Helen Edith Vanderhoop Manning Murray died peacefully at home in Aquinnah on Jan. 25 following a long illness. She was an Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal elder, educator, mentor and historian.

She was born in Gay Head on Sept. 24, 1919, the only child of Evelyn Magretta (Moss) and Arthur Herbert Vanderhoop. Bert, as he was fondly known, owned the Not-A-Way and the Vanderhoop restaurants near the lighthouse while Evelyn taught at the Gay Head School.

From an early age, Helen enjoyed the best of both worlds by spending her summers in Gay Head and her winters in Washington, D.C. From the age of seven, she was educated in Washington while residing with her maternal grandmother Lavana Moss, and with her aunt Edith (Moss) and uncle Berry Armstrong Claytor, who were like a second set of parents to her, and their children Richard and Beryl who were her first cousins but raised in their grandmother’s home almost as if the three of them were siblings.

As a child, Helen would always look forward to the end of the school year and her summers spent at Gay Head. Yet Washington was equally important to her and she would return each year until 2006 where she still had many relatives, friends and schoolmates to visit.

She graduated from the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington in 1936 with her schoolmates and lifelong friends Dr. Adelaide M. Cromwell and Edward W. Brooke 3rd, who would later become a Massachusetts senator.

Her first job was making money at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing — literally the green paper variety. She also worked for the Department of Labor in the Children’s Bureau. During World War II she worked for the War Labor Board and following the war she went to work as assistant dean of women at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. While there she met Joseph Murray who was attending Meharry Dental School.

She also spent time at the Library of Congress in the department of orientalia where her uncle Berry Claytor was director of the department.

In July of 1946 Helen and Joseph were married; they lived in Washington, D.C. In 1953 Dr. Murray was commissioned in the United States Army and deployed to Korea. Upon his return to the States they separated and subsequently divorced.

Helen had long resisted the idea of becoming an educator but she finally gave in and graduated from Miner Teachers College in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in education. She began her teaching career in 1949 in Washington where her mother Evelyn had started her career. Her aunt Edith was an educator, as were her grandfathers Cummings Bray Vanderhoop, who taught in Gay Head, and her grandfather Richard Moss, who taught in Washington where he was also a principal. Her family was proud of her for her accomplishments and her decision to become an educator.

Helen went on to further her studies with courses at New York University, Hunter College, Bridgewater State College and Lesley College She received her master’s degree in education.

Helen Manning
Helen Manning: 1919-2008 — M.C. Wallo

In 1956 there was an opening for a teacher at the Gay Head School, as June Noble had moved to Los Angeles, Calif. This marked an opportunity for Helen to be able to move home to her beloved Gay Head. She became the teacher in the one-room Gay Head School, which had a potbellied stove in the middle of the classroom and 15 students in six grades to teach at one time.

Helen and the students learned lasting life lessons at the school. They looked forward to frequent visits from music teacher Kathryn Stewart and nurse Patricia Brown. Helen incorporated Wampanoag history into the curriculum, instilling great pride in her students as they became educated about their heritage. For field trips she would pack all the students in her station wagon and take them across the Vineyard to study the great outdoors, to the beach, under the Cliffs, or to the ponds.

In 1961 she married James Manning, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head and the son of Capt. Walter Manning and his wife Ada, becoming the stepmother of June, Judith and Jyl Manning.

The Manning home on Aquinnah Circle was the center for family holidays, celebrations and numerous social gatherings. The door was always open day or night for all who stopped by.

Also in 1961, Captain and Mrs. Manning, along with James and Helen, built a family restaurant, gift shop and cottages near the lighthouse, Manning’s Snack Bar, which was open seasonally. Helen put her culinary skills to work after school, weekends and during the summer where their quahaug chowder, lobster sandwiches, fried clams and homemade pies were always favorites. Over the years many Islanders worked for the family and have remained friends.

Due to low enrollment, the Gay Head School closed in 1968 as there were only five students remaining. Helen then became the reading and special education teacher at the Oak Bluffs School, where she remained until 1984.

Rather than drive home to Gay Head, James and Helen would often spend winter nights at the East Chop home of Dr. Leslie Hayling and his wife Adrienne who were longtime friends and summer residents.

James Manning died in 1974 and the Manning family restaurant was closed and leased for a few years. It now remains a rental cottage.

In November 1974 Helen was elected to the newly formed Martha’s Vineyard Commission. She received a total of 2,161 votes ­— the most votes Islandwide.

Helen retired from teaching at the Oak Bluffs School in 1984 but never stopped being an educator. She continued to educate students, mentored many and taught everyone life lessons to the end. Her students meant as much to Helen as she did to them. There are many overwhelming success stories, and at the time of her death this week there were many kinds words from those she had taught.

She served on the Wampanoag tribal council as a director from 1972 to 1987, devoting her time to the federal recognition process for the tribe.

She was proud of the tribe receiving federal recognition in April 1987 and felt it was perhaps her greatest achievement. After the tribe received recognition, Helen served as tribal council secretary.

