- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

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Mad Batter founder Harry Kulkowitz at the 70th anniversary of D-Day

“Think of Harry Kulkowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants, who fudged his age at enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight. Don’t worry, Harry, the statute of limitations has expired. Harry came ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day. And now that he’s come back, we said he could have anything he wants for lunch today—he helped liberate this coast, after all. But this humble hero said a hamburger would do fine. And what’s more American than that?”

President Obama

Read the full transcript



Photos courtesy of Mark Kulkowitz

Getting stuffed on History

We’re thrilled to support Historic Cold Spring Village at their annual fundraiser, Feasting on History, at Naval Air Station Wildwood. Every year, Hangar One is filled with food vendors from all over Cape May County, including Lucky Bones, Washington Inn, Blue Pig Tavern, Ebbitt Room, Back Bay Bistro, Island Grill, as well as local wineries.

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Aleksey from Exit Zero with Dr. Joe Salvatore of NASW



The Elwells. Bob writes history pieces for Cape May Magazine


Publisher & boss Bernie Haas with Cape May Magazine art director Stephanie Madsen


Left to right, Gretchen Whitman from the Nature Center of Cape May, Mark Allen from South Jersey Marina, and photographer Mary Pat Myers, who all contribute to Cape May Magazine


Tommy Raniszewski with Cape May Magazine editor Kate Chadwick


On the left is Michelle Bumm, staff photographer and Cape May Magazine circulation, with Kathleen Hayes, our ad sales rep


Richard Crossley (Cape May Magazine’s birding columnist) and daughter Sophie Crossley (who will be writing for the magazine this summer)


Fern Massimo, our bookkeeper, with Jessica Keeler, our web manager (and the person who typed these captions)

Marvin Hume

The Islander - Marvin Hume

Since being wounded in The Battle of Saipan during World War II, Marvin Hume has been eligible for the prestigious Purple Heart, a military decoration which he refuses to this day. “I saw guys much worse than me during the war,” Hume explains. “Guys with limbs missing. I wasn’t looking to beat any drums. I just did what I had to do.”

His patriotism is unwavering as he presides over the flag lowering ceremony each evening at Sunset Beach to pay honor to the men and women who have served the country.

Widowed, Hume lives with his life partner Patricia Wolfe in Erma where he recently welcomed Cape May Magazine to discuss his life, and the love he has for his community and his country.

Hot Dog Tommy

Hot Dog Tommy, Cape May NJDon’t feel bad for Tom Snyder and his wife, Mary. Though the space at Hot Dog Tommy’s, their tiny stand on Jackson Street, may seem small as you get handed your Black Russian or Carrot Dog, it’s just the right size for this freewheelin’ pair.

“We don’t need big spaces anymore,” said Tom. “Compacting one’s life is a neat thing. “

As I sat down with Tom on the Promenade while he compacted his life into one story, I realized I was sharing wooden slats with half of the world’s coolest couple, who just happen to own a hot dog stand.

Tom and Mary moved to Cape May in 1984 when they bought The Manor House bed and breakfast on Hughes Street. They had never been here before.

What made them do that?

“Drugs,” Tom answered without delay. Laughter followed a perfect comedic pause. “I’m kidding.”

After they sold The Manor House, Tom and Mary’s excellent adventures continued when they bought the Dry Dock Restaurant on Texas Avenue. They sold it five years later, bought an RV and drove around the country.

Say what? I can almost smell the patchouli.

“We first worked at Grand Teton National Park. Then we found work in South Dakota. I was a buffalo tour guide, a guy from New Jersey who took people through the black hills and buffalo herd at the Custer State Park,” Tom said. “We did that for three years and loved it. Then we found a gig at Disneyworld in Orlando for the winter months. That’s when Mary had this great idea to do a small business. Nothing with “e” in it – employees, equipment, etc.,” said Tom. “That was 10 years ago. Hot Dog Tommy’s started growing and now we have employees. And equipment.”

And to think this Hot Dog was a vegetarian when he first came to Cape May. Not anymore, though he still has tendencies.

“Last year we introduced the carrot dog. It’s a steamed carrot, grilled and served with toppings. We have 19 different toppings. The mashed potato tornado can be vegetarian. We do salads, too. It’s a hot dog joint, but we do have vegetarian options,” Tom said.

And they have housing options. The Snyders split their time summering in Cape May and wintering down south.

“We found a corner of southwest Georgia called Americus in Sumter County – pecans, peanuts and cotton. We park our rig on US Highway 280 East. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter live on 280 in Plains, Georgia. He’s our Sunday school teacher.”

Okay, now I really do think you’re on drugs. Jimmy Carter is your Sunday School teacher?

“He’s taught Sunday school since he was in the Naval Academy. The only years he didn’t teach was when he was President,” said Tom. “He’s phenomenal.”

Tom’s been a buffalo tour guide, Jimmy Carter’s student, and kept a straight face while wearing a hot dog hat. What’s next?

“What’s next? Did you not follow the chronology of the things I’ve done? Whenever Mary and I stop doing something we have not an idea in hell what we’re doing next. On the Hot Dog Tommy tee shirt, we have our mantra: Relish Today, Ketchup Tomorrow.

“Finally I found a business that fits my philosophy of life, ‘Manana, who knows?’ ”

(Disclaimer – no actual drugs were taken during the interview and writing of this story. We did have a hot dog or two, though.) cape may dog friendly beaches

Editor’s Note: This Cape May Character article written by Stefanie Godfrey was originally published in the July 2012 issue of Cape May Magazine

The Candyman


Joe Bogle has been a presence in Cape May for all of his 59 years. The Fudge Kitchen, the business he co owns with his brother Paul, celebrates its 41st Anniversary this year. We sat down with the smiling Candyman in his office, happily intoxicated by the sweet aroma of chocolate that filled the air.

I was two days old the first time I came to Cape May. I was born in July and our summer home was where Dock Mike’s is now. We lived there for years. Then my family bought a home (I still live in that home) on First Avenue. I’m 59 years old; I’ve been here every summer of my life and for the last 30 years, every day of my life.

My brother Paul and I started a little candy store on the Boardwalk in North Wildwood when we were teenagers. Our plan was to make a little money and go to college. We did. My degree is in Political Science with a master’s in Religious Education.

I like selling fudge better than both of those subjects.

The candy store was a natural fit for Paul and me. Before we went out on our own, we worked for Mr. Segal at Segal’s Candies next to the Beach Theater. They were very good to us.

