Jane Newhall of San Francisco and West Tisbury, died on July 27 in the Nancy Whiting house in West Tisbury. She was 97, and for many Islanders was closely identified with the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair, where she was the entry clerk for as long as anyone could remember. Her ancestors were founding members of the agricultural society and she continued their interest through her volunteer work at the fair, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
A devoted Vineyard visitor since the 1920s Miss Newhall’s final wish had been that she spend her last days on the Island she loved.
She was born Oct. 4, 1913, in San Francisco, the only child of Edwin White Newhall Jr. and Jane Peers Newhall. Her house overlooking San Francisco Bay had been built by her grandmother, Virginia Whiting New-hall, a sister of Johnson Whiting of West Tisbury. Having just experienced the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, she was certain that a properly built New England-style wooden house would better withstand future earthquakes.
A competitive student, she graduated from Mills College in Oakland, Calif., with a degree in chemistry in 1936. Following graduation she worked for a time as a volunteer at the Stanford Hospital before taking a job as a patent researcher with the Shell Development Company.
Her earliest clear recollection of a Vineyard visit was when she was 14 and came to attend the funeral of her grandmother in West Tisbury. She next came to the Island in 1928 for the 50th wedding anniversary of her great aunt, Georgiana, and Judge Allen Davis. Their West Tisbury home today is the home and studio of the painter Allen Whiting.
Jane and her parents spent the summer of 1931 at Quenames, swimming in the Great Pond and the ocean, she recalled in a 2003 Gazette interview. “We fixed up a springboard into the pond, so we could learn to dive,” she recalled.
She returned to the Vineyard for summers beginning in 1936, staying at a camp built by her grandmother on the Edgartown waterfront at Tower Hill. Called the Boathouse, her grandmother had built it as a changing place after swims. “It had two bedrooms, though and two long window seats in the main room and a kitchenette where you could make hot chocolate to warm up after a swim. But we stayed there at night, too, and I slept on one of the window seats and my mother and father had cots in one of the bedrooms,” Miss Newhall recalled in an interview. In later years, she would invite family and friends there to watch the Fourth of July fireworks.
Walter (Terry) Meinelt, one of her many Island relatives, recalled those years from his childhood.
“We would all have our swims and then Jane would heat up Chef Boyardee ravioli over a kerosene stove and serve it with Kraft cheese and deviled eggs and lemonade and gingersnaps that were always soft because of the humidity. And we’d all have bells and we’d ring them and watch the fireworks,” Mr. Meinelt said.
In the 1940s she became a summer resident of West Tisbury and took up summer residence in Granny’s House — built by her great-great-grandfather, Asa Johnson.
Beginning in 1947, Jane Newhall with her bright, blue eyes, warm smile, straw basket, sneakers and visored hat became the entry clerk for the annual fair. She carried the shiny ribbons in her straw basket until they were awarded and carefully recorded the winners.
The agricultural fair was the first West Tisbury project where Miss New-hall applied her organizational skills, but not the last. In 1958, when Kenneth A. Jones gave up his New Rochelle, N.Y., bookstore and gave its remaining contents to the West Tisbury Free Public Library, Jane Newhall began the library’s annual book sale. She discovered that many of the books he had offered were already on the library’s shelves, so she proposed offering them for sale as a fundraiser.
At first, the library trustees dismissed her proposal as a crazy idea, but finally she turned them around to her way of thinking. “We made $250 that first year,” she remembered in 2003, noting that her idea hadn’t been such a crazy one, after all. That year the library sale brought in $10,000. Also active with her in the early days of the book sale were Lillian Magnuson and Miss Newhall’s distant cousin, Polly Meinelt, as well as bibliophile Hal Tinker.
Her Vineyard hobbies included painting in oils with a group started by Ted Meinelt and doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles. For many years she was a regular patron of the Island chamber music series. Always a dog lover, she particularly enjoyed beagles, and she and Anita Guerra, her companion of 48 years, indulged them happily, both on the Island and in San Francisco. Her cousin, Robin Woods, recalled one cross-country trip. “I drove Jane and Anita and their two dogs from California to the Island. Jane, with her mathematical mind, busily calculated our speed from the shotgun seat, using the mile markers and her wristwatch to report by how much we were exceeding the speed limit on a fairly regular basis,” he said.
In San Francisco, she was a trustee of the San Francisco Theological Seminary and on the board of directors of the Graduate Theological Union. She was a founding member and director of the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation, named for her great-grandfather, who had gone West from Saugus as a youth and whose many adventures included participating in the Gold Rush.
Possessed of a fine soprano voice, she sang for years in the choir of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and in the West Tisbury Congregational Church choir.
Jane Newhall will be long remembered for her generosity, her kindliness, her organizational abilities, her down-to-earth quality and her devotion to her extended family. (She never forgot to provide a chocolate cake in July for her cousin Allen Whiting’s birthday.)
She and the beagles enjoyed watching soap operas together. She was an avid Giants fan and attended home games through her 80s and was ecstatic when they won the World Series.
In addition to her companion, Anita Guerra, she is survived by her many California-based cousins and Whiting family members on the Vineyard.
A private family gathering was held on Sunday; a memorial service will be held at a future date that will be announced in the Gazette.
Contributions in her memory may be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, P.O. Box 73, West Tisbury MA 02575, or the West Tisbury Congregational Church, P.O. Box 3000, West Tisbury, MA 02575.