(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 – The year 1965 was a busy one in Ocean City. The Bay Bridge, which had been open for the previous 12 years, and the newly finished Bay Bridge Tunnel were turning the town from a sleepy little beach resort into a major destination. Attractions like the 65th Street Playland Amusement Park as well as hotels and cottages were being built further north. And the OCBP was given the order by the city council to start guarding from the Inlet all the way up to the Delaware line, which meant the size of the patrol needed to double and quickly.
1965 was also the year that Wayne Brubaker and his family had travelled from Alexandria, VA to Ocean City for their summer vacation. “Bru” (as he would come to be called) was staying in the north end of town in a beach cottage on 87th street. Crowds were still thin and spread out in those days, so Bru began talking to the guard on duty there. The guard on duty, George Croaker, must have taken note of the young Brubaker’s ability in the water because one day he suggested that Bru take the test for the patrol. Bru agreed and shortly thereafter, Lt. George Schoepf showed up to test the young man “somewhere on lower North Beach”.
“It was a cold, overcast day with wind out of the north. He told me to get in and swim north a quarter mile, without stopping, until I heard his whistle. It seemed like I didn’t hear his whistle until Christmas, but I passed, went to a motel pool on the boardwalk to break holds, and the next day George put me on a stand”.
For the rest of the summer of 1965, and then for the next 6 summers, Bru guarded the beaches of Ocean City. With his ability and work ethic, he rose through the ranks, becoming a Sergeant in 1969 and a Lieutenant a year later. Over the course of his career with the OCBP, Bru saw a lot of action in the surf. He admits that a lot “have all run together”, but there was one day that stands out.
Hurricane Faith came roaring up the Atlantic “when I was guarding 6th Street in 1966. Faith had the longest track of any Atlantic tropical cyclone in history. It went by Ocean City, about 200 miles off the coast, but generated very large storm surf from September 1st through the 3rd. It hit Labor Day Weekend with strong, west winds. The skies were sunny and clear and it was hot.
That weekend a rip current opened up between 7th and 5th Streets. It was the widest surf rip I ever saw then or since. Two of the guards who roomed with me in the old South Division Street OCBP Barracks were there that day. Vern Rosenberger was to my north on 7th Street and George Chester was to my south on 5th Street. The three of us made over forty pulls (rescues) each that Saturday. Another guard, Sandy Deeley, who was even farther north on 8th, was with us many times. The current pulled so hard that on a couple of rescues, it took us swimming as far as 13th Street before we could swim in safely through the breakers. Our last pulls were well after the 5:30pm blow off time, making it a day in general I would never forget.”
Like many guards, the summer adventure on the OCBP only lasts so long. In 1972, Bru was offered a career position with Southern Railroad and that meant getting on with life and leaving the beach. Bru can’t imagine “a better place and time to grow up during the summer than Ocean City in the 60’s and 70’s. As a team, the Beach Patrol was a well-oiled machine dedicated to one simple mission: nobody drowns. I was most proud to be a part of that team and we never failed that mission.”
“Bru” Brubaker would go on to have an impressive career in civil engineering, eventually being inducted to the National Academy of Construction. He is now retired, living on the the lower Rappahannock River with his wife Sandy.