Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 37 Issue 13 • July 19-25, 2007
now in our 37th season

Island Volunteers:
Hospital Thrift Shop Has a Beach

by Laura Kent

Visitors to the Nantucket Thrift Shop will find it loaded with treasures no matter which day they decide to visit…but perhaps the greatest treasure of all is hidden away in the “sorting “ room—her name is Irene Beach, “Rene” to almost everyone who knows her.

 Irene first came to Nantucket in 1967 with her husband, Norman, at the suggestion of their daughter. It was decided that Nantucket was the perfect retirement spot, so Rene went back to Rochester, NY, to pack up house and home and end a career as an analytical micropogist at Kodak. In 1969, she returned to the island to build the lovely home on India which she still resides.

This warm, vivacious lady, whose lovely face and figure belie her 88 years, has been a faithful volunteer at the Thrift Shop for more than 20 years.  She tells of her first days there, when the volunteers were given the extra duty of making potholders out of re-cycled flannel sheets. “I started by cutting the top fabrics but May Porter, who was the current president, was disappointed with my efforts, so she asked me to cut the “fillers” instead.  Even that was beyond my skill.  So I was told  “ Irene, maybe you better just press them…’ so that’s just what I did—I ironed!”

Irene may not have had much skill as a seamstress but she is certainly skilled at volunteering.  She has been the Vice President and Chairwoman of House and Grounds for the thrift shop.”  I just love that old building, making it pretty!” she exclaims with enthusiasm.  One of the first jobs she did was to paint the second floor book room.  She also saw to it that the parking lot was repaired and amended to accommodate the volunteers’ cars.  “Without good parking, its impossible to get volunteers” she states.  She also made sure the “gift room” had a new floor installed when the condition of the old one became deplorable.

Things have changed a bit at the Thrift Shop these days.  No longer are there handmade potholders and the occasional “put-up” jam or jelly.  Instead, bargain lovers will find brand-name and designer goods lined up next to homlier household items.  Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein goodies are nestled in among the sheets and cookie pans.  Gold and sterling jewelry is often found in the “front room” cases, and fabulous coffeetable books are spotted in the book rooms.  Even the on-island retailers are known to donate past season items and overstocked goods from time to time.

But Irene’s efforts are not limited to the Thrift Shop.  Anyone who has tasted Walter Glidden’s Smoked Bluefish Pâté has tasted a recipe Irene came up with years ago.  “We were getting ready for the Second Annual Sea Fest and one of the goals was to promote the use of under-utilized fish.  Now the natives rarely eat bluefish, they just don’t.  So I went down to the docks and asked if anyone smoked bluefish.  Yes, I was told they did, but even that way, people rarely bought it.  So I went home, with a pound of Glidden’s smoked bluefish under my arm and began to test recipes out on my family.  (They weren’t too happy with me after a while), but I came up with a recipe for smoked bluefish pate that they all seemed to enjoy.  Well, I took my pâté to the Sea Fest and it was a great success!  A few days later a woman called from California and wanted to order 10 pounds of pâté!  I marched myself down to Glidden’s and handed him the recipe.  I tease him and check up  from time to time to make sure he is using the “good” brandy my recipe called for. He still is!

 When Irene volunteers she likes to make sure there is a specific goal in mind.  The seniors, for instance, had no Center.  So she convinced the Town to lease a building for 99 years to the Senior Citizens group.  The Center for Elder Affairs is still housed in that building.

“And the Arts Council.  That was a real joy!  A while back, a New York producer by the name of John Wolf came to Nantucket.  He was a fine artist as well and was concerned that the island had no Arts Council.  So with a small amount of State funding and lots of little donations from hundreds of folks, John, Henry Koch, who volunteered as the first President and myself, as Vice President, put together what was to become the Nantucket Arts Council.  As soon as we had put a  ‘very impressive’ Board together, I moved on.

John Wolf and I also collaborated on The Stage Company, a small theatrical endeavor.  John bought a building, it was next to where the Artist Association is, and began to outfit it as a theatre.  He enticed the company of the Broadway hit Dracula to come to Nantucket and perform.  It was a spectacular success.  Unfortunately, the building burned to the ground shortly thereafter and that was the end of The Stage Company.

Yes, Irene Beach has been and is a very busy woman.  She has served as school librarian at Academy Hill, Landscape Chairwoman for the new school, Girl Scout Leader, fundraiser, wife and mother.  She’s even had a article published in a local magazine.

Her days are as busy as they ever were and she shows no signs of slowing down.

Next time you are in the Thrift Shop, send a message of thanks back to the “sorting room” to this amazing woman.  Thank you for all you have given back to us, Irene Beach!

Rene Beach’s Smoked Bluefish Paté

2 tsp. Chopped onion
8 oz. skinned smoked bluefish
8 oz. Sweet butter, room temp.
5 oz. Cream cheese, room temp.
2 1/2 tsp. Anchovy paste
2 1/2 tsp. Cognac
1/2 tsp. Worcestshire sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon

In electric blender or food processor, blend in order the onion, cut up bluefish, anchovy paste, cream cheese, butter, lemon juice, cognac, Worcestershire sauce.  Adjust to your own taste.

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