She served as a Gay Head selectman from 1976 to 1979. She was a library trustee for more than 20 years, and served on the Aquinnah Cultural Council, the town conservation commission and the Philbin scholarship committee.

She received a fellowship in the late 1980s to study at the Newberry Library in Chicago, at the recommendation of Nan Doty and encouraged by Dr. Francis Jennings who later donated his Native American book collection to the Gay Head Wampanoags. She spent many long hours documenting genealogy and tribal history.

With the assistance of Kit Dreier, Helen interviewed and taped tribal elders for an oral history project that has been meaningful for the tribe because of its content.

She has been acknowledged in numerous books and publications for her vast historical knowledge.

She worked in Boston for two years for the department of family services, residing with former Lobsterville resident Maxine Barritt.

For the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) she served on the human services, education, personnel, health, hospitality, museum and Christiantown committees. She served on the judicial task force, the community services program, language revitalization program, Aquinnah Cultural Board and the child protection team. She was on the elders council and the chief’s council. For many years she was a commissioner representing Aquinnah on the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. She was treasurer of the Aquinnah Cultural Center. She was a chaperone for the students to attend the American Indian Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. in 1998, 1999, and 2001 for the Close Up Program. She was a youth group advisor.

She served as the director of education for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), retiring in February 1996.

Not one to fully retire, Helen worked at the Stony Squaw Gift Shop at the Cliffs from 1996 through 2001 with her cousins Berta Welch and Carla Cuch, having always remained close to them and their brother David Giles and sister Adriana Ignacio.

With the assistance of Joanne Eccher and her husband Derrill Bazzy, Helen had her book Moshup’s Footsteps published in 2000. A brief history of Aquinnah — its culture, heritage, pride and people, it remains in print today.

Helen enjoyed her travels. She and her second husband traveled widely to gift shows and to restaurant shows. There were family trips to Maine, New York, Connecticut and Washington. They often went to Broadway shows in Manhattan or to the boardwalk of Atlantic City, as well as family fishing trips aboard the Bozo or the Ada and Helen. Time spent with the Rose family was always enlightening.

She went on Caribbean cruises with Walter, Ada, Jacquelyne, Albert and June. She visited with Judith and Barry while they resided in Caracas, Venezuela and to their home in Toronto. Trips to Cozumel with Jyl and Robbie were always exciting and rather adventurous. Even shopping trips with June, Judith, or Jyl were extravaganzas.

She had traveled to Spain, Morocco, England and had cruised to Bermuda. She went to Macchu Picchu with Mitzi Pratt and the girls. For several years she enjoyed her home in Hawaii. She had also traveled extensively for the tribe.

In 2002 Helen and Joseph remarried and resided in Washington, D.C., for a short time before relocating to Aquinnah. Helen became ill in July 2006 and was cared for during her long illness by her husband.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her first cousins Dr. W. Richard Claytor, his wife Judy and their children Richard, Renee, Raoul, Rhett, Raphael and Risa and their families of Washington, D.C.; Beatrice Vanderhoop Gentry and her family of Aquinnah and Joanne Vanderhoop Robey and her family of Boston. Her cousin Beryl (Claytor) Robbins died in 2007 and is survived by her son Judge Kevin Robbins. All were special cousins, and she is survived by numerous second through sixth cousins across the continent.

“To Wampanoag Indians it is an important cultural factor as to how one establishes their identity. One’s sense of identity is based on family relations, extended family and community,” she once said.

She will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by her teaching colleagues Mildred Mayhew, Nancy Leighton, Dinah Straight, Susie Klein, Mabel McCarthy, Joyce Dresser and Patricia Brown, who had remained close and visited with her when time allowed. She leaves a host of other friends who meant so much to her.

She is also survived by her stepdaughters June Manning of Aquinnah, Judith Manning Milavsky and her husband Barry of Toronto, and Jyl Manning of Vineyard Haven; her grandchildren Paul Manning and his wife Theresa of Aquinnah, Sharon Spiller and her husband Michael of Arizona, Alexander James Milavsky of Toronto, and Robert Walter Christopher Manning of Vineyard Haven; great-grandchildren Christopher, Kayla and Noah James Manning of Aquinnah, Christina Millman of Las Vegas, Marianne Spiller of Arizona and Robert E. Manning of Oak Bluffs; and great-great grandchildren James and Emily Millman.

Her family sends thanks to all of the doctors and nurses who demonstrated such compassion in caring for Helen over the past few years.

She was a person of great elegance — an octogenarian cruising around the Vineyard in a bright red jaguar convertible while catching a breeze. She was loved and will be missed and will remain in the collective hearts of Islanders forever.

Visitation was at the Aquinnah town hall on Wednesday evening with a prayer service by the Rev. Roger H. Spinney. A service under the care of Chapman, Cole and Gleason was held yesterday morning at the town hall, followed by interment in the Manning family plot at the North Cemetery in Aquinnah. A gathering followed at the tribal building.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Helen’s memory to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, 10 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535.