EASTHAM — Over the last five decades, if you turned on your radio on Cape Cod or in the Boston-Providence area, chances are you’d hear the voice of Bob Seay. It’s the same with Outer Cape projects: if you know of something that came together through a community effort, Bob Seay was probably there, too.
Seay, 74, is a longtime Eastham resident and veteran newsman who’s had stops in Orleans, Hyannis, Provincetown, and Providence. These days, the smooth-talking Seay is a reporter for WGBH radio in Boston, specializing in transportation issues. But he’s also been a major player in the preservation of Eastham’s Chapel in the Pines and the WOMR Schoolhouse in Provincetown.
“All of these community things are great to remember,” Seay recalls. He credits his mentors. “You need people like Bud Fisher and John Yingling, who ‘get’ the whole community idea, and that there’s support out there.”
Seay, a native of Belleville, N.J., began his Cape radio career during the 1970s at WVLC in Orleans. He worked there with a Bowdoin College student named Phil Redo, who would later become his boss at WGBH. From there, it was on to a 17-year stint at WQRC in Hyannis, working with the likes of Don Moore and Ed Semprini, who “taught me everything I know about the Cape and the Islands,” Seay says.
A Schoolhouse Education
While at WQRC, Seay began serving on the board of directors of WOMR in Provincetown, which went on the air in 1980. In 1997, Seay became the station’s executive director. That’s when he got his first lessons from Yingling. The station was looking at moving into the old Schoolhouse Gallery on Commercial Street.
“ ‘John, it’s a million dollars!’ ” Seay says he told him. “John replied, ‘Yeah, but it’s worth two million!’ John knew it was Robert Motherwell’s gallery — probably the most famous gallery in Provincetown — that sat above the American Legion there. John knew that the artists in town did not want this building to be condo-ized.”
Yingling encouraged WOMR to hold art auctions and yard sales. The first floor was rented out to art galleries. It wasn’t long before the mortgage was paid off.
“ ‘Jingles’ ” — as friends call Yingling — “was very good at this,” Seay says.
Seay took those lessons back to Eastham’s Chapel in the Pines, across the street from his home. When Seay moved there in the early ’70s, the old church, built in 1889, was hardly being used. In 1974, Carrie Miller started the First Encounter Coffeehouse there. But in 1976, the Brewster Unitarian Church wanted to sell the building, prompting the establishment of the Nauset Fellowship.
The group managed to get a very low interest loan from the Cape Cod Five Cents Saving Bank for $30,000.
“Bud, how are we going to do this?” Seay recalls asking Fisher. “Having chowder suppers,” Fisher replied. “And feed the tourists.” Over seven summers, the fellowship took in $5,000 annually to help pay off the mortgage.
Edward Hopper’s Eastham
During the fellowship’s efforts to save the building, Seay learned from his neighbor, Noel Tipton, that the chapel had been the subject of a 1948 watercolor by Edward Hopper, which the artist composed from his car. While much of his Cape artwork was done in Truro, Hopper had a soft spot for Eastham. The painting was eventually titled “Church in Eastham,” after Seay checked in with the Whitney Museum in New York about it in 1989.
“I stood there all afternoon staring at the painting,” Seay says of his long-ago visit to the Whitney. “Finally, it occurred to me what the painting was about,” Seay says.
“It’s not ‘Night Hawks’ or ‘Route 6 in Eastham.’ In the center of the picture is a utility pole, in the shape of a cross, and where you would see a cross normally on the steeple, it’s cut off. For Hopper, it’s a very strange, overt reference to what we worship.”
For the last five years, Seay has been giving lectures about Hopper’s work in Eastham.
Seven years ago, the chapel began to have some structural issues, and the fellowship considered selling the building. Seay got involved again as president. The fellowship successfully applied for a Community Preservation Act grant, their request aided by the recently rediscovered fact that one of the major funders of the original 1889 construction was Edward Penniman, the Eastham whaling captain. The group “went back to the Bud Fisher model,” as Seay puts it, by hosting dinners every month.
Since 2006, Seay and his family have shuffled between Eastham and North Attleboro. He left WOMR in 2006 for Rhode Island Public Radio before landing at WGBH as its morning host in 2010. He’s comfortable in his reporting role — and as a community historian, especially when it comes to Chapel in the Pines.
“Had we not purchased it, it would have ended up being somebody’s house,” Seay says, adding that, instead, “We’re leaving something for the town.”