My mother, Catherine, was our first sample lady. We hand whipped the fudge in the window and people started watching us. She used to stand outside all night long handing out samples. If you have something that’s good and you’re proud of it, you should let people taste it. We are very proud of our fudge and we think it’s the best.

I’m in a business surrounded by happy people. My co-workers are not always so happy to see me, but I love what I do, I love being here. I’m very lucky.

There’s a candy called a Sour Patch Kid and it’s sweet and sour. Most of the times I’m very sweet, but once in a blue moon, a little sour streak comes out. I try to be happy and nice all the time.

I ask the people that work for me, no matter what the circumstances, to be nice to our customers. Being nice is as important as the product itself.

When I’m not at work I love to go out to dinner at the Lobster House, the Merion, the Washington Inn, Lucky Bones, Pilot House, but I never order dessert when I’m out. If I want dessert, I take some candy home. Unless they have Key Lime Pie. I love Key Lime Pie.
I also love Frank Sinatra. I’m the Candyman who sings Sinatra. Did you ever hear my commercials on the radio? That’s me singing … “The summer wind came blowing in…”

I have a face made for radio.

The Bread Lady


Her name is Elizabeth Degener. Her father calls her Biz. Her friends call her Liz. But to all who queue up on a Saturday or Sunday morning along Sunset Boulevard, waiting for her arrival – she is simply known as The Bread lady.

This is her third summer selling bread from a roadside stand located at the foot of the family’s Enfin Farms property. As one waiting customer observed, the bread stand looks like the one Lucy uses in the Peanuts cartoon. Lucy’s stand has a sign which reads “Doctor is in.” At 8:50 a.m. on a Saturday morning, nearly one hour before Showtime, The Bread Lady’s stand is unadorned.

I start to walk up the long driveway toward the farmhouse when I hear my name being called. It is The Bread Lady’s father, Rich Degener. He is tugging at some tree roots over on the far side of the selling area. He tells me he is clearing more land so she has room to expand. I ask him if he likes the attention his daughter is getting, and he looks up into the sky as though pondering the question, smiles and answers very proudly, “I don’t mind being referred to as The Bread Lady’s father. I like that. Just walk up the driveway, Biz is expecting you.”


It is getting onto 9 a.m. and I am anxious to meet The Bread Lady so, even though I would like to stay and chat longer, I begin the walk up the long driveway.

When the farmhouse comes into view, I don’t see Elizabeth about, but I do eye the wood-fired clay oven which was shipped in from California in one piece. I call her name and she pops out from behind a bush near the farmhouse and greets me. She is wearing a simple white shift and she has a kerchief about her head which keeps her thick, curly hair in abeyance. Elizabeth introduces me to Wesley Laudeman, who runs the farming portion of the business, and then offers me some freshly made ginger tea. It is still warm, garnished with a slice of cucumber and mint, has quite a bite to it.

I bake myself, although not bread. Pies and cakes are me specialty, and I am anxious to investigate the clay oven which sits atop a concrete stand, which I estimate to be about four feet high and four feet wide.. Elizabeth opens the oven for me so that I might get a first-hand look at its inners and slips a lone loaf of bread, which did not seem to be quite done, back into the oven. Then we go into The Bread Lady’s inner sanctum – a commercial kitchen where all the bread has been readied in lovely cloth-lined baskets. Rounds with baguettes. Classic French bread mixed with Pumpernickels. Rosemary & Thyme loaves mixed with Raisin and Spice loaves, and all the assorted breads which will be offered on this already very warm Saturday morning. At the appropriate time, the baskets will be loaded onto the back of her father’s pickup truck and he will back it down the driveway. Within minutes, the empty Charlie Brown bread stand and adjacent vegetable market will be transformed into a slice of Europe.

But how did it all come about is my question.

It actually began in Ireland. Elizabeth studied International Business at the American College of Dublin. “On my summer holidays I would bounce around through Europe and go to farms through the WWOOFing program.” WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. “They give you,” she explained, “housing in exchange for maintenance on the farm. You learn about farm production, agriculture, in some cases baking, and anything that has to do with primitive living, really.”

Her travels took her to Germany for the summer proceeding her senior year and six months more after graduation. At that point, she became the cook for the community which included baking with a clay oven. After Germany, Elizabeth went off to India and also was the community cook there. In February 2010, she returned home.


“I didn’t have anything started yet,” she said, “but I knew I wanted to so something with farming and baking. So we [she and her dad) ordered the clay oven. I didn’t know what to expect. I took a big chance ordering it. The first summer was really slow. This is the third season and it is catching on, especially with [adding] the vegetables.”

Wesley, who is in charge of farming, is a childhood friend of Elizabeth’s and also had experience in the WOOF program in Mexico and Canada. Otherwise, it is a family affair, which Elizabeth would like to encourage. “My brother [Rick] just put in a big raspberry patch,” she said. “And he’s hoping to have a big yield within the year. He has big plans. We thought about planting blueberries, but we wanted something with high yield that you can sustain a small livelihood from and raspberries are very lucrative. We can get a substantial production out of them in one year. Blueberries take five years.” Her hope is that her other brother, Geoff, currently living in Baltimore, will return home and join the operation in some capacity.

So, I am wondering, what is a typical bread baking week like?

“All week I’m kneading the dough. It rises once. I shape it and I freeze it. Then [on Saturday] I get up at 4 a.m. I take the bread out of the deep freezer. It thaws and rises again. [Meanwhile], I fire up the oven. On the first day it will take two hours [to reach its appropriate temperature]. Tomorrow, only one hour.”

She makes, on average, about a 100 loaves a bead a day.

Before I know it, it is 9:45 and time to load the bread baskets, topped with linen towels or mesh domes to protect them from the bugs and insects, onto the truck. By the time we walk back down the driveway, making sure we say hello to the resident ducks, which Wesley says do a fine job of keeping the bugs off the vegetable and flower gardens, the bread line has begun and is growing. Seasoned customers come with friends and make a morning of it, chatting and catching up on the news. Others peek around while The Bread Lady and Wesley hang up the wooden signs which specify the choices. Within minutes, the stand and vegetable “market” have been transformed into a slice of Europe.


I dutifully take my place at the end of the line and when it is my turn buy – at the Bread Lady’s suggestion – a large loaf of Toasted Millet with sunflower, flax and poppy seeds, plus Chocolate Muffins for breakfast on Sunday. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t half a block down the road when I was enjoying one of those.

