Summer 1977

Ocean City, New Jersey

Campus Crusade for Christ Summer Project

After spending Christmas 1976, and New Year’s Day 1977, in Naples, Italy, I continued my studies at the University of Minnesota. Although I would end up in a photo-journalism program at the U, I basically majored in Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC, now known “less threateningly” as Cru).

It was fitting if not predictable, therefore, that I spend the summer of 1977 on a summer ministry project. Among the many offered by CCC, I chose, applied, and was accepted to the project in Ocean City, New Jersey, from June 11 through September 6.

Project portrait in front of the Dimension Hotel, now a parking lot.

While preparing to remodel our basement family room this year, I moved several photo albums, and the binding on the 1977 summer project album completely fell apart in my hands. “Useless to reconstruct it,” I thought, so I decided to scan the photos, then put the prints in a box for posterity. I wasn’t prepared for the ensuing nostalgia as I relived, remembered, and realized how little I actually do remember, from that summer on the “Shore.”

Known as a family-oriented seaside resort, Ocean City has not allowed the sale of alcohol within its limits since its founding in 1879 (according to Wikipedia), offering miles of guarded beaches, a 2.5 mile boardwalk, and a downtown shopping and dining district.

Much has changed since then–though much has also stayed the same–as I discovered by perusing the streets with Google Maps. With a population in 1977 of around 15,000, in summer months, the influx of tourists and second homeowners, explodes the island community to as many as 130,000 people. Into this maelstrom of summer holiday hubbub come college students from around the country (in our case, from around the world) to proclaim and model the Gospel in creative ways.

The Ocean City boardwalk, near East 8th Street, just north of the music pier (far left).

Ready for our road trip: Rick, Jan Tammen, Julie Anderson..

My journey began during finals week. Jan Tammen and Julie Anderson picked me up from my uncle’s house in Blaine, MN. She was driving a mid-70s Toyota Celica. Understand: This is a two-door, sub-compact. We had two bikes, three people’s summer luggage, and three people! It was a tight squeeze.

By the time we were loaded and ready to be on the road, it was 7:30 pm. We drove all night to State College, Pennsylvania, where Jan’s family and friends were. We had a meal and spent the night there.

Rick at Gen. George Washington’s home at Valley Forge.

We had a leisurely morning and left after lunch the next day.

We drove on toward Ocean City, but tarried at Valley Forge until 5 pm to avoid rush traffic around Philadelphia. We got to see some historic sites on the fly.

We arrived late at night on Friday, ready for the project to begin officially on Saturday. Some of the CCC staff were there to greet us. We went for a nighttime stroll on the boardwalk with Ed Smith and Anne McBreen (CCC staff then serving at the University of Minnesota).

My first observation was that the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey is MUCH WARMER than the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. The water on the west coast circulates clockwise and is coming down from Alaska, where it is completely cooled. The water on the east coast also circulates clockwise, and is making its way up from the Caribbean, where it is thoroughly warmed.

I don’t have a journal from the summer, so many of the details are lost to my mind. I know we had an orientation meeting on that first Saturday. We were each assigned to a discipleship group with a staff person, and met the other students. We were oriented to the house, the city, and the goals of the project. The staff would leave mid-July, so the rest of the summer would be student led.

My budget required that I get a job, so I went to all the bike shops and photography shops and grocery stores I could find, since those were areas of interest and/or experience. I went to an employment agency, too, and expanded my search to sports and record shops without luck. I even took a one-day job as a window washer. Another entrepenurial student started a painting business and employed several project members, so I worked for him for a while (at least one job).

Eventually I found a position as a grounds worker at a multi-service retirement community, Wesley Manor, which I believe was affiliated with the Methodist Church. I weeded and mowed lawns and maintained the shuffleboard courts, whatever the boss asked of me. I was treated very well by the residents: coaxed in for lemonade and cookies; gifted with an old Bible; greeted fondly all around the grounds.

Our project offered to put on a program of singing and entertainment for the Manor, which we did. The residents ranged from independent living to those requiring full-time care. When I left at the end of the summer, I had made connections with many of them and the staff. It was a growth area for me, and was put to good use on the flight home, when I was seated next to an elderly woman who wanted someone to talk to. She even invited me to come live at her house in Minneapolis while I finished school, as she was looking for a personal care attendant, companion, and driver. That conversation would not have gone so well before my summer experiences at Wesley Manor.

Leisurely lunches on the Atlantic.

The Manor itself was but a few blocks from the beach. I would walk or bike there on my lunch hour, to nap on the sand to the sound of the surf. I also biked to work each day, and discovered a back-porch diner along the way. The owner/operator was a sweaty, heavyset guy in a white tee shirt with a greasy white apron strapped to his non-existent waist. He had a freezer and a grill right on his back porch. How I found it I don’t recall. But he made Philly cheesesteak sandwiches that were out of this world. In fact, I’ve been dissatisfied with every Philly since.

Sunrise was 5:42 am in Ocean City in the summer of 1977. YAWN!

Over the course of the summer, we had teaching meetings, outreach projects on the beach, loads of ping pong, and spontaneous singing sessions. We prayed together, ate together, studied, worshipped, and played together.

We each had jobs maintaining the house while we lived there: mine was janitor. I patrolled the floors on the lookout for clogged drains and unattended garbage. We watched fireworks. We biked around town and explored. We got up before dawn to watch the sun rise over the ocean.

The movie Rocky had recently been released, so “everybody” was jogging along the boardwalk nearly every day. And ala Rocky, we were drinking raw eggs for breakfast, myself included. As a biker (resting heart rate in the mid-40s) running was tolerable for me, but not my favorite form of exercise. Yet the cultural trend and the peer pressure resulted in my willingness to go out on many a chilly morning.

