OCBP Alumni Of The Week, Ken Esmark, A Hometown Boy

(Editor’s Note: The following is a series on the men and women who have spent their summers protecting all those who came to Ocean City for fun and safe vacation.)

OCEAN CITY — Growing up in the Town of Berlin in the ’50’s and early ’60’s, just a few miles west of Ocean City, Ken Esmark always enjoyed his life on the shore. Summer days out of school were spent on the beach relaxing by the ocean, playing in the surf and strolling on the Boardwalk.

One particular day on the beach at 28th Street with his family, Bob Craig came over for a chat.

“My mom graduated from Buckingham High School in Berlin with Ginny Craig, so my parents and the Craigs were long-term friends,” Esmark recalled.

Her husband, Bob Craig also happened to be the captain of the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP), and wanted Esmark’s older brother to test for an opening he had on the patrol. Esmark decided to tag along.

It was 1965 and the town announced it was now going to place guards from the Inlet to the Delaware line and the OCBP needed recruits fast. On the morning of the test, Esmark decided that he might as well join his brother and the others who had assembled in the Inlet.

“About 20 were tested that day, I came out of the water second. Lieutenant George Schoepf met me coming out of the water and said, ‘Can you start tomorrow?’ I said ‘yes’. I was 14 years old,” Esmark recalled.

Esmark was put on a stand on 23rd Street in front of the Surf and Sands and started guarding immediately. His father was very concerned that his son might be too young to handle the pressure of being on beach patrol. This was a job after all that dealt with matters of life and death. Esmark came to realize that, too, on his very first rescue.

“I observed two men in a rip struggling to get to the beach directly in front of 24th Street. When I got to them, one man immediately grabbed the buoy when I slid it to him,” he recalled. “The other man was semi-conscious and did not have the strength to grab the buoy. I put the semi-conscious man in a cross chest carry and held the buoy rope with the same hand, allowing me to stroke with my other hand and kick, and get both men to shore. When I got to waist deep water, a number of people helped me get them to the beach. An ambulance was called and the semi-conscious victim was taken to the medical center on 10th street.” And as for the worry his parents had that he might be too young for the job, ‘Capt. Craig called my parents that night and told them they had nothing to be concerned about.’”

Esmark would stay with the OCBP for the next nine seasons, rising through the ranks to become a lieutenant. During the off season, he worked every morning cleaning a day care facility before school to earn extra money. He used that money to purchase surf mats and umbrellas and opened his own rental stand in 1969. He hired his little brother to run “Ken’s Beach Service” while he continued guarding. Ken was able to put himself and his little brother through college with money he made.

“I gained tremendous self-confidence,” Esmark recalled. “In my work career there was never a job I didn’t think I could do. I also find myself running to a problem, as opposed to running away from it. That has served me well throughout my private and professional life.”

Esmark is now retired and lives in Townsend, Tenn. with his wife, Jeni. They have a ministry visiting assisted living facilities in the area. He still owns property in Berlin and gets back to the beach whenever he can.