It’s a beautiful thing to see young entrepreneurs coming home to make a difference and I am sure The Bread Lady, who still hand-kneads all the bread, will be investing in a mixer one of these days. Her summer days of operation are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

As an postscript to my story, The Bread Lady ran out of bread the next day and felt so badly, she went back to kitchen and made more bread and hand delivered it to a few of the customers who were left wanting. Now that’s a success story. historic-endmark

One Woman’s Legacy



Carolynn Pitts

When Carolyn Pitts died in May 2008, few people in Cape May recognized her name. But, as a young college student and for years after, Carolyn made many trips to Cape May, spending hours documenting the architecture and fighting to preserve what she viewed as a unique town. Her one-woman-led fight for preservation put Cape May on the road to becoming the town we know today and provided a foundation for Carolyn’s lifelong commitment to preservation. Cape May was but the first in a long string of nominations Carolyn made for the National Historic Landmarks program. By the time she retired (at the age of 82) with 32 years of experience as an architectural historian with the National Park Service, she had been responsible for conducting the studies for more than a quarter of the 2200 designated National Landmark sites. Pragmatic, always, in her view of preservation, she was fond of saying that “properties tell us where we’ve been and what we are and we ought to take care of them.”

Summer after summer, often with friends or students whom she recruited for help, Miss Pitts (as she was known in Cape May) walked block after block of Cape May photographing, drawing and writing down building descriptions to create records of the unique architecture. One of her friends who helped record the buildings remembers being followed and questioned by police about who they were, what they were doing, and whether it was permissible to stand on a curb to write descriptions of a house. But this was the 1950s and not everyone knew about or favored preservation. In fact, only a handful of Cape May citizens saw any value in the old, out-of-date buildings. Back then, with a population almost double what it is today, Cape May had varied year-round businesses and industries, among them, car dealerships, appliance outlets, gas stations and service-oriented business. The money earned by townspeople from summer visitors during the short July and August season was neither a principal source of income nor the city’s primary industry.


The Colonial House, circa 1800.

Unlike many of the townspeople, Carolyn was intrigued by the vast number of buildings of various architectural periods and styles, among them Colonial, Victorian and Edwardian, all contained within a relatively confined area. In her walks around town, she met Cape May residents who also appreciated the town’s history and architecture. Sam Kahn, the then owner of the Ugly Mug at Washington and Decatur streets, was a supporter. Evening gatherings were held at the Ugly Mug where townspeople and these young preservationists shared information about the town’s buildings and history while speculating about how these resources could benefit the town.

While Carolyn was focused on architecture, Dr. Irving Tenenbaum, a physician and lifelong resident, was promoting the economic benefits of preservation. In 1961, city council established the Cape Island Historical Celebration Committee to prepare for both the New Jersey Tercentenary (1964) and the Cape May Bicentennial (1966) and appointed Dr. Tenenbaum as chair. The Cape May Star and Wave regularly reported about the committee’s activities including an early project with the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) and Cape May’s selection as a site because of its “wealth of architecture which denotes many types of early 18th and 19th century styles.” In early 1962, Cape May established the forerunner to the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC). Headed by Dr. Tenenbaum, the Architectural Advisory Committee was charged with advising and making recommendations to the Planning Board about historically important structures. At the committee’s organizational meeting, Carolyn and two associates, artist Charlotte Gold and photographer Samuel Gray, educated the committee about the unique collection of intact 18th and 19th century styles represented in Cape May.

The Celebration Committee’s first formal activity was establishing an historic district – probably Cape May’s first. The district included 35 notable buildings ranging from the Blue Pig, (circa 1750) residence on North Street, not the restaurant in Congress Hall, and the Schellenger House (circa 1820) to the more notable Victorian style buildings such as the Victorian Mansion (1856; now called the Mainstay Inn) and the since-demolished Lafayette and Windsor Hotels. The district and the buildings were described in the Cape Island Historical Review, a booklet published by the Star and Wave during the summer of 1962, and each was physically identified by a plaque presented by the Chamber of Commerce. Later in that year, the portion of the historic district from Perry to Windsor streets and North Street to the beach was further defined by the installation of 30 gas lights. After a trial period with a few lamps, considerable discussion with the electric company, and negotiations with various state agencies, as Tenenbaum described in Cape May Magazine’s summer 2007 issue “it eventually came to a vote and we won by a small margin.”

The real catalyst for preservation was neither increased citizen awareness nor a town-adopted preservation agenda, but rather the infamous 1962 March storm where high winds, tides, and rains pounded the beachfront and much of the town in an event almost as catastrophic as the 1878 fire. In one short day, the town suffered more than $3 million in property damage. The storm hit everyone – businesses, year-round and summer residents. Before the storm, Cape May had survived half of the 20th century through “benign neglect” with little new development but with loyal summer residents who returned year after year, many to the cottages built by their ancestors. By the early 1960s, a once fashionable Cape May was not only dated and old-fashioned but severely damaged by the storm. Carolyn, Dr. Tenenbaum, and others saw opportunity in the storm’s devastation.


The Queen Victoria

The story about how preservation emerged from the storm depends on who is doing the telling. Cape May’s rebirth from an out-of-the-way summer resort to a year-round tourist destination has been widely reported in the media and by people who were involved. Suffice it to say that there were two camps – preservationists and those who were more interested in tearing down the old to be replaced by the new. Generally labeled as the “ratable,” this group’s primary interest was to increase the City’s tax revenues by building new motels and buildings that appealed to the post-war generation and would allow Cape May to compete with other resort communities such as Wildwood. Carolyn was a prime force behind the preservation group, which believed Cape May’s economic salvation lay in preserving the architecture that made the town stand out from other South Jersey shore communities.

A second major event was the town’s success in obtaining federal urban renewal funds, an effort that had actually begun prior to the storm and which culminated in a multi-year project to redo the town. In 1966, Cape May’s successful use of federal renewal funds for preservation was illustrated in Woman’s Day where it was reported that funds were obtained and used for preservation-based renewal on recommendation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Cape May was touted for recognizing that “at a time when most seaside resort towns feverishly tear down all evidences of history …..Cape May is spending $3,200,000 to maintain its lavender and old lace atmosphere.” However, the picture may not have been quite that glowing. Reports from the Star and Wave and other local papers described ambiguous support for preservation. Only after several major structures were demolished in 1963 did Cape May adopt a master plan to guide urban renewal. The plan mandated a complete assessment of the town’s historic resources with the understanding that a basic step to economic recovery would be use of existing buildings. In other words, buildings could not be torn down if rated as worthy of preservation.


