Not long ago a former client died.  I received a letter with a copy of her will.  She left some funds for South Mountain to do two community projects – one to help the Vineyard affordable housing effort and another to do an educational demonstration about solar energy.

The amazing thing:  she was not wealthy at all.  In 1980, when she was 59 years old,  we designed and built the first home she ever owned – a sweet little subsidized passive solar earth-bermed house in Vineyard Haven for Madeline and her dog.

We were excited to receive this bequest.  It enhanced our company charitable and pro-bono commitment:  each year we give 10% of our net profits to charitable organizations, and an additional 10% to pro-bono work and in-kind donations.

Giving away money is fun, it’s rewarding, it makes a difference, and there’s never as much to give as we wish.  Many deserving needs go without.

We have a foundation (the South Mountain Foundation, now 13 years old), a policy regarding charitable contributions and pro bono work, and a small committee to implement.  The committee consists of four of our owners, Derrill Bazzy (chair), Betsy Smith, Ken Leuchtenmacher, and myself.

The first section of our policy describes the purpose:   “South Mountain Company donates funds and services to reflect the values and interests of the Owners and employees of SMC. This is one aspect of our commitment to our community and to social change.”

We distribute the majority of our funds to local organizations, with a strong emphasis on Affordable Housing, Local Food, and Renewable Energy. The same is true of our in-kind donations. The remaining funds are distributed to organizations in the following categories: Conservation & Environment, Schools & Children, Health & Social Services, Arts & Culture, and Global Poverty Relief.  We also keep a set-aside for emergency disaster relief efforts.

We generally target organizations with limited resources rather than those with good fundraising departments and large budgets.  Our funds can be most effective that way.

In FY 15 (just concluded) we donated approximately $39,000 in cash.  Our largest donation was to the Island Housing Trust.   Our pro-bono and discounted work this year went to the MV Public Charter School, the Vineyard Playhouse, the Aquinnah Cultural Center, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the Island Grown Initiative’s Thimble Farm, the Farm Institute, and others.  Some of this was design work, some was for feasibility studies, and some was construction materials.

The SMC Foundation can also accept and redistribute donations of cash and/or property.  We welcome donations from living persons and estates (like Madeline’s) for designated purposes consistent with company values.

Here’s what we did with the two Madeline bequests:

• We designed several versions of a prototype high quality, high performance, zero energy affordable home.  We agreed to donate these plans to anyone doing affordable housing as long as they agree to pay small fees for quality assurance – so the houses get built as they’re supposed to.  Five houses (three of those subsidized and permanently affordable, for the Island Housing Trust) have been built from these plans to date.  More are in development.  Here’s a rendering of one.

•  We commissioned a kinetic sculpture by Tim Laursen called SunBird which is powered by the sun (and by a hand crank, so we humans can see how how feeble we are compared to sunlight!).  Soon to be installed in a highly visible location and un-veiled!  Here’s a photo of it at its current test site.

But mostly the Foundation exists to distribute a part of our profits.   Someone once said, “As I give, I get.”  This part of South Mountain’s work is about helping to improve both peoples’ lives and the community from which we get so much.  It’s one of the ways we give . . .  and get.  We are grateful for the opportunity.



The Vineyard remains uncommonly chilly.  Snow on the ground since late January, more last night.  The other morning it was 6 below zero, the coldest since we arrived 40 years ago.  Mal Jones told me the last time it was colder than that was in 1961.  Quite a winter.  But if we’re going to live in Vermont, I think we oughta get to have some mountains!! No such luck.

Recently Julie Wells, the editor of the Vineyard Gazette, asked me to write an article about the demise of Cape Wind.  Reasonable request, but I declined.   What I could do, I suggested, is include a few thoughts about Cape Wind in a larger context.  She agreed to that, and here’s the piece that emerged, published in the Gazette on February 5, 2015.

On the Gazette website there were many comments about the article, both positive and negative.  My favorite, from someone in Oak Bluffs, who called himself (or herself) BS:  “I’m tired of shoveling all this global warming from my driveway.”

That was the only one I responded to.  I said:  “Hah, BS, I’m tired of it too – you shovel mine and I’ll shovel yours. But you’re not shoveling Global Warming, it’s Climate Change you’re shoveling, which brings, over time, greater weather extremes – more precipitation, more drought, colder temps, warmer temps. Some even call it Global Wilding.”