Another ministry opportunity was to speak at a campground not too far away. I don’t remember much about it or where it was, but I apparently spoke (see the photo as evidence) — perhaps I gave my personal testimony. We brought guitars and gathered campers to join us.

Many details of the project are blurred by time, but my memory of the experience is a treasure. Thankfully we made a project directory (pre-desktop publishing!) which included images and names for most of the people on the project. I had misplaced mine so when I started scanning all these photos, I reached out to Dawn (Schiffmann) Currier (now in Colorado) for assistance in remembering. She kindly scanned her copy of the directory and provided a copy for me.

This inspired me to reach out to two other people from the project. The aforementioned Ed Smith (now back in Minneapolis) and Anne (McBreen) Tjaden (now in Kansas). It has been fun to share memories, and to catch up on the ensuing four decades. Like mine, their memories are faint and treasured.

New Yorkers for a day (left to right): Julie Anderson (MN), Julie Boykin (AL), Peter Vanacore (NY), Dawn Schiffmann (MN), and Rick Wattman (MN).

Among the memories from the summer is a short sojourn to New York City. Apparently we drove up there, through Atlantic City (no photo evidence, but I remember being there), and stayed at somebody’s home. (After connecting with Peter Vanacore, it appears it was his parents’ home.) Perhaps it was on Staten Island or in Jersey or Brooklyn: we took the Staten Island Ferry (at least twice, day and night), and crossed the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge at some point.

We trooped around the Battery and lower Manhattan (including Wall Street at night on a Sunday), took the subway to Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and basically looked at things. We didn’t take in a show or visit a museum, though we did stop into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and saw the 666 building (5th Avenue). I think we must also have gone to the Statue of Liberty, too, as I believe I’ve been in it, and this would have been the only opportunity to have done so–although there are no photos as evidence. (I’ll have to cross check with others to see what they remember. Dawn says we did NOT stop there. It is funny how the mind works–or doesn’t.)

One haunting memory is of our trip to the top of the World Trade Center, which towers fell in the 9-11 attacks. The buildings were so tall you could hardly comprehend the scale, whether from their base, from the observation deck, or from across town. The view from the top was breathtaking (if a bit disorienting and discomforting).

I have recently seen the memorial park and fountain where the buildings once stood. It is very moving. The thousands of people who died, and the many thousands more touched by the devastation; the heroes who rose to the occasion, many of whom were also lost; and the heroes who sought justice against the perpetrators; the world was changed that day and it boggles the mind. In the aftermath, our own daughter didn’t want to drive past an office building in MN for fear that a plane would strike it.

None of us knows when our life will end and none of us can do anything about it–except to be prepared, and to share the Good News far and wide until that time, that death need not win. I guess that is why we were there on the summer project, though the immensity of its import has only grown more real as I have gotten older.

At some point we also went to Philadelphia. I know because one of the students did a Rocky run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I have a picture to prove it. This trip was also my first experience of a soft pretzel purchased from a street vendor who approached our vehicle at an intersection with several of the snacks stacked on a stick propped on his hip.

We also attended the musical Godspell in summer stock at the Gateway Playhouse in Margate, NJ. I was familiar with the music, but had never seen the play.  I really enjoyed it, especially when they lifted the Jesus character above their heads for the crucifixion; and doubly so when they came dancing down the aisle back into the theater, representing the resurrection.

Over the course of the summer, we had several social events, one of which must have been a period sock hop, as there are photos of denim-clad hoodlums “boosting” hubcaps (left), and singing doo-wop with slicked back hair (below).

West Side Story? (left to right): Vernon Strong (IN), Rick Wattman (MN), Bob Thomas? (PA), and Chuck Marusic (OH).

There were other forays into New Jersey surrounds of which I have little-to-no detailed memory. We once went to Brigantine Castle (now closed) a little further up the shore. Anyone who remembers other details is welcome to contact me. Now that I’m doing this I’m thoroughly enjoying thinking back to the way God used the summer, these wonderful people, teaching from His Word, and my experience on the Shore to help me grow. Several others I have since connected with also have fond-if-faint memories of the summer. Some (like me) continued ministry with CCC and other organizations; others launched their careers as a result of connections made in OC. We were all affected and used by God, who lovingly “works all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Bill and Critty Fairback, with Holly

One teaching from Bill Fairback, the staff director of the project, has stuck with me all these decades. He spoke on the “ministry of reconciliation” from 2 Corinthians 5:17ff. The Greek word for ministry is “diakonos” and basically means service. MOST (if not all) of the uses of the word in the New Testament are directed at fellow believers. The ministry we have with unbelievers, on the other hand, is singular: the ministry of reconciliation. Until we have helped resolve this issue, we have no greater debt to those around us than to “implore” (Paul’s word) them to be reconciled to God.

Eventually it was time to return to real life. I flew home rather than drive back with Jan and Julie. I don’t remember why. I know I was home in Oregon by the time of my birthday, so perhaps that is the reason.

My shoes were worn out from work at the Manor and were left behind in Ocean City.

My last view of the Atlantic that summer was from a small prop-jet as I took off, heading for home.

The memories had faded, so I am glad to have had the album fall apart in my hands to remind me of the experiences from the summer of 1977. Dawn kindly scanned her copy of the directory we created from shared photos. I have uploaded the PDF here in case you would like to rekindle your memories. (I have removed the address pages for privacy.)

This year, 2019, was literally “The Summer of 42… years after the OCNJ project.”

The busy beach at 8th street and the Music Pier. The city required beachgoers to purchase a license to be on the sand, worn as a badge clipped to your clothing.

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