OCEAN CITY — The resort community this week is collectively mourning the loss of “King of the Wind” Bill Ochse, who passed away at his home in Berlin last Friday at the age of 85.
Ochse founded the iconic Kite Loft business on the Boardwalk in 1975 and later expanded the operation including a new location uptown. Through his leadership, the downtown skyline was almost always filled with bright colored kits and flags of various shapes and sizes, earning him the affectionate title of “King of the Wind” in the resort.
Beyond his innovative kite and novelty gift business, Ochse was instrumental in a significant redevelopment of the Boardwalk and downtown area decades ago. He was active and held leadership positions in several resort organizations, most notably the nascent days of the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), a quasi-private organization charged with the ongoing renovation and redevelopment of the downtown area. He was awarded the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce “Spirit of Ocean City” honors in 1999.
After eventually selling the Kite Loft business to Jay and Mary Lynn Knerr in 2006, Ochse, an avid sailor, enjoyed traveling with his wife Mary. Among his many accomplishments, Ochse took top honors in the annual Key West Conch Blowing contest in 2013.
Over the weekend, The Kite Loft co-owners Jay and Mary Lynn Knerr posted on the business’s Facebook page, “It is with utmost sadness and a heavy heart that we inform you of the passing of Bill Ochse. A leader, a teacher, a mentor, a friend to all, Bill was affectionately known as the ‘King of the Wind,’ ‘Two Dollar Bill’ or ‘Bilochse.’ What we all know is that he was larger than life. Always with a smile on his face, always willing to help anyone in need. As founder of The Kite Loft, Bill was instrumental in the formation of the American Kite Flyers Association and the Kite Trade Association. He was the creator of the Boardwalk Development Association which spearheaded the revitalization of the Ocean City Boardwalk. Extremely civic minded, his message to all business owners was simple, being involved in your community affairs is just good business. It was that love of business and community that made The Kite Loft one of the top businesses in Ocean City. We will always miss Bill for the unique character that he was. Somewhere up in heaven kites are flying high and Bill is leading the festival. His message to all is ‘if you’re not living on the edge than you’re taking up too much space.’ Over the top and under the radar was how he chose to live his life and we’re glad he did. Love you Bill.”
Mayor Rick Meehan this week fondly recalled Ochse’s accomplishments as a businessman, ambassador for the resort and a friend for decades.
“Truly the ‘King of the Wind,’ Bill was a great friend for five decades,” he said. “I learned a lot about retail and promotion from Bill and his energy and enthusiasm were contagious.”
Meehan also praised Ochse for his many contributions to the variety of organizations on which he served.
“He played a significant role on the OCDC and lead the way on Boardwalk redevelopment,” he said. “He was always promoting Ocean City. We shared a lot of good times, and I will miss my friend. Our thoughts and prayers to his lovely partner in life Mary and the Ochse family.”
OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said this week Ochse helped lay the groundwork for that organization and others including the Boardwalk redevelopment steering committee.
“Bill, as owner of the Kite Loft business, was a strong advocate for the redesign and overall improvement of the Ocean City Boardwalk in 1999,” he said. “He served on the downtown steering committee that set up the OCDC and then served on the OCDC Board of Directors from 2000 to 2003 His robust and charismatic personality made him such a memorable individual to many people.”
As the “King of the Wind,” Ochse mentored countless employees of the iconic Kite Loft stores over the decades and instilled upon them business lessons, and more importantly, life lessons. Chris Rudolf, who is the Flying Team Manager at the Kite Loft still, this week recalled his early affinity for kiting and the Kite Loft experience at a very young age.
“Bill was actually the reason I got into kites in the first place,” he said. “It all started when I was two years old riding on the back of my dad’s bike on the Boardwalk. The magnificent display of flags in front of the Kite Loft and the huge kites in the area in front of the shop was just mesmerizing. Because of Bill’s dedication and enthusiasm, that drew me into the art of painting the sky with colorful pieces of fabric with the help of the wind.”
Rudolf said he fondly recalls Ochse and his contributions when he is setting out the vast kite displays.
“I always think of him when we’re out flying on the beach,” he said. “He will truly be missed by the Kite Loft family and the community here in Ocean City.”
Another former employee, Jody Palmisano, whose daughter worked at The Kite Loft last summer, also shared fond memories of Ochse and his contributions.
“I was the second employee hired in the original Kite Loft,” she said. “I learned so many things from him that I still use today 40 years later. He was a true Ocean City icon. There are so many stories to tell that no one would believe.”