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OCHS Class of ’57 Donation Preserves History

Jeff McGranahan, executive director of the Ocean City Historical Museum, thanks members of the OCHS Class of ’57 for their donation.

 By Tim Kelly

The Cold War was raging near its height in 1957, as was concern across America about the spread of Communism.

A new drill was taking place in schools to prepare for a related concern: At the sound of a siren, students knelt under their desks to practice protecting themselves in the event of nuclear attack.

In Ocean City, then as now, things were a bit different.

“I think we did not worry about that stuff all that much,” said Dick Coe, a member of Ocean City High School’s  Class of ’57. “We were more interested in the beach, girls (or in the girls’ case, boys) dancing and rock ‘n’ roll.”

A group of about 20 members of the class met on Friday at the Ocean City Historical Museum at the start of the High School’s Homecoming weekend to remember those times and to donate a way to preserve those memories and many others for future generations.

Among those on hand for the event included class officers Don Eisenhardt, president, Mike Varano, vice president, and Joan Sampson Weigel, secretary-treasurer.

Don Eisenhardt, left, Mike Varano and Joan Sampson Weigel, were class officers of the OCHS Class of 1957.

After a fundraising drive among class members easily raised the $700 necessary, representatives of the class donated and dedicated a large storage case to organize and protect a collection of the high school yearbooks.

A second display case to show off artifacts from the OCHS Alumni All-Stars, a sort of mini high school Hall of Fame museum, was donated by the Miss Night in Venice Pageant Committee. 

Class members and Beth Bowman, spouse of class member Charlie Bowman, have been tirelessly researching the school, the class of 1957 and collecting artifacts and memorabilia related to school history to exhibit at the museum.

Beth Bowman, a graduate of Ridley Park (Pa.) High School, is an unofficial member of the class of ’57. She met Charlie on the beach, where he was a lifeguard. Charlie Bowman was also a star athlete on the Red Raider football and basketball teams.

Beth became close friends with many members of the class and worked tirelessly on their behalf as an interested friend of the class, and also in her role as a member of the Historical Museum’s Board of Trustees.

She was too ill to attend Friday’s dedication, but her honorary “classmates” presented her with a bouquet in recognition of her efforts.

Charlie Bowman, a member of the Class of ’57, checks out the yearbook case his class donated to the Ocean City Historical Museum.

One fun fact about the yearbook collection relates to the Class of 1957’s volume. For just that one year, the yearbook title was “the Raider.” Every edition before and since is known as “the Carvel.”

None of the class members questioned knew the origin of the latter name. But Charlie Bowman said the ’57 book was named after the Red Raiders school mascot because of the success of the Ocean City athletic teams during the 1956-57 school year.

The boys basketball team was named “Team of the Century” by legendary broadcaster-sportswriter Tom Williams, a resident of Ocean City. Williams rated as many Ocean City sports teams as he could research in every sport for the school’s centennial celebration.

The ’57 boys hoop squad, coached by Dixie Howell, rolled up a 23-0 record before losing in the State Group 2 finals to Verona at Rutgers University. 

“I had a bad feeling before the game when we walked into that Rutgers gym,” said Mike Varano, a starting guard on the team. “And that game still gives a bad feeling whenever I think about it.”

Good memories far outweighed the disappointment of narrowly losing a state basketball crown. And now the memories of the class, and most before and after it, can be shared through the yearbook collection.

“We’re thankful to receive these donations,” Museum Executive Director Jeff McGranahan said. “It’s important to keep these yearbooks secure and protected so that our visitors may continue to enjoy them.”

The Ocean City Historical Museum is located inside the Ocean City Community Center complex at 17th Street and Simpson Avenue.

Unfortunately, tight security for the yearbooks became necessary due to damage done by vandals.  Some people would tear or cut pages from the books, museum representatives said. Formerly housed in open shelving, the new case has locking doors and is housed in a secluded part of the museum.  Anyone wishing to view the books must do so in a supervised area and may peruse only two books at a time.

The yearbooks date back to the 1920s, and the vast majority of them survive. Thought to be missing are editions from 1931 through 1944. They are thought to be missing because it has not been confirmed yearbooks were produced at all during those years of the Great Depression and World War II.

However, anyone in possession of yearbooks from that period are asked to come forward and consider donating them to the museum or loaning them so that they may be reproduced.

Virtually all of the remaining known yearbooks have been found, arranged chronologically and stored in a case that has been adorned with the school colors and a group photo of the Class of ’57.

The case features a plaque made by Charlie Bowman and also a panoramic photo of the Class of 1957 at its class trip to Washington D.C. It would be the last class trip ever taken by seniors at Ocean City High.  The reason, revealed in hushed tones with some details held back, involved an errant water balloon and damage to a hotel awning.

In yet another quirk, the class trip photo includes quite an oddity. The wide horizontal photo is actually two pictures of the right and left side of the group, merged into one wide group picture. One of the mischievous class members, Anthony Gibson, appears in the photo twice.

His image appears in the back row at the far left of the photo, and again in the same row on the far right. Gibson apparently sneaked into the second shot as it was being set up by the photographer.

Gibson, a longtime Cape May County attorney, went on to become a state Superior Court judge.