The George W. Boyd House, circa 1911, at 1501 Beach Avenue. Colonial Revival.

The urban renewal project, begun in 1963, was directed toward a 77-acre portion of the town center labeled as the “Victorian Village,” an area that roughly extended from the business district on Washington Street to the beachfront. Carolyn was hired to complete the first activity, a resources survey. Finished in 1964, the survey included maps and descriptions of all properties within the boundaries of the Victorian Village as well as some buildings that were outside the boundaries but judged as important to preserve. Carolyn was always dismayed that the 77-acre district could not be drawn in such a way as to encompass all the significant structures. The Physick house, too far from the town center, was outside the district, but the eastern project boundary was pushed to Franklin Street to include the Chalfonte Hotel. This 77-acre urban renewal area became Cape May’s first local historic district, identified for many years as the primary historic district – not because it was more important, but because it was the first district. In 1968, Carolyn completed a second study which identified all the historically significant properties outside the urban renewal district boundaries.


Captain Mey’s B&B on Ocean Street. Captain Mey’s Inn was built in 1890 by Dr. Walter H. Phillips, who was a homeopathic physician and a true native of Cape May.

Urban renewal was a major activity in Cape May from its 1963 beginnings through the early 1970s. By 1968, the project was in full swing. A Washington Street project office was established. Consultants were hired to help in planning and to assist residents in preserving their houses. A Historic District Commission was established. David Teel was hired as city manager because of his previous experience with urban renewal and preservation in Michigan. Energy was high with positive expectations for renewal benefits. “Our philosophy,” Dr. Tenenbaum later recollected, “was that if we could offer the public something more to see than just the beach in two months during the summertime, perhaps we could extend the tourist season from early April until late October.” Today’s tourist industry had its initial roots in these ideas, hopes and possibilities, so tentatively expressed 40 years ago.

While some saw that history and buildings were what the public would come to see, not everyone was in agreement. In a booklet distributed to residents in the mid-sixties, the project was described as seeking “to eliminate slums and blight and their causes both through clearance and conservation and through historic preservation and new construction” – not exactly a whole-hearted preservation agenda. By 1967, 68 buildings had been demolished and more were relocated to make way for new construction. Several avoided the wrecker’s ball, most notably the Pink House which is generally known to have been purchased by Tom Hand and moved across the street to land adjacent to the Star and Wave offices. Whole blocks of buildings were torn down for newly constructed motels, parking lots, apartment buildings, or shopping centers, often showcased because they were built in a so-called Victorian style. Some neighborhoods, described as slums, were virtually eliminated and replaced by parking lots or public housing. The battle lines were drawn between the “ratable” and preservation factions when a city council and mayor with little support for historic preservation were elected in 1965.


The Gallagher House, circa 1882. The gingerbread is typical of the Second Empire architectural style.

In a May 1966 Star and Wave editorial about the upcoming summer season, recent new construction projects – the Golden Eagle and Stockholm motels, Village Green, the new shopping center along the canal, and new stores adjacent to convention hall were highlighted accomplishments. Progress was represented as a process of demolition and new construction. Mounting concern grew about what would remain of the real Victorian buildings. When possible demolition of the historically significant Emlen Physick house outraged both full-time and summer residents, preservation interests were thrown to the forefront. The Victorian Village represented less than a tenth of city acreage. There were no protections for structures outside the Victorian Village and protections within the Village were greatly reduced when city council disbanded the Historic District Commission at the end of 1970. Based on a desire to obtain some protection for buildings throughout the city, a subcommittee of the Cottagers, led by Edwin C. Bramble, together with Carolyn nominated the entire City of Cape May (and a portion of West Cape May) as a district for listing on the National Register. Residents and city officials learned of Cape May’s December 29th, 1970 designation as a National Register historic district by reading a late-January story in the Philadelphia Bulletin.


Carved wood spandrel arches are featured on the Pink House, circa 1880.

While some citizens happily received this news, then-mayor Frank Gauvry, and members of city council were anything but positive in their response. A strong rumor at the time was that information was leaked to the Philadelphia paper since city leaders were not going to announce the designation. The announcement delay was explained in a January Star and Wave story as being confusion among the state’s federal representatives. “U.S. Senator Clifford Case had decided to let Rep. Charles Sandman make the announcement” but Sandman’s office denied having received the announcement (although others had received copies of the National Park Service letter to Sandman). Sandman later attempted to use his Washington influence to have the designation reduced in size and scope and also tried to have the designation rescinded entirely because the town government had not been consulted. In March 1971, Sandman’s Legislative Assistant, Fred Caldron, sent the National Park Service (NPS) a copy of draft legislation that Sandman was considering introducing in the House of Representatives if NPS did not make administrative changes Sandman had suggested earlier. Primary among these changes was a requirement for approval by city government or private citizens before National Register designations were granted. Owner or city approval prior to nomination was not adopted at that time, but was incorporated into the nomination process more than 10 years after the Cape May incident.

At the heart of Mayor Gauvry’s outrage about the National Register controversy was the Gauvry-supported Victorian Towers project which involved demolishing an entire block of stores so that the Catholic Diocese of Camden could build a six-story apartment complex to provide housing for elderly residents. A month after the designation was announced, Gauvry went so far as to say that “designation of an entire community as a historic site would destroy a balanced community.” He found no fault with the facts contained in the Register application but when interviewed for a 1986 Wall Street Journal story, Gauvry did find fault that the application was filed by “carpetbaggers who cared little for the town’s real problems” and who acted “legally but surreptitiously.” By May 1971, the Star and Wave quoted Gauvry as saying that the city was considering suing Bramble and Pitts because “it was those two individuals who drew up the petition for applying for Historic Site designation.” But the weekly reports on the controversy somewhat waned by the end of the summer when a significantly scaled down and revised version of the original Victorian Towers plan was approved. Mayor Gauvry and council did not just verbally talk about the designation negatively, but also took local action against preservationists. In the month after the announcement of the Register designation, city council reneged on arrangements to allow preservation supporters to purchase the Physick estate. How the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) members successfully pulled the house out of the fire is a story all by itself.


The Chalfonte Hotel was built in phases beginning in 1875.

