard in 1964 during a summer break from his studies at the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University. They had read so much about the Island they felt compelled to visit. They never forgot the enjoyment, the history and the spirit. But it was not enough to influence their first decision on purchasing a vacation home. In fact, Bill and Bettye purchased property in Cape May, N.J. in the 1980s near their primary residence in Morristown, N.J. A decade later they were drawn back to the Island by close friends who had recently bought property in Vineyard Haven. In 1997 they found a cottage on Canonicus avenue which has been the subject of house beautiful publications after a total historic renovation. When offered the opportunity to write the column after the passing of Della, Bettye saw a platform to write about the intellectual stimulation that she finds on the Island. She grew up in Louisville, Ky. and sought a multicultural community that reminded her of those roots. Her column helped to satiate her thirst for finding home.

Some years later Colonel Bill became ill and as the primary caretaker of her husband, Bettye relinquished the column to Island renaissance man Skip Finley in 2012. Skip is a former radio owner and executive who has extensive work and cultural experiences in New York city and Washington, DC. His understanding and deep affection for the Vineyard began when he was a child during the Age of Brooke. Like many in the 1950’s, his parents were part of that Howard University alumni family that joined Sen. Ed Brooke enjoying the tennis courts, the Inkwell Beach and the Flying Horses. Skip wrote the column until 2017 when he began extensive research and writing about black whaling captains, which ultimately yielded a fascinating part of maritime history. His widely read book Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy is a must read.

A self described “failure at retirement,” Skip serves as the director of sales and marketing for the Vineyard Gazette Media Group.

The stories in this column that span over 50 years have become an integral part not only of Vineyard history but American history. And so on the 175th Anniversary of the publishing of the Gazette let’s salute Dorothy West, Della Hardman, Bettye Foster Baker and Skip Finley for their contributions to the proud legacy of the Vineyard Gazette.

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it, as time is fleeting!