Edwin DeVries Vanderhoop of Aquinnah died on Jan. 16 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, surrounded by many members of his loving family. He was 86. Edwin, also known by his traditional name Weesôus8ee Meeqan (Yellow Feather), was raised in Gay Head and was always proud of his Wampanoag heritage. To anyone who spent the time getting to know him, he was happy-go-lucky, very generous when dealing with friends and relatives alike, loving and caring, honest, and sort of a jokester, often giving cutesy nicknames to people he particularly cared about. He loved music and was known to be a great dancer, singer and musician, often playing the harmonica in the Gay Head Community Baptist Church and at family gatherings. Growing up on the Island or wherever he went, he was known to be a dapper man, always dressed to impress and was most recently known for accenting his attire with his black cowboy hat with a dyed yellow eagle feather and his genuine snakeskin cowboy boots.
Edwin was a gifted storyteller and loved to spend the time he had with anyone who would listen, telling about his many adventures throughout his life. One sometimes needed a little patience to get to end of the story, but the time was always worth it. Even though you might have heard the same story several times before, there would often be a little extra nugget of information for the attentive listener. He liked to speak with pride of escapades with his brother Bill and his many tribal cousins, as well as his World War II-era service, when he voluntarily enlisted as a member of the United States Army Air Corps and trained as an artillery man, belly turret operator and on Army crash boats. His military service and the fact that he carried on the tribal/family tradition of defending the homeland meant a lot to him. His service continued when he entered the U.S. Army Reserves and also worked in the kitchen at the Veteran’s Hospital in Bath, N.Y.
Edwin’s string of stories, which some didn’t always believe because of their wide-ranging topics, would inevitably include something about his favorite occupations — and there were many of them. Service with the Gay Head Police Department, volunteering with the Gay Head Fire Department, mechanic work in gas stations here on the Island, and of course at the one he owned in Montour Falls, N.Y. There was his time building fire truck engines for American LaFrance and machine work for Kennedy Valve in Elmira, N.Y. He was a house painter, landscaper and mowed lawns; he even dug graves and provided janitorial services for the town of Gay Head. Edwin had a strong work ethic and did anything he needed to do in order to support his family. For example, while living in Dansville, N.Y., he maintained his full-time day job and took on extra work as an overnight security guard for Burns Security, and worked as gas station attendant on the weekends.
Providing for his family sometimes meant that Edwin could tap into his love of fishing and hunting to make ends meet. Talking about hunting often led to a discussion his beloved dogs. We got to know many of them through his stories, and you knew he loved beagles the best because when he saw one he would start reminiscing about hunting with the hound doggies. Like many other Gay Headers, he was a fisherman and a scalloper. That hard work certainly didn’t put a damper on his love for seafood, as anyone who saw him take on a lobster could confirm. Ultimately, back in upstate New York, he mixed salt for Cargill until his retirement, but if anyone really knew Edwin, they would know that he would not remain in retirement for long. He found some work as a night watchman for several businesses, including the Fire Academy in Montour Falls, N.Y., before he finally decided to return to his Island home.
Upon his return to Aquinnah in 2003, Edwin found many things that were the same and many more that were quite different. He became a consistent supporter of Aquinnah Power Cruise, because everybody knows he loved cars and trucks, especially Chevrolets. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) had a lot of activities going on since its federal acknowledgement, and one thing was for sure: Edwin was going for be there. It took him a short time to get back into the swing of socializing, but once he got started, he was at almost all of the elder events, general membership meetings, anything that had to do with the veterans, and each tribal social. Edwin was proud of the fact that he was able to begin to learn the Wôpanâak language and attended classes as often as he could. Although he would sometimes say he couldn’t remember, the eldest class member almost always got it right when he gave it a try and always impressed the teacher with his efforts. When the Aquinnah Cultural Center found a new home in his old home, the homestead of his grandfather Edwin DeVries Vanderhoop, he was there from the grand opening to the fundraisers and every ACC sponsored activity he could possibly make it to.
Another point of pride for him was the reinvigoration of the Aquinnah Powwow tradition that was led by the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal youth just after his return home. Edwin made it to every powwow, happy to show up in his best red shirt, black vest, a fine wampum bolo tie, that black cowboy hat and, of course, those snakeskin boots. The grand entry that began each day of powwow was led by our elder veteran, and even when his strength wasn’t quite enough to carry the flag himself, he ensured that he stood tall and danced into the circle for his people. As one of our tribe’s eldest veterans it gave him great pride to be called upon to carry the American flag, and, as of Aquinnah Powwow 2012, the newly-created Tribal Eagle Staff. During the 2012 Aquinnah Powwow, Edwin was called upon once again, this time for a special acknowledgment of his dedication to supporting the tribe in so many ways, including his World War II service. He was gifted with a special edition Grateful Nation Pendleton blanket, which was adorned with the service ribbon designs of each American conflict from World War II to the war on terrorism in honor of our nation’s veterans and their service. He was truly humbled, honored and actually speechless while receiving that special gift, and cherished it for the rest of his days. He cared deeply about his fellow veterans and that they were both honored for their service to our great country and properly cared for after their service was completed.
With all his socializing and the genuine love of life that showed every day, no one could deny that Edwin DeVries Vanderhoop loved his family. He was not only a good man, but more important, a good son, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend.
He is survived by his daughter Anita M. Keegan of Edgartown; daughter Lorraine F. and her husband Edward Fantasia of Aquinnah; son Leonard C. Vanderhoop of Edgartown; son Edwin J. and his wife Patricia P. Vanderhoop of Burke, Vt.; daughter Cheryl L. Vanderhoop-Sellitti and her husband Michael; daughter Gertrude E. and her husband Stephan W. Garvin of Aquinnah, and their mother, his first wife Gloria E. Fisk of Edgartown. He is also survived by his sister Marjorie E. Galbraith of Newton and his brother John O. and his wife Gabi Vanderhoop of Henderson, Nev. Mr. Vanderhoop was predeceased by his father Leonard F. and mother Elsie Vanderhoop; sister Elizabeth Vanderhoop; brother Leonard F. Vanderhoop Jr.; brother William D. Vanderhoop Sr. and his second wife Dorothy Dean of Watkins Glen, N.Y. He also is survived by 17 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, innumerable nieces and nephews with a few greats thrown in, so many cousins, his beloved tribe, and more friends than anyone could count. Finally, to quote his baby brother Occie, “Well, Bro, it’s about time to wrap this up . . . you were the smallest of all the brothers, but you certainly had the biggest heart! You have left a lasting impression on all of us.”
Rest in peace, brother, Dad, Grampee, uncle and friend.