The Cape May saga quickly became national news. Most major east coast papers from Boston to Washington published at least one story on the “pro-preservation” versus “progressive development” polarization of the town. Finally, the battle climaxed with the election of a pro-preservation mayor, Bruce Minnix, who ousted Gauvry in 1972. “The delicate balance between opposing forces in Cape May,” Carolyn wrote in a 1983 history of early preservation efforts “encouraged preparations to document what might be destroyed.” Documentation was accomplished by Historic American Building Survey (HABS) teams that spent four summers (1972, 1973, 1974; 1977) in Cape May drawing, photographing and recording the notable buildings. The Windsor Hotel, slated for demolition by the City in 1972, barely had drawings completed by an ad-hoc team of University of Pennsylvania students before burning to the ground. The historical background research from the summer teams was later used by team-member George Thomas to publish the now classic and widely recognized 1976 book, Cape May: Queen of the Seaside Resorts. Drawings and photographs from the architectural work were used as the basis of the Cape May Handbook, a 1977 publication distributed free of charge to residents who attended city-hosted preservation workshops. Carolyn was greatly amazed by the Handbook’s continuing popularity and the high prices commanded in recent years when a copy ever so infrequently would appear on Ebay.

Minnix’s last action as mayor was to accept the 1976 National Landmark designation on behalf of Cape May. Preparing and submitting this nomination was Carolyn’s final official act on behalf of Cape May. She had already moved to Washington, D. C. to join the NPS as an architectural historian and was already onto saving other notable buildings in other cities and towns across America. During the 30 years that she worked for NPS, she was profiled in more than 15 national magazine articles as well as in numerous articles in major newspapers such as New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She was responsible for “landmarking” many well-known American icons such as the Empire State Building and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Over her lifetime, Carolyn received many awards for her national contributions to historic preservation but what she enjoyed most was the fight to “pull things out of the fire of the developers,” or help make things “go right” that were going wrong – skills she had more than honed in her decade of fighting for Cape May.


The Congress Hall of today is the third building of the same name. The first was built in 1816.

There was nothing that Carolyn loved more about preservation than stories about preservation. A great storyteller herself, she educated and mentored at least two generations of professional and lay preservationists by sharing her knowledge on any number of topics including history, architecture, and the “inside scoop.” This story about what MAC’s executive director, Michael Zuckerman, described as Cape May’s “spectacular rebirth as a Victorian theme destination” did not occur because of the efforts of one person. Carolyn would have been the first to deny any singular importance in Cape May’s preservation. She praised the work of the many ordinary people who with their own time and money transformed the town into what it is today – house by house by house. She would have shared her laurels with early pro-preservationists like Dr. Tenenbaum, Ann LeDuc, or Bruce and Corrine Minnix. And, she may have acknowledged her early role as a catalyst in mobilizing Cape May residents to take a stand, run for office, or form organizations such as the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (of which she and others in the preservation “camp” were founding members). But she never would have said that Cape May turned out the way it did because of her efforts alone. Even today, credit for Cape May’s ongoing preservation is rightfully shared among many people and groups, who but for Carolyn’s tireless efforts 40 years ago, would never have had opportunities to either dabble in or economically benefit from preservation. Every one of us who is even just a little bit “preservationist” or who claims to “love Cape May” have Carolyn to thank for laying the foundation for ongoing efforts to preserve, revitalize, and enjoy Cape May. historic-endmark


Cape May Survey Team 1977. (Left to right) Rear: Hugh McCauley, Trina Vaux, Dan Goodenow, Susan Stein. Front: Michael Fish, Carolynn Pitts, Tom Ewing, Perry Benson, Bernie Cleff.

The Painter and the Poet

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Cape May Magazine

“Still the Queen” (1978) The Windsor Hotel on Beach Avenue, two years before it burned to the ground.

Artists paint pictures with brushes and poets paint pictures with words. The desired result is the same – to transcend, to stir the heart and soul and mark the memory.

Alice painting Congress Hall from her front porch in 1986. (Click to enlarge)

It’s been 11 years since beloved Cape May artist Alice Steer Wilson last picked up her brush. She died July 22, 2001. But Alice lives with us still in her watercolors depicting Cape May architecture and in seascapes basking in sea light.

Alice’s daughter Janice Wilson Stridick is an artist as well, a poet; putting pen to paper words that evoke emotions, beckon memory, create music, leave a lasting impression. Janice follows the art form of her grandmother Margery Wells Steer, a poet.

The three generations gathered frequently, each creating her impressions on paper, at the Wilson family home, an 1850s gingerbread cottage on Congress Street, a block from the beach and across from Congress Hall.

Surely they all loved summer. Many of us remember Alice perched on her stool along the seawall or on a street corner, painting a favorite Victorian. An endearing quality of Alice – she would say hi, glance up from her palette and chat, allowing a look at what was taking shape on her easel. Janice, the wordsmith, needs but a pen to jot on an index card or journal inspiration from a swim, a sunrise, a face. Grandmother Margery picked her words from the salty air while musing on the front porch. “What I have been investigating as a poet, a writer,” says Janice, “is this idea of women and art and creating identities through what we make.”

“View in Summer” (1992)

They all shared a secret. They loved Cape May in winter when the throngs are gone and the sea light softens and the surf pounds louder.

The View in Winter is a book of poems written by Grandmother Margery during “the winter of her life,” when she was 92. In the foreword, thanking daughter Alice for watercolor illustrations and granddaughter Janice for editing, she writes:

Winter..that quiet time of deep snows and warm fires…dreaming of things past and things to come. A time of waiting for another spring.

Alice’s winter watercolors are not as prolific or well known as her summer art. She and husband Fred spent winters in Cape May after he retired in 1985. They added heat and hosted family Christmases at the cottage. By then their four children, Janice, Deb, Kate and Jim, were adults and the pile of presents and the dinner table grew larger with spouses and grandchildren. “Mom loved Cape May in winter especially when it snowed,” says Janice. She painted views from her front porch – snowy Congress Hall and Congress Place, and tidy bungalows at Lafayette Street that have been torn down and replaced by mansions.

“Our House” (1989(, the Wilson family home pictured in the center

“Mother came to Cape May before it was discovered, before it became a Historic Landmark, and she adored it,” says Janice. “Winter, I think, reminded her of the Cape May she knew in the 70s, a neglected historic village, a beautiful, fragile, somewhat ephemeral place. And the light, the light is legendary, and then you have the art of this natural landscape which is beyond compare.

“When she was coming to Cape May in the 70s, the village was just waking up commercially. There were young people starting businesses and restoring Victorians.” They were the age of her children and invigorated Alice, who painted the Mainstay, the Abbey, the Queen Victoria as they transformed from battered white elephants into colorful, elegant B&Bs.

