About 200 people gathered Thursday night to pay tribute to Mark Soifer, Ocean City's long-time public relations director.
Soifer was being honored at what's usually known as the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year banquet. But for Soifer, the award became the Citizen of the Decade.
To the cheers, laughter and applause of a full house at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point, friends and colleagues described a man who helped define Ocean City as "America's Greatest Family Resort."
Soifer, 80, has worked full-time for Ocean City for 45 years (he thanked the nine mayors "who put up with me over the years"). He is credited with bringing events such as First Night and the Doo Dah Parade to Ocean City, sustaining traditions such as the Baby Parade and Night in Venice and creating an array of unique family-oriented activities for the city — all with grace, poise and an unrelenting sense of humor.
"He made Ocean City the most fun place on Earth," said Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti, an Ocean City resident, in presenting Soifer with a gift from her office.
"He understands and gets what Ocean City is all about ... more than I do or ever will," Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said.
Perhaps Soifer said it best when he described the key to Ocean City's success as a simple and singular message: It's a great place for families.
"The thing that's so great about Ocean City is that they've developed this unique atmosphere that attracts families," Soifer said. "Nobody else has it."
He said was raised at the end of the Depression when families took care of each other and people in the neighborhood took care of each other. They were lessons he never forgot.
Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Director Michele Gillian called Soifer an "icon in Ocean City" and noted that he not only helped give America's Greatest Family Resort its name but lived by that motto every day, providing a great destination for families and taking care of his own family: wife Toby, four children and eight grandchildren.
"We have the beach, the boardwalk, the bay — and Mark Soifer," Gillian said.
Winnie Piriano, owner of South Jersey HomeCare, read from Soifer's poetry and musings, one describing his umbilical cord as stretched into telephone wire along Route 49 on his daily commute for 45 years from Vineland to Ocean City.
Sea Isle City Mayor and Cape May County Freeholder Leonard Desiderio presented Soifer with a key to Sea Isle City — good for metered parking and badge-free beachgoing between September 15 and May 15, and good for doubling his fines when pulled over for speeding.
Desiderio donned Soifer's trademark "Canned Crusader" costume and started a good-natured exchange with his neighbor to the north.
"When you see him, he makes you smile," said state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland), who gave Soifer a copy of a resolution passed by the state Senate and Assembly.
Van Drew said Soifer was one of those people whom you immediately know is a good person.
Mayor Jay Gillian read a proclamation naming the park at Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue (the former City Hall Annex where he worked) as Mark Soifer Park.
The Citizen of the Decade and Business Beautification Awards Dinner had been rescheduled from its original date in November in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. It was combined the Chamber’s annual Board of Directors Installation Dinner.
Soifer was named Citizen of the Year 20 years ago. He is the creator of many Ocean City signature events such as Martin Z. Mollusk Day, the Miss Crustacean Pageant and Weird Week.
Other awards on Thursday night were as follows:
Business Renovation/Improvement Award: Stainton’s: A Gallery of Shops and
Outstanding Landscaping/Signage Award: Dunkin’ Donuts and Yogurtland
Business New Construction Award: Sunoco 34th Street and the Rt. 52 Causeway
Outstanding Business Award: Ocean City Parasail/Pirate Voyages and Yianni’s on the Boardwalk
Outstanding New Business Award: Heritage Surf Shop on the Boardwalk and Yoasis: Your Yogurt Paradise located in downtown Ocean City
Outstanding Service to the Community Award: Cricket Box
Outstanding Civic, Community, Non-Profit Organization Award: The Ocean City Fire Departmentand the Ocean City Halloween Parade.
Outstanding Use of Technology: Tackle Direct
Environmentally Friendly Award: Jilly’s
Two special awards were presented: one to Henry’s, which is celebrating 40 years in business; and one to the Forum Motor Inn, which is celebrating 50 years in business.
Brian Broadley (Broadley’s MDI) was installed for his second term as president of the Chamber. Bill McMahon III (McMahon Agency) was reinstalled for his second term as 1st vice president.
Second vice presidents include Cricket Frank (Impala Island Inn), Tom Aromando(Fitzpatrick, Bongiovanni & Kelly, CPAs), Pat Gallelli (Tahiti Inn), Skip Tolomeo (Sea Oats), and Maria Marinelli (RE/MAX at the Shore). Former Past Presidents Gary Jessel (Fox Real Estate),William McMahon, Jr. (McMahon Agency) and Phil Perri (Forum Motor Inn) will remain as 2nd vice presidents.
Robert Adams (Tidelines Management) was reinstalled as treasurer and Kim Davidson (Ocean City Home Bank) was reinstalled as secretary. Scott Halliday (Halliday-Leonard) will remain on the Executive Committee as immediate past president.
The following individuals were installed as directors:
At-Large Directors 3-Year Term: Carol Heenan (Garden Court Estates) and Winnie Piriano (South Jersey Home Care)
Business Segment 1-Year Term: Dean Adams (Dean Adams Custom Builder), Robert Adams (Tidelines Management), Tom Aromando (Fitzpatrick,Bongiovanni & Kelly), Brian Broadley(Broadley’s MDI), Kevin Corcoran (Wet N Wild Wave Runner Rentals), Paul Cunningham (P. Francis), Kim Davidson (Ocean City Home Bank), Jane Davis (Johnny B Goode Ice Cream), Mike DeVlieger (Discover OCNJ, LLC), Cricket Frank (Impala Island Inn), Janet Galante (13th St Bathhouse & Bikes), Pat Gallelli (Tahiti Inn), Ron Gifford (ReMax of Ocean City), Beverley Gill(Island Beach Gear), Scott Halliday (Halliday-Leonard), Thomas Heist (Heist Insurance Agency),Walt Hohman (Ward’s Pastry), Ida Iacovetti (Interstate Outdoor Advertising), Gary Jessel (Fox Real Estate), Peter Madden (), Maria Marinelli (RE/MAX at the Shore), Nick Marotta (), Lynne McIntyre (Yesterday’s), William McMahon, Jr.(McMahon Agency), William McMahon, III (McMahon Agency), Phil Perri (Forum Motor Inn), Clay Pierce (Clay’s Climate Control), Eric Reich (Reich Asset Management), Dr. Richard Stanislaw(Ocean City Tabernacle), Avery Tietler (Teitler & Teitler, LLC), Skip Tolomeo (Sea Oats/RMA), Don Tomlinson (Gleeson’s Audio Video), Ronnie Town (Atlantic City Electric), Tony Wilson (C. Leo Wilson Plumbing)