Interviewed By Olivia E. Jackson, Membership and Marketing Assistant
Phyllis and Don Visco have been longtime supporters and members of Egan Maritime Institute and the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum. Their initial connection to Egan began with the Lifesaving Museum; their friendship with Museum founder, Bob Caldwell, instigated their involvement and participation with the Museum, which became a program of Egan Maritime Institute in 2004.
For nearly two decades, the Viscos have participated, contributed, and supported Egan Maritime Institute in countless ways. From being members since 2002 to attending events to donating goods for Egan’s Maritime Festival, we are grateful to them for their loyal support and unwavering commitment to helping us inspire the appreciation and preservation of Nantucket’s maritime heritage.
Describe your relationship to Nantucket.
Don: I’m a native. I was born here in 1934. My mother’s family came to Nantucket because my mother’s uncle, Aquilla Cormie, the last blacksmith on Nantucket, was here. His shop was on Straight Wharf, where the Four Winds Gift Shop is now. My dad worked at a barbershop on Main Street. The barbershop was where everyone hung out. All the activity happened in and around the barbershop. I was told to get down to the Wharves and learn how to open scallops. Fresh fish were a barter item. I was the fastest scallop opener as a kid. All the shops that are now on the Wharves, they were all fishing shanties. There have been so many changes over time. I met Phyllis in the summer of 1956. That was the year the Andrea Doria sank. She had come to Nantucket for the summer for a job. We met and got married in 1957, and then I got drafted and was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training. I then went to Texas for training in NIKE missiles. Phyllis came out and lived in Texas for a little while, and then we went to Germany. I served in the first operational NIKE missile Battalion in Europe for two years. Toward the end of my enlistment, my father got sick and passed away suddenly. I got discharged, and came back to Nantucket and worked in construction. I went into business for myself and started Island Excavating Co. in 1966. I was in business for 50 years – all excavating and site work. I had the first pump truck on Nantucket. I have also been actively involved in politics. I spent 30 years on the Planning Board; 17 years serving Lank Bank; and 5 years on the Conservation Commission.
Phyllis: I'm not from Nantucket, but from around this area. I came to Nantucket for the summer, and that's when we met. We have four children, David, Carolyn, Stephen and Jennifer. Three are on Nantucket, one lives on the Cape. We also have 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild. I worked for the Nantucket Probate and Family Court. And then I applied for Register of the Probate and Family Court. I started in 1973 and retired in 1997. I also managed the payroll for the Nantucket Cranberry Bogs. I also actively make Lightship Baskets and have held classes at our home. I was also a director of the Nantucket Center for Elder Affairs and a past member.
What inspired you to join and support Egan Maritime? How did you hear about the organization?
Don: I knew Bud Egan. After I graduated from High School in 1952, I worked for Bud in 1953 at Marine Lumber. We were also always friendly with Bob Caldwell, who founded the Lifesaving Museum. He was the spark plug for it. We think the Museum is a great thing – although, it is located far from town! We were originally involved because of the Lifesaving Museum. And then when it transitioned and changed to Egan Maritime, we stayed on. During the big campaign for the Museum, we made a donation to support the renovations of the building and the expansion of the collections. The Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum is truly number one for us.
What about Egan Maritime makes you proud to be a member and supporter?
Phyllis and Don: We think it’s great that the organization is keeping the maritime history of Nantucket alive. And that Egan is bringing the history of the island to the younger generation. Egan is keeping it alive and moving it forward.
It’s great that Egan has so many programs for children. And that there is maritime education in the schools. We’ve always liked Maritime Festival.
In what ways do you think Egan Maritime can continue to change, inspire or improve Nantucket for the better?
Don: The bay scallop industry is going downhill. The regrowth of the eel grass in the harbor is really vital and important. The scallop industry is the last vestige of commercial fishing on Nantucket. All of my children learned how to open scallops. There used to be beds of sea scallops. I love fishing. I've almost always had a boat. It would be great if Egan Maritime got involved and was able to help enhance and revitalize the scallop industry. Scalloping and fishing are important to us, and we don’t want to see those industries disappear on Nantucket.
Phyllis: It would be great for Egan Maritime to offer a scholarship in the High School for students interested in or applying to Maritime Colleges. The maritime education in the school system is great, and it’s wonderful that students want to continue to pursue education or careers in the maritime industry. It would be nice if there was a way to continue to support them beyond Nantucket.
What’s your favorite Egan Maritime event that you’ve attended?
Phyllis and Don: We love the Sea Shanties evening at the Museum. Rodney Charman [the artist that Bud Egan commissioned to paint a body of works depicting Nantucket’s history and maritime heritage] gave a lecture at the Coffin School that was wonderful. The best lecture ever was Robert Ballard. He is a professor of Oceanography and found the Titanic. He spoke at Great Harbor Yacht Club for an event for Egan Maritime and it was the best lecture ever. We loved him. We also appreciate Lifesavers Recognition Day and the heroes being honored. This year, we attended the Members Opening at the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum and liked the exhibit about the British Queen.
Wave Makers are Egan Maritime's Change Makers. They advocate for our mission and support our programs. Of most importance, they spread awareness and go above and beyond in their leadership. To learn more about the many ways you may support Egan Maritime and make big waves with your philanthropy click here.