“Pink House” (1975)

“Mother was an avid preservationist as I still am,” says Janice “Part of her motivation to paint the historic buildings was to preserve them. The Windsor [1879 and designed by Stephen Decatur Button] was at the end of our street, and we loved it.” Alice painted the Windsor many times and her watercolors are cherished images of the rambling old hotel which was destroyed. It burned to the ground in a wind-whipped fire in 1980.

“Congress Place in Winter” (1996)

Alice and Cape May flourished together. She painted from life, plein air, seldom using photographs. In many ways, her interpretations of Cape May’s Victorians helped brand the city in the 1980s as the renaissance place to be. Her brush caught the passion, the energy, the synergy of that time of brilliant renewal.

“Autumn Triumph” (1998) The lighthouse in autumn sea light

She was the first Cape May artist to display her watercolors in one-woman shows at the Chalfonte Hotel’s Magnolia Room. Her show receptions became a Labor Day ritual over a decade with a growing collector base that was enhanced by Janice’s marketing skills. In the final year Alice’s painting partner, Virginia Tabor, joined the show. The two traditional artists studied together at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both mothers with teenage children, in the revolutionary 60s, when pop art ruled. Virginia was inspired by Alice’s passion. “She took her paint box with her on her honeymoon!”

Alice started painting young, in oil. Daughter Janice has a small oil of the farm house where Alice grew up at Sunnyslope, North Lima, Ohio. The house is history, but the farm fields remain. Alice’s children remember visits. “Doting grandparents, wonderful fresh farm food, scores of animals, being read to, picnics with friends,” says Janice. “All four of us loved the farm, and Ohio.”

“Winter Porch” (1994)

There’s another small oil of a house on Long Island where lucky farm girl Alice spent summers on North Fork, a thin finger of land offering beautiful views of Long Island Sound. Vineyards, apple orchards, potato fields flourish there. Alice’s girlhood landscapes of farm and sea came together in Cape May, which provides both.

Daughter Janice, in the months after her mother’s death, set about a project she vowed to finish in a year. She would produce a catalog of her mother’s work—from the beginning: those little oils to her early efforts at being a classical portrait painter to her blossoming into a prolific award- winning, sought- after watercolorist in Cape May. After the catalog was finished, Janice reasoned, she would organize a museum retrospective of her mother’s body of work –and ultimately wrap it up in a book about Alice Steer Wilson’s legacy as an artist.

“Red Roof” (1982)

The catalog project was much more daunting than Janice imagined. She is still working on it. She has computer-catalogued 1,200 paintings and has images of 1,000 She believes there may be another 800 yet to be located. The project is painstaking and expensive in time and production. She needs to find each painting, borrow it from the owner, have it scanned, reframed and returned to the collector–all the while keeping up with technology that allows excellent image reproduction.

“This is fascinating detective work,” says Janice. ”I have the heart of an archivist or curator. I became deeply fascinated with cataloging the work, learning more about my mother, the artist, in her notebooks, sketchbooks and journals. I learned more about her painting during the last year of her life, for her last Chalfonte show when
her cancer reemerged and took her.” The show went on without her and sold all but three paintings in the first 30 minutes.

“Portrait of Jan” (2001, oil)

Janice tells this favorite story: “Shortly after Alice died, a collector called to say he had discovered this message, handwritten and signed, on the back of this painting [Windsor in September, 1975] he was having reframed:

“In case my paintings are ever ‘discovered’ after I’m dead, this is my statement of what I was trying to do. I loved the appearance of things, light particularly, and tried to copy it as accurately as I could, leaving out what was boring and exaggerating what I liked. Why I loved certain sights better than others I never understood, and neither do the people who are explaining it to you now.”

“Self Portrait” (1996)

The journey of discovery by Janice, the poet, continues. She has rediscovered her mother’s childhood summer place. The cabins her great-grandfather Horace Joshua Wells built in the 1930s still stand on a rise overlooking Long Island with stairs descending to the water. Janice and husband Paul joined with some kinfolk at Shady Dell this past September. She took with her the pencil drawing her great-Grandfather sketched designing a simple frame dwelling with wrap-around screen porch. A perfect place for inspiration and the book of poems Janice is writing titled UnfinishedDaughter.

Meantime in Cape May this season, the Wilson home on Congress Street continues to celebrate life. Father Fred Wilson had an 89th birthday with the family gathered around the big table, and Christmas and New Year’s are just around the corner. 

The House that Lobsters Built

We are happy to report that The Lobster House is again open following Superstorm Sandy!

We were dock rats,” said Donna Laudeman, hostess at The Lobster House, remembering her childhood, and that of her brother Keith’s, growing up in the family’s fish and restaurant business at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The party boats draw crowds of fishermen as well as spectators at Schellenger’s Landing in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Laudeman family

“Keith and I grew up down on the docks,” she said. “We caught sea bass and eels, swam in the crick, and helped Essie in the kitchen. She was the prep girl – the prep woman, really, she was an older lady, at least to us. Essie was the kindest woman. She always took the time to let us help. She let us slice the hardboiled eggs.”

They also learned valuable skills that helped them prepare for the future roles they would play in the family-owned company – The Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company and The Lobster House.

“I remember us walking into the kitchen at the restaurant when we were seven or eight,” Donna recalled. “It was like home to us. The smell of lobsters steaming and clams made you feel so good.”

Commercial fishing boats crowd the docks along what is now Fisherman’s Wharf in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of The Lobster House

A few of the children’s other pursuits were more adventurous, however, and, on one occasion, at least, caused their parents some concern. The youngsters’ favorite fishing hole was off of the floating dock in front of the restaurant, where the schooner is moored today.

“We were fishing off the dock and I was casting my line and tripped over one of the cleats,” Donna said. “I went in but Keith grabbed my hand. I can remember him saying, though, ‘Don’t drop that rod.’”

The Lobster House docks begin to change the landscape on the waterfront by 1950. Photo courtesy of the Laudeman family

Their parents, Wally and Marijane Laudeman, insisted they take swimming lessons every summer after that. Like many residents, they learned to swim at the Christian Admiral pool under Lifeguard Captain Clete Cannone.

“It was all fun,” remembered Keith. “Imagine growing up in Cape May and your father owns a dock. How much better does it get than that?”

Today, the “dock rats” have become more the “masters” of the Fisherman’s Wharf docks. Keith Laudeman is now the president of The Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company, a job he took over from his father, and Donna is the hostess at The Lobster House, the same job her mother held.

The Lobster House docks today

The family business has prospered under the brother-and-sister team. Today, the operation includes the packing and shipping plant, fish market and take-out, fishing fleet, gift shop, office, and two restaurants – The Lobster House and Raw Bar.

While sales figures are not published, The Lobster House ranks among the top 50 privately owned restaurants in the country. Over the years, it has become a revered landmark for locals, trusted standby for residents, and huge draw for people visiting the Jersey shore.

While secondary to tourism, seafood is big business in South Jersey, and still growing. Commercial fishing boats off-load more seafood in Cape May than in any other East Coast port except Bedford, Massachusetts. Roughly 11 million pounds of seafood are packed out, or unloaded, at Fisherman’s Wharf docks annually. That includes about 500,000 pounds of lobster and approximately three million pounds of sea scallops.

“We’re mainly in the scallop business,” Keith explained.

Fresh scallops being unloaded

A former scallop fisherman, Keith added a fleet of scallop boats to the business to meet a growing demand. The company also buys fresh catch from independent fishing boats. Keith’s younger brother Randy owns a boat and is one of the company’s suppliers.

The operation needs large quantities of ice to provision its scallop fleet and pack its product in, so it makes ice at an ice plant located at the far end of the dock.

“We produce about 50 tons of ice a day, which go to the boats,” Keith said. “One boat needs about 30 tons.”

The company packs and sells its seafood to processors and exporters worldwide. While much of its product stays in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, a lot travels to Europe. France is particularly fond of the Cape May scallops.

The scallop business has become a lot bigger, according to Keith. For a while, the government restricted fishing activity, but now things have improved.

Keith and Donna are the fourth generation in their family to make waves in the fishing industry. Their great-grandfather, Cap Johnson, owned a number of party fishing boats in the 1920s and ‘30s, one of which he named after his daughter, the Vaud J. Vaud went on to marry Jess Laudeman, founder of The Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company.

Born in Philadelphia in 1898, Jess moved to Wildwood in 1926 to start a wholesale fish business. Initially, he operated out of Ottens Harbor in Wildwood. A few years later, he moved to Two Mile Landing, and, finally, in 1939, he relocated to nearby Schellenger’s Landing on land he bought from the Reading Railroad. Today, that property has come to be better known as Fisherman’s Wharf or The Lobster House docks.

The Vaud J. party boat. Captain johnson named this boat after his daughter Vaud, who later married Jess Laudeman.

Starting in the 1920s, commercial and recreational fishing in South Jersey took off. As interest grew, new facilities were built at Schellenger’s Landing and other sites nearby to accommodate the increased boating and visitor traffic. Betting on a new market, the Reading Railroad laid new tracks and ran a “Fisherman’s Special” train between Philadelphia, Schellenger’s Landing and Two Mile Landing. Suddenly, not only did area party boats have much bigger parties of fisherman but Cape May’s wholesale fishing companies had a game-changing express delivery service to an important urban market.

By the mid 1940s, The Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company had become what was then the largest seafood packager in the country. Jess also had taken on George Reading, of the Reading Railroad, as a business partner.

Bateman’s was a small restaurant on the Schellenger’s Landing lot when Jess bought the property. For many years, he leased it out while he built the wholesale fish business.

Vaud Johnson’s family enjoys a day on the water. Photo courtesy of The Lobster House

Jess and Vaud took the restaurant back in 1955, and turned it over to their son Wally, who had just gotten out of the Coast Guard and begun working in the company’s commercial fishing operation.

“My mother told me my grandfather said to my Dad, ‘Here are the keys [to the restaurant]; do something with it,’” Donna said. One of the first things her parents did was rename it The Lobster House.

“We didn’t know anything about the restaurant business,” remembered Marijane Laudeman, Keith and Donna’s mother. “That first year we had six booths with fake red leather seats, five or six tables and a counter that probably seated 12.”

“My parents really started The Lobster House,” Donna said, “They worked very, very hard. Both Mom and my Dad decorated the place. Mom shopped for antiques and, when I was older, I’d go to New York with her to shop.”

Her parents also collaborated on the signature red, white and blue sailor uniforms that the restaurant’s waitresses wear. The wait staff has worn the same outfits since The Lobster House opened.

Today, the restaurant seats 550 people, nearly 10 times the seating capacity of Bateman’s, the property’s original eatery.

The Lobster House’s dining room with its iconic checkered tablecloths

Over the years, family members have developed their own shorthand when talking about the business.

“My Dad never said, ‘I’m going to the restaurant,’” Donna recalled. “He always said he was going to the dock. To this day, Keith and I say – and I say to my children – I’ll be at the dock.’”

Wally took over the Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company, which included The Lobster House, when his father died in 1959. By then, the business consisted of the wholesale fish operation, Fisherman’s Wharf property, fish market and restaurant.

Wally ran the company for nearly 45 years, during which he added features that popularized the restaurant and helped define the business. One addition changed the landscape completely. In 1965, Wally decided to buy a fishing schooner to use as a floating cocktail lounge in the front of the restaurant. He invited Keith and Donna along on a shopping trip, where he found one.

“Keith and I flew up to Nova Scotia with Dad,” Donna recalled. “The boat was up on a railway. It was a working fishing schooner and there were mugs lying around like its crew had just left.”

The schooner, renamed the Schooner American, proved to be a popular addition to the restaurant and waterfront. The company now has a third Schooner American in its place, which was custom built much closer to home, in Tuckahoe, by Yank Marine in 2001.

Wally also added the seafood take-out in 1970 and Raw Bar in 1985. Both offerings have added versatility and appeal to the company’s restaurant operations.

The Schooner American, a cocktail lounge

Keith joined the family business full time in 1981, and worked for his father. He took over when his father died in 2004. Like his father, Keith expanded the business, adding the scallop fleet and buying Tony’s Marine Railway last year.

“Keith has stepped into Dad’s shoes really well,” Donna said. “I look up to him, almost like a Dad.”

Both Keith and Donna held a series of jobs in the company before coming aboard fulltime in their 20s. Keith sold fish, washed dishes and scrubbed the decks of the schooner. Donna worked as a set-up girl in the restaurant and sales clerk in the gift shop, but her favorite job was working on the schooner.

“When I turned 18, I was a cocktail waitress and bartender on the schooner. It was the best job of my life. We had a blast,” she said, so much so, that her father brought her inside to work as a hostess at the desk, the job she holds today.

