Up, Up and Away

Larry Stone Flies From Schools To Retirement

By MARCUS TONTI

The things people do for love - of a spouse, of a good job. Or, in Larry Stone's case, both.

Mr. Stone retired this week after 28 years teaching in the Island school system. What distinguishes the music instructor from other teachers is that he actually lives across Vineyard Sound - and then across Buzzards Bay - in Acushnet, next to New Bedford.

On Tuesday afternoon, the last day of school, Mr. Stone drove his truck off the Island. But almost every other day for the last two decades, he flew to and from the Island - on Cape Air, and before that on Provincetown-Boston Airlines - using his truck on the Vineyard side to drive from the airport and between schools.

While this commute may strike some as amazing, the veteran teacher is remarkably blasé about it, describing his situation in matter-of-fact tones: His wife, Cynthia, is a special needs teacher in Acushnet, and this is the solution they came up with.

"That's what started it," he told the Gazette. "We had a home, and the fact that neither one of us wanted to leave our jobs made it important for one of us to commute. Being a weekend spouse wouldn't have cut it.

"It was convenient for me to do it because of the schedule," he said. "And that's a good feeling for both of us; both of us enjoyed teaching where we were."

One day into retirement, Mr. Stone had no regrets.

"I was very, very lucky to have made the decision to stay on the Vineyard all those 28 years rather than get a job stateside," he said. Had he started a new job elsewhere, he suggested, "I would have been the least senior person, and probably the first to go" as budget cuts over the years forced school music programs to be pared.

"Even off-Island right now, you can see in today's Standard-Times, the cutbacks are coming again like they did in the mid-eighties," he added.

But Mr. Stone didn't have that kind of foresight, he admits; he simply enjoyed teaching here.

"The Vineyard has always valued a well-rounded, quality education," he said. "They have never hesitated to put in the extra money so it would be a better education; the support from the parents and taxpayers has been phenomenal."

Mr. Stone, a brass man, takes pains to praise his colleagues in the music department, clarinetist Troy Tyson and flutist Ruth Chapman.

"I'm not a one-man band," he said - pun intended. Mr. Stone is based at the Tisbury School but over the years has also team-taught at the elementary schools in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury, and more recently at the regional high school.

Beginning music students generally start in the fourth grade. "What I do basically is give them a valued and well-rounded education, and they have music become a part of their life," he said. "They can do as much or little with it as they want."

But still - how about that commute?

"You can't get bent out of shape because it's foggy," the teacher said. Occasionally, inclement weather would force Mr. Stone to take the ferry or even stay over with a friend. "The spontaneity is not there," he said. "You have to plan ahead."

Mr. Stone was able to reach a deal with Cape Air through which he received a discount above and beyond ordinary commuter savings. "It was a situation that benefited both parties," he said. It was still expensive, he said, "But Cape Air was always there for me.

"I was there for them," he added, "but they always accommodated me."

Cape Air certainly appreciated its most frequent flyer on the New Bedford-Vineyard route. On Monday, when Mr. Stone returned to the mainland, airline president Dan Wolf was there to greet him. Mr. Stone received gifts including a commemorative plaque from the ground crew, an etched glass stein from the regional airport commission and - so he can visit his old stomping grounds - a 10-flight commuter book.

Mr. Stone and another retiring colleague were also feted Tuesday afternoon by their Vineyard peers at a faculty meeting. "They presented Bob Holt and myself with a book of memories which has little notes from teachers we worked with, students we taught, pictures of some of the things we've done throughout the years," he said.

Mr. Stone also received a watercolor depicting the Tisbury School building and pottery signed by all the faculty members.

Tisbury School has "a very loving and close faculty," he said, "which is another reason why I'm leaving with mixed emotions. I'm leaving some dear friends."

Fifty-five years old, Mr. Stone pointed out that he has been at school for 50 years. He said he and Cynthia, who finishes her teaching career next week, are looking forward to retirement and to being freed from the strictures of the academic calendar.

While they were teaching, they had to schedule all their vacations for the summer, he said. But now, "We can stay around this area all summer long, which is a glorious place to be, then in the fall when we're not working, we can fire up the motor home.

"We are traveling fools," he added. "We enjoy going to Europe, we enjoy going cross-country. We've been all over the place."

One place on their itinerary is eastern Europe, including Bulgaria and St. Petersburg, Mr. Stone said. Another destination is the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, N.M.

"If we don't make it this year, we'll probably make it next year," he said.

But still - how about that commute?

Mr. Stone is a realist. He again praises Vineyard schools, but doesn't see himself as a model for other teachers who may be beginning their careers.

"I can't think of a better place to start a career," he said. "But, no, it's not the best way to save money if you're a beginning teacher."