By MADDY VITALE
Considering the Ocean City Fishing Club is more than a century old, the fact that it is missing just 22 yearbooks isn’t astonishing.
But to the 230 members, the yearbooks that date back to 1915 and go through 2019, tell the history of the oldest continuously operating fishing club in the United States.
They need to locate the missing yearbooks to preserve the history for future generations.
Specifically, the private club founded in 1913 is missing yearbooks for 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1945 to 1963 and 1965.
“We wanted to save and archive all of our yearbooks. We gathered up all of the ones we had about two years ago and sent them out to be digitized and put on our website,” explained Frank Pizzutilla, a member and former club president.
He noted that there is so much interesting history in each of the yearbooks, some of which are leather bound.
“As you read through the history, you will see the first casting contest in the country and the type of fish that were caught in the 1915 and 1916 yearbooks. They were catching channel bass, which disappeared in the area a number of years later,” Pizzutilla continued. “One of the stories, though it can’t be confirmed, is that the bass were eating the oysters and fishermen bombed them in Corsons Inlet.”
There are also messages from the presidents of the fishing clubs and accounts of life and fishing during that particular period.
Pizzutilla said when the club first began planning for the extension of the fishing pier a couple of years back, they began to stack up the yearbooks.
“We just wanted to preserve the history. We had some yearbooks in the library and some in our safety deposit box and some in our club,” he noted. “Members also had them at home. We gathered them all up and for about $4,000 we had them copied and my son published them on the website.”
The archived digital version of the yearbooks are available only to members who sign on to the website, www.oceancityfishingclub.com.
The club may decide in the future to make them available to the general public who visit the website, Pizzutilla added.
From time to time, he said people call in search of specific yearbooks.
“Every now and then we get a call from someone who says their grandfather was a member and could they have a certain yearbook,” he noted. “There are people looking for certain years.”
When it became apparent over the past couple of years that some yearbooks were missing, Pizzutilla said some of the other members went on a quest to find them.
“We have tried to reach out to people, find past members, but we haven’t been able to locate these books,” he said. “We are hoping someone might have kept them.”
Bruce Balderson is one of those club members, who, like Pizzutilla, realized the need to preserve the history of the fishing club with the yearbooks.
Balderson took to social media on Sunday seeking the public’s help in locating the missing yearbooks.
“If you have the books or see the books at a book sale, please share,” he said in a post.
Though he can’t be certain, Pizzutilla said he thinks he has an idea of where some of the yearbooks went.
“We think we may have lost some of the yearbooks during one of the storms – maybe in the ’62 storm,” he pointed out. “One year we had a barge go through the middle of our pier and we lost the end of it. We could have lost them then.”
For now, Balderson is holding on to the hard copy of the yearbooks until the club decides where to keep them all.
And the hope is that the missing yearbooks will turn up and the fishing club could once again have a full set and one that will be completely digitized for generations to come to read about and know the deep history of the club.
But one mystery has been solved, Pizzutilla said with a laugh.
“This fishing club is interesting because it has always been a mystery to people who wonder what is behind the white door,” he said. “The secret is this – we are just old fishermen who love to fish.”
Contact Bruce Balderson if you have one of the missing yearbooks, so that he may digitize it, at 215-345-1261 or 609-398-6261.