The Raw Bar

“‘This is where I need you,’ my Dad told me. “ ‘You’re the face of the restaurant. People want to see a Laudeman,’ That made me feel really good,” she said.

Wally often stood next to his daughter at the desk, an image that has sunk deeply into her memories of him.

“My Dad always wore cashmere sweaters,” she said. “I know it sounds strange, but sometimes I smell cashmere and I know it’s him.”

Aside from providing their son and daughter with effective on-the-job training, Wally and Marijane Laudeman instilled a strong work ethic and an unwavering commitment to customer service in their offspring.

“My job is to make sure everyone leaves the restaurant happy,” Keith said.

Donna strives to create a warm and inviting atmosphere at the restaurant like she is welcoming people to her home.

Photograph courtesy of The Lobster House by Meacreations

“My Mom taught me how important it is to be nice, have fun and laugh with our guests,” she said. “I laugh a lot at work.”

The Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company and The Lobster House are icons in Cape May today, as a successful commercial business and a progressive family enterprise. Part of the company’s future was not always as certain, though.

Marijane Laudeman remembers a momentous night in 1955, when The Lobster House was less than a year old.

“I was closing up that night and counting out the money in the cash drawer; we only took cash then,” she explained. “Suddenly I realized we had $500 dollars in the cash drawer. That was a lot of money back then. It was thrilling! I remember thinking, ‘You know what? For two people who know nothing about running a restaurant, we just might make this work.’”

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Cape May Magazine.

The Boys of Summer

This article originally ran in the August 2011 issue of Cape May Magazine

The boys of summer - history of steger beach service

The headlines in 1932 included the following – U.S. Steel Lays Off Another 10,000 and General Motors Stock Down From $500 a Share to $10 a Share.

The man who started it all, Steven J. Steger. (click to enlarge)

In 1932 when the city of Cape May hired Steven J. Steger as a lifeguard, the depression loomed heavily over the tiny island. County workers were paid in script. Groceries and even electric bills were paid with credit and life was changing along the beachfront. Bath houses, once so popular because hotel owners did not like guests coming through their lobbies with wet bathing suits, were now becoming passé. But with every loss there is always a gain.

One afternoon, young Steve noticed that a man in front of the Stockton Baths had set up a small operation renting beach chairs to excursionists. The next year, Steve set up his own beach rental operation which included pup-tent-like structures that he called cabanas. The idea came from tents that wealthy summer residents had their servants erect for their families, according to an article about Steve which ran in the Herald-Lantern Dispatch June 1990. Steger redesigned a smaller version of the concept, and it must have been an idea which found a niche because 79 years later, although Steve Steger died suddenly in the summer 1990 at the age of 84, his legacy lives on.

The iconic blue beach boxes.

Currently, Steger Beach Services has 12 beach stands which extend from the Cove all the way to Trenton Avenue. Steger Beach at Perry and Jackson streets, as well as Queen Street beach, is still owned by the Steger family. Swain’s Hardware carries a paint color called “Steger Blue.” Four hundred “Steger Blue” beach boxes line the beaches, as well as about 40 tents. You can rent everything from sodas to umbrellas to beach chairs to boogie boards, surf boards and now paddleboards from the Stegers. Steger Beach Services is first, last and always a family-run business, and for four generations they have proven to be the go-to place for beach needs.

Some folks might remember when the Stegers also had a block-long store to go with the beach service.

In the 1940s, Steve Steger decided he needed to expand his business, and he bought a row of bathhouses that fronted Beach Avenue between Perry and Jackson streets (now a series of boutique shops and eateries), eventually converting them into a store called–you guessed it–Steger’s, carrying everything from Band-Aids to Kool Aid and all things beachy in between. Later, they added Steger’s Sun & Surf Shop and Steger’s Snack Shack, which introduced the original 50-cent hot dog to summering patrons. Son Bob, who died in 2004, ran the store with his wife Betty, who recalls that the couple never shared a dinner in the summer months.

“We had four cash registers,” says Betty. “Bob would open at 7:30 a.m. I would come in at 9 a.m. I’d work until 4 p.m. and then go home and cook dinner. I’d eat my dinner and put a plate in the oven for Bob. Then I’d go in and relieve him so he could come home, eat dinner and freshen up. My mother would baby sit the kids [Steven R. and Linda], and we’d close together at midnight. We did that seven days a week from July 4th to Labor Day. We always opened Memorial Day weekend, and we kept it open until the weather got too cold.”

It was Bob Steger, Cape May’s original “surfing dude,” who introduced the sport to the island. “We were the first surf shop in town,” says Betty.

Steven R. says he has been a beach boy “his whole life.” While his parents ran the store, he stayed on Steger Beach with his grandfather, “who kept an eye on me.”

“I worked my first concession stand,” he says, “at 10 years old and by 12, I had my own stand.” And while it seems like dream job to most kids, Steven says there were times when “all my friends were out playing and I had to go to work. And I would say to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’”

And yet, he continued the tradition after graduating from Lower Cape May Regional High School in 1977. He took full control of Steger Beach Services after his grandfather died in his sleep of a heart attack in August 1990. “My grandfather was a proud man,” says Steven. “He worked the beach stands the day before he died. And [after learning of his death], we couldn’t close. It was August. I had to open.”

The same loyalty the Stegers show to Cape May beachgoers is reciprocated by their customers. Betty says if long-time customers do not receive their renewal letters from the Stegers in April, they call to make sure they have a tent and beach box secured for the summer. Their names are carefully printed in a vertical line going down the tent pole. Many are fourth and fifth generation patrons. One old timer this summer forgot to rent his beach tent, says Betty, and called to have it re-upped because whether he could get to the beach or not, he couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing his name on the pole on Steger Beach.

Steven and his wife Margaret are currently at the helm of Steger Beach Services, and Betty still is very active in the business and “fills in” when someone cannot come to work. Great-grandsons Steven, 21, and Sean, 15, are very much involved in the operations as well. In the summer of 2011, Steven added paddleboard rentals to the list of Steger services offered at the Cove and is also including lessons with the Steger brand. “I hope to do for paddleboarding,” says Steven, “what my grandfather [Bob] did for surfing here.”

And so the tradition continues.

“One thing I think people would find interesting,” says Steven R., “Steger is a made-up name. My grandfather was Lithuanian, and his real name was Stanislova Stanstouskis, but I guess he didn’t want to be burdened with the stigma of being an immigrant, so he had it changed legally to Steger.”

Now that’s a man who understood the importance of branding.