Memorial Day 2019
The BIG 1-0-0:
Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Plans Centennial Celebration
By Dave Bontempo
Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, Aug. 13,1946.
What a birthday!
For 100 years, the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol has been one with the landscape. Now it’s the centerpiece.
The guardians of the grounds, who have likely protected more than 100 million beach visitors since their July 1919 formation, will be honored in a summer-long celebration. A unique thread connecting visitors, families, and the eras of the craft converge on the city.
This once-in-a-lifetime observance offers several levels of participation.
Wear it: The 100th anniversary of the patrol is officially inscribed on the seasonal beach tags and celebrated on commemorative T-shirts sold for $15 at Beach Patrol Headquarters, 44th Street and Promenade, every day starting Memorial Day weekend.
Jack & Joe Coleman, sons of the first captain of Sea Isle City lifeguards, with Captain Tom MCann (right) 1962.
Watch it: Formal recognition of the patrol unfolds July 11 and 13, featuring a boat parade, speeches, a historical presentation, tours and the Alumni Association’s induction of Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Hall of Famers. The events coincide with the patrol’s first day of operation, July 11, 1919. And the exact time, 10:45am.
Read it: Besides special coverage in the Sea Isle Times, people can follow SICBP history in the souvenir book being compiled for the Alumni Association’s July 13 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, at a location to be determined.
Beach patrols have long played a pivotal role for city government and tourism.
“We are all extremely proud of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, and this year we will be celebrating their 100th anniversary in grand style,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio says. “During the past century, the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol has proudly provided safety to all of our beachgoers – and they have done so with dignity and honor. I want to thank all of the lifeguards who previously served and who are currently serving and protecting us today.”
Lifeguards Dick Clancy (left) and Jack McCall, 1947.
SICBP Captain Renny Steele continues the longest tenure of anyone who has served in his position. Steele launched his lifeguard career in 1968 and begins his 34th year as the head of the unit.
The beach-tag designation “attests to the fact that the city recognizes the important role the beach patrol has played in public safety and that its fine history should be commemorated,” Steele says. “Sea Isle City Beach Patrol has a proud history; a fine image, not only in town, but among South Jersey beach patrols. I am very proud to have been a part of Sea Isle City Beach Patrol’s evolvement over the years.
A sign promoting the 4th annual Tri-Resort Lifeguard Championships, Aug. 11, 1950.
“The beach patrol has always made an effort to be an integral part of the community,” he continues. “In addition to lifeguarding, the patrol hosts a number of activities and events that are outside its job description. I truly believe the public appreciates and values these contributions. Events such as the Captain Bill Gallagher 10 Mile Island Run is in its 49th year, the Mascot School is in its 40th year, the Junior Lifeguard program is in its 20th year, and the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol 1 Mile Ocean Swim is in its sixth year. In the past, we have hosted such events as tennis tournaments and blood drives.”
Within the patrol’s job description, Steele considers the biggest change in beach safety the improvement in lifesaving equipment. Until the 1970s, paddle boards were not used as rescue devices in Sea Isle City. Today, every beach has a paddle board, he notes.
Beach Patrol administration (from left): Lt. Mike Hale, Lt. Tom McCann, Capt. Bill Gallagher, Lt. Stu Bakely and Lt. Jerry Gehman (early 1970s).
“Wooden lifeboats have been replaced by fiberglass boats which require considerably less maintenance,” Steele says. “Rapid-response WaveRunners equipped with rescue sleds respond to long-distance rescues. The cork/canvas and heavy fiberglass diamond rescue cans with rope harnesses have been replaced by lightweight plastic torpedoes with nylon shoulder straps. I do not miss the rope burns that the diamond cans provided.”
Upgraded service include the listing of safety tips on the beach-patrol website.
The evolution of the patrol has been a noteworthy development since the 1880s, according to Tom McCann, the two-time beach patrol captain, author of two books on the subject and acknowledged patrol historian. McCann was part of the group organizing the centennial program.
“The very first item discussed in Sea Isle City was about the water and safety,” he says. “All the way back then, 1882, this was considered very important.”
Lifeguards Milton Grant and Leonard Giordano, 1948.
That led to the presence of a lone marshal, who patrolled the beaches four times a day. It morphed into a growing group of volunteers, along with the efforts of the Women’s Civic Club, which facilitated their efforts with equipment. One of the volunteers keeping the lifesaving efforts alive until the patrol could be formed was Gordon Landis, the son of Sea Isle founder Charles Landis. McCann says the first known “volunteer” and organizer of men to go on rescues was Walter Wright, who worked for the United States Life-Saving Service. The USLSS was created by the federal government to respond to shipwrecks off the coast.
McCann, a Pennsylvania native inspired to serve here as a result of Sea Isle’s mascot programs, salutes the predecessors of this age.
“The one thing that most resonates with me are the volunteers,” he says. “There were many, many rescues, near drownings and tragic endings during those times. There was a real dependency by the people of Sea Isle City on the ‘volunteers’ who saved many lives over the years. The volunteers were so good and made so much money just on donations from lifeguarding, I believe it delayed the creation of a formal group to be formed by the City. After all, Ocean City, Sea Isle’s neighbor to the north, founded their patrol 20 years earlier.”
Captain “Jumbo” Cannova with the SIC Beach Patrol, circa 1930.
Part of that effort was sparked by the Women’s Civic Club, which was founded in 1910. It purchased a boat and other rescue equipment and placed them on the 43rd Street beach for the volunteers to use for the rescues.
The first beach stand would be placed at 43rd Street in 1919. McCann says a string of captains starting from John Coleman in 1919 to Steele spans 16 people. Three lifeguards – Vince Lamanna, William Wilsey and Mike McHale – eventually became mayor, he notes.
Centennial events will continually unfold as summer approaches. Check the beach patrol website at sicbp.com for updates. A number of events have already been confirmed.
Lifeguard mascots march down Landis Avenue as part of the baby parade, circa 1950.
The major weekend begins July 11 with an 8am Mass at St. Joseph Church, 4300 Landis Ave., to honor all deceased Sea Isle City lifeguards. At 10:45am, a parade along the Promenade (29th to 44th streets) will feature boats from several area beach patrols, music and Grand Marshal Andy Sannino, at the age of 100 the oldest living Sea Isle City lifeguard. He served on the patrol in 1941.
The 100th anniversary celebration continues afterward at the 43rd Street beach, site of the first lifeguard stand. The ceremony will include a gun salute, bagpipes, prayers, and speeches by dignitaries. It will end with a Row-Out Ceremony, during which SICBP alumni will row two lifeguard boats past the breakers, where flowers will be set adrift in honor of all deceased beach patrol members.
Captain Mike McHale (circa 1980) at a Memorial Day Service. He later became mayor of Sea Isle City.
An open house follows from 1-5pm at the Beach Patrol Headquarters involving guided tours and the opportunity to view equipment, photos from past decades, and awards from competitions.
A rain date of July 12 buffers the two major anniversary dates.
On July 13, at 10am, former captains Mike McHale and Bill Gallagher will give a historical presentation about the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol at the Sea Isle City Library, 4800 Central Ave., followed by a second open house at the Beach Patrol Headquarters from 1-5pm.
The different logos of the SICBP through the years.
A paddle-out wreath ceremony from the 44th Street beach will be held at 3pm, with lifeguard boats, paddle boards and WaveRunners to honor deceased members of the beach patrol.
At 7pm, the newest Hall of Fame inductees will be honored. The location is to be determined. The honorees will be Lt. John McCann, Lt. Tom McFadden, Blake Tribuchi-Downey and Matt Ledwith Sr.