(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 — Over the 91 summers the Ocean City Beach Patrol has been protecting the lives of visitors to the resort, it has seen thousands of guards pass through its ranks. Over that time, only a handful of people have shaped the patrol into the force it is today. Jarrett “Lucky” Jordan was one of those few.
Jarrett Jordan was born in 1929, just a few months before the start of the Great Depression. His family moved from Pennsylvania to West Virginia early on and then again to Washington, DC. He was luckier than most, as his father had secured a job as a brick mason and there was a lot of work to be done in the nation’s capital. As he grew up, Jordan discovered his love for swimming and by his teens, had started lifeguarding at local pools in the DC area. The long summers spent at the pools honed his skills as both a guard and as a competitive swimmer. It was also during this time that an Alan Ladd movie called “Lucky Jordan” was released, and with it came a new nickname that would stick for the next 70 years.
It was 1945 when “Lucky” decided that his swimming and rescue skills were due for a bigger challenge. He was just 16 years old when he headed to Ocean City to try out for the beach patrol. Lucky was a natural in the surf and quickly earned the reputation as being one of the fastest members on the patrol. But for Lucky, it was more than just a chance to swim, run and play in the surf. He wanted to know all he could about surf rescue techniques in an ocean environment that constantly changed. He spent the summer learning from every waterman he could find about saving lives in the ocean. It was the beginning of his passion for understanding the very nature of surf rescue.
As that first Ocean City summer came to a close, Lucky took his mom’s advice, dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. Aboard the USS Albany, he would see and study more ocean than he could ever have experienced on shore. Even an injury from a plane explosion couldn’t stop his journey of water exploration. When he was honorably discharged, Lucky returned to work with the OCBP. He introduced what he had learned at sea and added to the knowledge base of the new guards he met. He helped change and modernize the way the patrol went about guarding the beaches, and luckily right in time for the rush of crowds that would follow the opening of the Bay Bridge in 1952.
When winters rolled around, Lucky headed south and started the trend of guarding at the beaches of Florida. He joined the Ft. Lauderdale Beach Patrol and each winter would bring other OCBP guards with him. In the process, Jordan was able to take what he learned in both towns, and spread the lessons everywhere.
He saw a need to develop beach lifeguard services of post-World War II coastal towns into the full blown ‘Aquatic Centers’ they are today. In doing so, “Lucky” pioneered the professionalism of today’s beach patrol.
In 1955, he met a young woman named Karel-Mari Kleinheksel on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. Two years later, they would marry and move permanently to Florida. Lucky took a full-time job with the city as its Aquatic Supervisor. He taught, coached, organized and supervised. He helped establish the Swimming Hall of Fame. He even went back to school, received his high school GED, and pursued higher education at the University of Miami and Nova University, until he received his PhD in Public Administration. He even found time to write seven books.
Lucky Jordan was a busy man. Yet, for years, he pushed to organize an OCBP alumni association that would keep memories of earlier generations alive, while helping to build on the growing professionalism of future patrols.
Jordan passed away June 13, 2015. His autobiography, “Waterwork,” which chronicles his life and times as an “aquatic professional” is currently available on amazon.com.