OCEAN CITY – The bench at Trimper’s Rides on the south end of the Ocean City Boardwalk where family patriarch Granville Daniel Trimper held court and doled out ride passes to generations of residents and visitors for so many years sits empty this week, and not just because the calendar is turning over to November and the park is being dismantled for the winter.
Trimper died this week at the age of 79 at Atlantic General Hospital after a lengthy illness, leaving behind a huge void for family, friends and generations of visitors to the resort who enjoyed the historic amusement park founded by his grandfather Daniel Trimper, back in 1890. Over the decades, Trimper was a fixture at the park, managing the facility and its personnel, but, perhaps more importantly, sitting on his favorite bench and taking pleasure in the faces of the children who enjoyed the rides and amusements.
According to those who enjoyed visiting Trimper while he held court on his bench most nights during the summer, he was just as likely to dole out passes and tickets to the children as he was advice and opinions. He truly loved the park just as he loved the town where he grew up and served for years on the City Council and briefly as mayor.
Current Mayor Rick Meehan said this week Trimper was the embodiment of the spirit of Ocean City.
“Ocean City has truly lost one if its favorite sons,” he said. “I don’t throw this word around loosely and it’s been said before, but he was truly an ‘icon’ in Ocean City, and he’s somebody I’ll never forget.”
State Delegate James Mathias, who preceded Meehan as mayor and served with Trimper on the council in the 1980s, agreed icon was a word appropriately reserved for him.
“There are certain names synonymous with Ocean City and Trimper is certainly one of them,” he said. “He understood business, particularly small business, and he was always fighting to keep Ocean City affordable for families.”
For many, Trimper will long be remembered for managing the amusement park from his favorite bench on hot summer nights over the years. Mathias said this week Trimper took solace from visits to his favorite spot this summer as his health deteriorated.
“I heard many times how much he really loved sitting on that bench down at the park,” he said. “People came to Trimper’s and saw him on that bench. This summer, as he struggled with his illness, there were a couple of times he got back down on that bench and I think it was healing for him. It was his little piece of heaven.”
Trimper served on the Ocean City Council for 18 years and was president of the council for several of them. When Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelley died in office, Trimper became interim mayor for a year in 1985 before childhood friend Roland “Fish” Powell was elected to the position in a special election. He later served a four-year term as a County Commissioner representing Ocean City.
Meehan said he has known Trimper personally and professionally for over 30 years, although he knew of him for longer than that. Trimper was council president when Meehan was first elected in 1985 and the current mayor has fond memories of the stern but fair leader.
“He was tough, he was opinionated and he would go to battle on issues important to him, but he was also the first one to laugh after a particularly rough meeting was over,” he said. “Anything he ever did, he believed was in the best interest of Ocean City.”
It was a theme echoed throughout the week as Trimper’s friends and former colleagues reminisced about his years of public service.
“He was a good person with a very strong character,” said Powell. “Granville wasn’t a joiner, he was a doer. He fought for everything he believed in when it came to Ocean City, but he never carried a grudge.”
George Hurley, another long-time colleague of Trimper’s on the city council, agreed with Powell’s assessment.
“It was a pleasure working with him,” he said. “He was a big-statured person and he was tough in a lot of ways, but he was always jovial no matter what the situation.”
Hurley said Trimper was an extreme fiscal conservative and told the story of a time in the 1980s when the town’s city manager had left office and the finance director had been dismissed. The town continued to collect property taxes and had collected about $17 million, but did not have the key personnel in place to manage the money.
The Mayor and Council consulted with the presidents of local banking institutions to discuss what to do with the tax dollars rolling in and a suggestion was made to invest it with John Hancock, which was offering an 18-percent interest on deposits. Hurley said there was some consideration given to the proposal, but Trimper insisted the town put the taxpayers’ money in low risk, low interest CDs.
“Granville insisted we go the safe route and three weeks later, John Hancock went under,” Trimper said. “I still shudder to think what would have happened if we didn’t follow his advice.”
Beyond his public service career, Trimper bled Ocean City. Whether it was running the iconoclastic family amusement park or chairing this committee or that, or his involvement with the many services organizations in the resort, it seems everything he did, he did for the betterment of the hometown and the family he loved.
“He loved Ocean City, he loved Trimper’s Rides and he loved his family,” said Meehan. “He was the patriarch of the Trimper family and he was extremely proud of his children and grandchildren.”
Trimper has helped shepherd in a new flock of future resort area business leaders, many of whom worked at times in the historic park. For example, Matt and Mark Odachowski, who own and operate Royal Plus and all of its associated businesses, worked for Trimper as young boys and gleaned many life lessons from him.
“He was such a down-to-earth guy,” said Matt Odachowski. “Mark and I both worked for him and we came to look up to him and respect him. He was an incredible role model and mentor for Mark and I and many others out there. I would often go and seek him out on that bench to get advice from him. The world’s not going to be the same without him.”
Former employees weren’t the only ones to benefit from Trimper’s wisdom. Trimper served for a time as director of the town’s Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and later helped his predecessors fulfill the organization’s mission. Current HMRA Director Susan Jones this week recalled many fond memories and experiences with Trimper. She said he often attended the association board meetings and would arrive 15 minutes early to each, allowing her some time to talk with him personally.
“He was someone I always looked up to for advice,” she said. “He had been through so much, he knew so much from all his experiences in different economic times and about the tourism industry. He was an excellent resource for me and I really admired him and enjoyed working with him.”
Like so many others, Jones said she always cherished her personal encounters with Trimper at the park.
“On a personal note, he was always wonderful to my kids whenever I took them down there to the park,” she said. “He could not of had a bigger heart. He always took care of my kids and I loved that about him.”
Last year, faced with soaring property tax assessments on the historic park, the Trimper family announced it might have to consider closing it after more than a century if it were not afforded some relief. With the help of the local delegation in Annapolis, including Mathias, a bill was passed to create a mechanism for providing tax relief to the park, but Trimper and his family later opted not to take advantage of it. Mathias said this week Trimper often worried about the possibility of the park closing under his watch.
“That became more apparent in the last couple of years when he thought the park was being threatened in a lot of ways,” he said. “He wanted to keep it going because he knew how important it was, not only to his family, but to all of Ocean City. That was compelling to me.”
No matter what the future holds for the amusement park at the Inlet, County Commission President Virgil Shockley said Trimper’s legacy will endure.
“When you think about the millions and millions of people who have memories of Ocean City and what that man gave to tourism in Ocean City, nobody is ever going to top his accomplishments," Shockley said. “He will forever be remembered as a person who enjoyed the entertainment industry. It was his niche in life to bring entertainment to people.”
Meehan said Trimper would be sorely missed from his public service to his kind work at the park to his place in Ocean City history.
“That smile, that face, it’s sad today but he will always be remembered fondly,” he said. “I’m going to miss him and Ocean City is going to miss him.”
Mathias echoed the sentiments, saying, “It’s a very sad time, but his commitment to his family and to Ocean City lives on through his children and grandchildren. May God continue to bless Ocean City with people like Granville Trimper.”