By MADDY VITALE
Mark Soifer, the public relations genius who created many of the wacky, crazy and fun family-oriented events that keep visitors coming back to Ocean City through the generations, died over the weekend at the age of 89.
Soifer, who lived in Vineland, retired in 2016 after 45 years in his role as public relations director for Ocean City, but many of the activities he created continue to delight visitors and residents alike at the shore town.
Ocean City officials credited Soifer, a married father of four and grandfather to eight, with shaping and defining the town as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
“It’s hard to imagine an Ocean City without Mark,” Mayor Jay A. Gillian said in a statement Monday. “From the Doo Dah Parade to Martin Z. Mollusk Day and all the way to First Night, so much of what we celebrate came from Mark’s imagination.”
Gillian added, “Everything he did had a simple message: Ocean City is a great place for families, and generations of residents and guests have enjoyed the results of his work.”
Among the many memorable events created by Soifer are First Night and the Doo Dah Parade.
He also helped reinvigorate traditions such as the Baby Parade and Night in Venice.
His flair for unique, G-rated fun was always obvious in the wacky, yet delightful and goofy activities he came up with to give children thrills, memories and laughs.
Soifer’s first creation proved to be his masterpiece, as well as his favorite character.
In a spoof of Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania’s weather-forecasting groundhog, Soifer dreamed up Martin Z. Mollusk, a hermit crab that emerges from its shell each May to “predict” the arrival of summer.
“It showed that these offbeat things could work,” Soifer recalled in 2016 of his hugely popular tourist spectacles inspired by Martin Z. Mollusk.
He didn’t stop with Martin Z. Mollusk Day, either.
Soifer parodied Atlantic City’s iconic Miss America Pageant with the Miss Crustacean contest, a beachfront beauty show for hermit crabs complete with an official theme song, “Here it comes, Miss Crustacean.”
He said in an interview with OCNJDaily.com back in 2016, “This is my whole philosophy in a nutshell: wacky, but not tacky.”
During the interview, Soifer laughed when asked how he was able to create so many weird and kitschy events and so many cartoonish characters.
“I’ve been basically making this stuff up since I was 10 years old,” he revealed.
Soifer went to Temple University, where he obtained a journalism degree. He had a stint as an Army journalist when he served in the military in the 1950s.
After his Army days, he taught high school English in Philadelphia. Later, he and his wife, Toby, moved to Vineland.
Soifer’s association with Ocean City began in the late 1960s, when he was working at an advertising agency in Vineland. At that time, he had helped to promote an Ocean City art exhibit.
He attracted the attention of then-Mayor Harry W. Kelley Jr., who hired him as Ocean City’s full-time public relations director in 1971.
So many years later, the impact Soifer put on a shore community, how his unusual, brilliant and yet silly ideas, resulted in tons of free publicity and essentially put the town on the map, is abundantly clear.
He garnered respect from those he worked with for his talents.
In 2013 he was named Citizen of the Decade and across from City Hall at Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue, the former City Hall annex where he worked, is a park named for him back in 2016.
Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian summed up the sentiment of the community in a statement while describing Soifer.
“He was before his time,” she said. “His signature events make Ocean City what it is, and they have been recognized throughout the nation and the world. I always said we have the beach, the boardwalk, the bay — and Mark Soifer.”