Endless Summer 2019
Isn’t That the Ruth! Steedley the Perfect Choice for Sea Isle’s Founders Award
By Dave Bontempo
Some surprise parties don’t involve a cake.
Ruth Steedley has seen practically everything regarding the transformation of Sea Isle City since the 1980s. The 35-year veteran of Freda Real Estate has forecasted trends, anticipated market waves, and guided people with their buying decisions. Steedley has long been aware of the innovations aiding Sea Isle City by virtue of helping create them.
But Steedley never saw this.
The Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization managed to shock Steedley in early August by naming her the 2019 recipient of its coveted Founders Award. Steedley was attending a regular meeting, heard the introduction linking the annual award’s honoree with community royalty, and then – boom! – heard her name called.
A stunned Steedley watched the room erupt in applause.
“It overwhelmed me, I almost died when I heard that,” she says. “Good grief, I was very humbled by it. I think it is so sweet. I am very grateful for it. This means a lot to me, especially after getting over that initial shock. I had to do a double take. It has been wonderful.”
Steedley will be formally recognized by the Chamber in a Sept. 27 ceremony at the Oar House Pub.
The Founders Award recognizes someone from the business, civic or political community making significant contributions to Sea Isle City. Past winners include Thomas Henry, Irene Jameson, Mike McHale, Dave Farina, Mike Stafford, Jim Iannone, Bill Buchanan and John Divney.
Ruth at 6 years old, posing with her mom in 1943.
Steedley, a consummate goodwill ambassador, coalition builder, and an individual viewed as a mom and friend, was an easy choice. She has been prominent in Sea Isle’s resurgence over the last decade not simply for what she has done, but by what she has preserved. Steedley kept the Chamber of Commerce above water during a down period and paved the way for its future success. As its president, she went door-to-door, persuaded businesses to join together, and helped engage local government.
The attributes needed to enhance the Chamber relate to her own stock in trade: warmth, wit and wisdom.
“My approach to business is the same as the approach to life,” she says. “You need to have a helpful attitude. What is better than taking care of people? A vacation is a precious thing to many people. If somebody buys from you at the shore in the summertime, they are not buying for anything but their own pleasure. They are not buying for the school system; they are basically buying a toy. All you can do is help them.”
The Woodstown native began extending a helping hand here in the 1980s. Steedley came to Sea Isle City from an inland realtor with a commission-only approach that she believes “brings out the worst in people.”
This experience has been far different. Steedley credits Freda with a service-oriented approach that is not about money.
Along the way, Steedley watched Sea Isle become known as a family-friendly town, reminiscent of Woodstown.
Ruth celebrating her birthday with her daughters.
From left, Debbie Erdner, Ruth, Janie Atkinson and Barbara Woodside.
“I came from an area in which everyone knew everyone and thought that when I came here, this is bigger, I can relax, not worry, and that nobody knows me,” she says. “Well, guess what? We are a very small town in the sense that people here really do take care of each other. It may not look that way initially, but it’s true. There is a wonderful, small-town atmosphere here.”
Steedley sprinkles some charm and anecdotes into her perspective. She has three children and four grandchildren, and notes that the presence of grandkids reminds grandparents of how quickly their own children grew up, while “you were providing for them and you were busy.”
Steedley will drop everything to accommodate visits from her grandkids, who live out of state.
She jokes about her own age – she will be 82 in October – regarding a tenant.
“I got this gift bag and note from a lady and it said ‘Happy Anniversary,’ ” she says with a laugh. “I figure, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s about my age, the poor lady is losing it.’ And the note says, ‘Congratulations, we have been renting from you for 30 years!’ How great is that? I’ll tell you, the warmth and friendliness of the people you meet along the way is priceless.”
A family portrait with her sisters in 1951. From left, Mimi, 20; Betty Lou, 22; Dottie, 24; and Ruthie, 14.
And so, to many people, is Steedley. That list includes Chris Glancey, whom she convinced to succeed her as the Chamber’s president.
“Ruth is one of my favorite people on this island,” says Glancey, who notes her active role in the downtown restoration that transformed Sea Isle into an enticement for businesses, homeowners and tenants. “I have never spent time with her when she hasn’t shown a smile on her face. She is one of the funniest people I know. Ruth makes me laugh and smile all the time. She is genuinely a good, good person who helps this town, and that is hard to find. She is a great asset. We are very lucky to have her.”
“Ruth has a way of talking to people that makes them feel like they are her best friend,” adds Vicki Feeney, secretary of the Chamber’s board of directors. “I have known Ruth for about 30 years and it has been a friendship from the start. She is sincere, honest and direct.
“There are a group of us whom she calls her girls, and we consider her our matriarch. We are so happy she has embraced us. One of her memorable quotes to me is that she says her daughters have become her friends and her friends have become her daughters.”
The attribute is a perfect foundation for engaging others in a business climate.
Ruth celebrating her 80th birthday with a party at Maureen and Vince Morrison’s house.
Buchanan, the immediate past president of the Cape May County Board of Realtors, credits Steedley with restoring the prominence of the Chamber a few years back. He initiated this award in 2011.
“The Chamber would not have been around today if it had not been for Ruth,” Buchanan asserts. “She single-handedly brought it back and, in my mind, you are an award winner forever if you can do that. Prior to her becoming the president, the Chamber was at a low. What it has done in the past few years is very significant because if you look at everything accomplished in Sea Isle City in the past few years, you see a merger of the public and private sectors.
“Ruth understood that the Chamber had to be a big part of the revitalization of the town and work closely with it; not just be, if you will, a union for business owners. She has always been someone who gained people’s confidence.”
So much so that they attempted to honor her while keeping it secret, for maximum effect. And they pulled it off.
Around the World Social
Tickets $65 in advance, $75 at the door
Available for purchase daily at the Oar House Pub from 4-10pm or at La Costa Packaged Goods 9am-9pm.
Checks made payable to SICCCR.
Endless Summer 2019 Articles: