By TIM KELLY
It’s been a long three months for John Loeper.
Like most of Ocean City, Loeper, is more than ready for the town to reopen and make the most of the 2020 summer tourism season. Unlike most, Loeper is uniquely invested.
Loeper is chairman of the board of the Ocean City Historical Museum as well as the U.S. Life Saving Station 30, both major cultural attractions in town, and both closed to the public since the COVID-19 crisis began.
Despite week after week of forced non-activity, Loeper has had no trouble keeping himself productive and amused. He’s been busy overseeing major renovations at the Historical Museum, and adding artifacts and planning events for the Life Saving Station.
When the lockdown ends and patrons are again welcome to the Museum, they will see a radically different space.
A wall is being added to create a larger space for the Library, and new exhibits to be announced are being added, he said. There will also be a fresh new gift shop.
“(The Museum) will have an entirely different look,” Loeper said. “Of course, we will be setting things up with the proper social distancing guidelines in order for everyone to visit safely.”
At the Life Saving Station at East 4th Street and Atlantic Avenue, improvements have also taken place during the forced closure.
Foremost among these, Loeper said, is the development and rollout of a new website. The new site www.uslifesavingstation30.org recently went live. It provides an interactive glimpse of the facility, videos and photos of artifacts. The site will include updates on a planned series of family-friendly events as soon as they are able to be scheduled and announced.
The video, the first of which appears this week, is part of a weekly series highlighting different aspects of the historic site, produced by Just Right TV Productions, www.justrighttv.com.
The attraction is one of the few remaining stations of its type that formerly dotted shore towns up and down the East Coast. The U.S. Life Saving Service was an ancestor of today’s U.S. Coast Guard, and its brave “surfmen” were the first responders of the days when the Atlantic Ocean was the major shipping corridor of the nation and unfortunately the site of numerous shipwrecks.
Loeper said there’s a new display of the “duck boats” and equipment used for hunting by the surfmen, who caught their own food. Another new feature is the acquisition of a 50-year-old wooden replica of the type of surf boat used on rescues at sea.
Loeper said he would like to stage events to appeal to visiting and local families, such as barbecues and possibly even a family croquet tournament.
“Croquet is a game that came into popularity in the 1880s, when the Station was in its heyday,” Loeper said.
“We have two nice lawns that could accommodate it. Family members could watch the action from the building’s porch, and croquet can be played (and people may watch) using social distancing,” he added.
Besides his work for the Museum and Life Saving Station, Loeper continues, with his wife Mary, to operate the Northwood Inn Bed and Breakfast at 4th Street and Wesley Ave.
“We have been pretty much in lockdown at our inn,” he said.
That business, now in its 31st year, has dropped off almost completely due to the two-punch combination of a ban on rentals during the crisis and yet-to-be rebooked cancellations. Still, Loeper expects things to pick back up after the crisis, and the solitude has its rewards, he said.
“It’s a really nice place to live. I have a library. I have a study. I have a billiards room. What could be better than that?”
It’s not all cerebral. Loeper’s been catching up on a wide variety of TV offerings, especially his favorites, the old westerns.
“They’re classic, and it’s amazing to see how many great actors started out on those shows.”
An avid fly fisherman, Loeper has been tying more flies than usual, and chatting with friends about fly fishing online. He also heads out to try his luck at a spot alongside one of the rock jetties within walking distance of his inn.
Asked to name his favorite spot, he replied, chuckling, “Wherever the fish are.”