Rain showers cleared last Tuesday afternoon and Juli Vanderhoop was alone at the Orange Peel Bakery, her home business in Aquinnah. Her son Emerson was down-Island waiting to be picked up from baseball practice, and later she would need to prep for pizza night the following day. In an hour she would attend her first selectmen’s meeting as a newly elected member of the board.
It was all in a day’s work for Ms. Vanderhoop, 47, who is now a leading town official in Aquinnah.
She sat on a picnic bench outside the bakery, near a large heart-shaped stone. A few birds bathed in a nearby pond, and neighbors honked and waved as they passed by. For Ms. Vanderhoop, a former commercial pilot and early childhood educator, the bakery has become a community gathering place for friends, family and visitors.
“Even in the most trying times, people come in when we’re busy and tired and go, it’s so beautiful here,” she said. “That’s the way I feel about this town. I’ve traveled the world and I’m always searching for something this beautiful. It’s a very different place and that’s what really makes it what it is.”
Growing up in Aquinnah as one of six siblings, Ms. Vanderhoop felt a part of “one of the strongest communities.” She wants to see that return.
“Safety in numbers — the people who live here the longest come to each other’s rescue,” she said. “They’re the biggest bunch of heroes. You have to reach out and know your neighbors, you should know them all.”
After graduating from high school, she went on to receive degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. She also taught at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod. Then after 16 years away from the Island, Ms. Vanderhoop returned eight years ago and started her bakery.
“I came back here and put everything I had into this bakery,” she said. “As this was about to open I said to a friend, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ She said, ‘Then you do something else.’ But it’s that courage that said do your best, and if it doesn’t work then, yeah, you can do something else.”
She said she ran for selectman because she felt it was time to step up.
“I had to get my thing established first and make sure I understood it,” she said. “It’s time to change our pattern of history. I said to Beverly [Wright, whom she defeated in the town election], it’s time for me to do this; it just happened to be you that was up. I’ve been asked by so many people since the day I came here.”
Ms. Vanderhoop said she wants to increase opportunities for young people in town by sponsoring more affordable housing, creating community open space areas and exploring economic opportunities.
“There are so many things to consider using the land around us and using it wisely,” she said. “We need to take a look at the needs of the community and what we can do to help.”
As a single parent, Ms. Vanderhoop knows the challenges of living and working in a remote corner of the Island. In the summer she bakes up to 400 items a day; during the school year she handles the logistics of sports practice and off-Island travel.
“I’m watching many other parents drive twice a day going down and staying out of town after school for six or seven hours so one child can play a sport and then the other child plays so you don’t have to do the run around,” she said. “It’s really incredibly hard.”
Emerson is a sophomore at the high school and active in baseball and hockey. Daughter Ella just finished her freshman year at the School of Visual Arts in New York city and is home for the summer.
“My kids are my greatest proponents for moving forward and not just settling for what’s coming,” she said.
It was time to go to the selectmen’s meeting, and Ms. Vanderhoop’s brother Chip stopped by looking for leftover pizza. Biscotti would have to do.
by Remy Tumin