On January 9 I published a post called “Massive Change and Moving On.”  Turns out the RSS feed wasn’t working, so subscribers didn’t receive.  Now it’s working again (we think) so . .  if you want to read that post, here it is:

New post coming before too long . . . .




In 2012 Mike retired after 27 years at SMC.  In 2013 Pinto switched careers after 22 years.  In 2014 Pete D went to half time after 27 years and Bob retired after 21.  And now, in 2015, Derrill has decided, after 24 years, that he will be changing career and life emphases and therefore moving on from SMC in April.

Five people, a total of 120 years at SMC.  Wisdom, talent, skill, and institutional memory galore.   Big chunks of the heart and soul of SMC, out the door.  Gone

But not all gone.  Each remains close by.  Mike  has continued to serve on our board as Benefits Director (required of all companies registered in Massachusetts as Beneficial Corporations) and managing our equity fund and pension with Siobhan.  Pete D continues to be the foreman for our Small Jobs & Maintenance Group.  Derrill will continue to do our photography and chair our Charitable Contributions Committee, and will remain on the board and replace Mike as Benefits Director in a year.

But nonetheless this is Massive Change, and it will continue unabated in the years to come as we navigate our planned transition from Generation One to Generation Two.  That is who we are today, as we enter our 40th year.

Hmm . . . SMC without Derrill.  That bears examination.  He’s quite a guy.

As Derrill studied architecture in the 70’s, he also studied and taught photography.  A summer in Bogota, Columbia living with a family and learning Spanish foreshadowed a major aspect of his future life.  After graduating from architecture school in 1980, he went to work as a carpenter, and then found his way to the Mosquito Coast in Honduras, where he worked for the UN in a refugee camp overseeing temporary resettlement villages and designing building infrastructure.  Soon after this he met his future wife JoAnn in Boston.

You could say that for the next decade he led a bifurcated life.  Or you could say it was balanced.  Six months of carpentry, six months in Central America doing volunteer work and human rights documentation.  Six months here, six months there.  Over and over.  “It was,” he says, “one of the most visceral periods of my life.”

As his work in Central America began to wind down, in 1990, he began a one year trial at South Mountain, (his brother-in-law Jim was running our shop, and still is) mixing carpentry with a few short trips to Guatemala (by then it was in his blood, and hard to shake!). JoAnn moved to the Vineyard from Boston, they got married (within 500 feet of where they would later build their house in Aquinnah), and Derrill stayed at SMC, doing carpentry for another four years before moving up to the office and picking up a pencil and a T-square again.

During the next two decades Derrill worked on the design of many of our finest houses and established long-term relationships with many treasured clients.

In 2001 Derrill and JoAnn adopted Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism three years later.  A whole new chapter began.  “In 2010, after working with many programs that were ineffective for us,” Derrill says, “we began to work with the Autism Treatment Center of America (ATCA) to establish a play-based therapy program for Jacob, and a re-orientation for us as parents.  This was a life-saver.”

Many of you who are reading this helped make possible an ATCA 2011 residential intensive for JoAnn, Derrill, and Jacob.  Jacob said his first words there.

Along the way, Derrill has consistently been an active force in the island community, both in his town, Aquinnah, and island-wide.  He chaired the Aquinnah Housing Committee and Community Preservation Committee.  He was a captain in the volunteer fire department.  He has been an important part of the  Vanderhoop Homestead restoration and the Gay Head Lighthouse move.

He came down from the wilds of Aquinnah to be a founding board member of both the Island Affordable Housing Fund and the Island Housing Trust, and a prime mover and board member for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and Greenough House. For all his important affordable housing efforts, Derrill was recognized this year by the Commonwealth when he shared the Kuehn Award for Community Preservation.

And now the twin threads of Jacob and affordable housing have drawn him back home, where he can spend more time with Jacob’s homeschool program and pursue the perfect compliment – affordable housing work from a home office.

When he departs, Derrill will take with him oh so much that we will miss.  But he will leave behind far more.  His relentless commitment to humanity, kindness, compassion, justice, and design has made an indelible imprint on the South Mountain DNA.  His heart will always be with us, and his continuing photography, charitable contributions, and board service will be a constant reminder for us to never forget the “Derrill part” in our work and our thinking.

Personally, I love the strong memories that linger from the many yeasty design collaborations Derrill and I sailed through together, from affordable housing neighborhoods to some of our favorite all time houses, like the Mazar house below.

Hmm . . .  SMC without Derrill.  Tough one to imagine.

And the others too.   Each has been hard to say farewell to, and each remains a part of who we are.