July 3, 2002 – Radio listeners would tune in daily to hear the strong opinions of "the Mayor of Gallows Bay" as she offered insights into the workings of the government, leading many protests of injustice. That voice was stilled Tuesday morning when Jessica Tutein Moolenaar died at her home on the "bay side" of St. Croix after a long fight with breast cancer. She was 77.
The talk shows of the late Randall "Doc" James and of Mario Moorhead were two of her favorites. She would sit in her rocking chair in her living room with a full view of the bay she loved and call in to discuss her concerns and, of course, put in her two cents worth of what should be done about them.
On Saturday mornings, she would taunt guests on Abdul Ali's show, who were fair game for her unabashed antics. Athniel "Addie" Ottley would chuckle as he fielded her candid views on his radio program.
On learning of her death yesterday, some St. Croix radio stations changed their program formats in her honor to field calls and read e-mails of condolences to her family. WRRA, which hosts Moorhead's show, broadcast spirituals in her memory.
Visitors to Moolenaar's living room over the years included the late senator Ruby M. Rouss, her confidant; Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, a family friend; and her late childhood friend Gabriel Williams, "the Mayor of La Vallee."
"My husband and Jessica would be on the phone for hours," Johanna Williams recalled Tuesday. "I would make sure I placed my calls before they started."
Hansen called Moolenaar "a defender of truth and justice" in a radio interview. "She was there for the poor and the needy. Jess was there for anyone that needed a voice but could not speak for themselves."
Although some feared crossing "Jessie," most respected her deep love for her island. Her strong, recognizable Crucian dialect bellowed with a smooth, slow drawl. "Dooooc, leh me aks yu sumting bout dat," she would say. When she walked into a room and demanded what she wanted, one hoped to address her concerns or answer her call, because you didn't want hear her talking about it on the next radio program.
A strong champion for the conservation of the marine life and her beloved fishing community, Jessica, as she was fondly known and respected, never faltered in fighting for the causes she believed in. Six feet tall, she was a towering golden image of beauty with long shiny black locks, and a lady. And she was a woman of the sea, ready to start an outboard engine, haul up fish pots, scale the day's catch at the bayside — and most ready to light a coal pot and feed all who awaited her culinary delights, maybe fish soup or conch stew.
"The first thing I think about is growing up around her. She helped our parents raise us all," her 23-year-old granddaughter Narcisse Bascombe said. "She always wanted the best for everybody." Speaking tearfully from the home of her mother, Marla, in Gallows Bay, she said her grandmother always had a lesson of life for family.
Once, Bascombe recalled, when she asked her grandmother for some money, Moolenaar agreed to see that she got it. But on the day the money was to be handed over, she took her granddaughter to the bank for a two-year loan. "She guided me to become an independent woman. I learned responsibility," Bascombe said.
On Saturday mawnins and after working hours, community residents, political aspirants and island visitors alike would flock to her bayside bar affixed to the west side of her home to savor some libations, discuss the politics of the day or just watch the sun set behind Protestant Cay. If you wanted to know what was happening, Jessica's was the spot to find out.
On Tuesday night, the Crucian Christmas Fiesta Committee honored Moolenaar at its Old-Fashioned Tea Party in the illuminated Fort Frederik Museum courtyard with a choral spiritual and a standing ovation for her support of festival activities over the years. Friends recalled that after parades in Christiansted town passed the Gallows Bay area heading to the finale in David C. Canegata Ballpark, the road for more than a few would lead back to the bay and her home for "last lap" activities. Moolenaar was the first festival queen, in 1954.
In June, the Legislature approved and the governor signed Act No.6525, honoring Moolenaar for her contributions and naming the Gallows Bay parking lot constructed on Lobster Lane in her honor.
The act states that Moolenaar was the fifth child born to Melissa Harrigan and Phillip Bornn Tutein, on Aug. 23, 1924, and that she attended the Danish School, now the site of Florence A.S. Williams Library on King Street in Christiansted.
She spent her whole life around the Gallows Bay port that was a popular stop for mariners sailing the Caribbean. Her father, a fisherman, allowed her as a child to tag along on his daily adventures to provide meals for his family and customers, and she learned boating, fishing, boat building and repair and fish pot-making at an early age. And she would tackle any guys who got in her way, so she was highly respected within the boating community.
Later, residents would look forward to annual activities chaired and hosted by Moolenaar and the "Gallows Bayans," a group of families and longtime residents who would return for the events. Cheers could be heard as she would leap into the harbor for a three-mile swim to the Hotel on the Cay in the Christiansted harbor and back to Gallows Bay. Outstroking many a competitor, she would emerge from the bay, squeeze the salty water from her wavy hair and smile.
Moolenaar was active in the wider community as well. As a member of the Parole Board, she would urge the community not only to punish offenders but also to ensure that their rehabilitation would be of the utmost importance. She felt that the incarcerated men of her community had been neglected in the education system and wanted to see them motivated to become productive citizens.
She was a founding member of the Women's League of St. Croix, a member of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, and a Constitutional Convention delegate, among other community involvements. Lawrence Bastian, American Legion district commander, thanked her for supporting the organization, "on behalf of all veterans of the Virgin Islands."
She was an active member of Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church. "I could see Jessica right now sitting in her spot," retired nurse and church member Rita Phillips said, recalling that Moolenaar had her special seat at sevices every Saturday night.
Moolenaar was married to Halver Moolenaar. Although she was the mother of seven and the adoptive mother of many more, a visitor could always have a meal or sleep in a bed or camp on the porch of her home. She is survived by her husband; her children, Roxanne, Brenda, Roslyn, Ingrid, Marla, Roland and Magda; 28 grandchildren; and 29 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 9, at Lord God of Sabbath Lutheran Church. Arrangements are by Thomas/Hyll Memorial Chapel.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.