The Oyster Creek Inn was an important place in Dorothy Halldorson’s life.
She started working at the waterfront restaurant, in Galloway Township’s Leeds Point section, as a waitress in about 1950, when Dot was a divorced mother of two girls.
She knew one of the bartenders, Sonny Halldorson, from growing up. He was from Port Republic, and Dot’s family lived in Galloway. Years later, Dot had waited on tables through most of the 1950s when Sonny’s wife got sick with cancer — shortly after she had a baby, named Marty, in 1956.
And after his wife died, Sonny and Dot got married in 1958 — the same year her oldest daughter, now Ruth Johnson, also got married.
Dot stayed home with Marty, and Sonny worked two jobs. But by 1968, Sonny got together with a partner, Bill Kuppel, to buy the Oyster Creek Inn. And Dot was suddenly back at her old employer as the owner’s wife — although mainly, that meant she worked in the kitchen, instead of out front.
Her family explained all that history in interviews after Dot died last month, at 96. Sonny was 86 when he died in 2001. The couple lived in Port Republic for their entire marriage.
The Halldorsons owned a piece of the popular Oyster Creek from 1968 to about 1980, Sonny’s son remembers. Along with being Dot’s stepson, Marty was also her neighbor for 30 years — he and his wife, Loretta, raised their three kids right next door to his parents.
Marty also worked at the restaurant while his family owned it, and recalls it as “jam-packed all the time. It was cheap, with good food.”
Dot’s younger daughter, Janice Tozer, 72, of Egg Harbor Township, adds that in her mom’s waitressing days in the ’50s, the Oyster Creek really was cheap.
“She said somebody might leave you 15 cents, or a quarter” as a tip, recalls Tozer, now a veteran waitress herself. “It wasn’t like it is today.”
But even after Dot went back as the owner’s wife, she didn’t get to be a boss. She was a daytime prep cook — “Men and women were different years ago,” as Tozer explains it. “They wanted you in the background.”
In her own family, though, Dot was “a legend,” her daughter-in-law and neighbor, Loretta Halldorson, said. “When she got together with her daughters’ families, you’d have five generations in one room. ... I don’t think that happens very often.”
And as a mother, grandmother and even great-great grandmother, Dot never forgot to send money for every birthday — even when her grandchildren were grandparents themselves. She still lived on her own, and cooked for herself until fairly recently. But sometimes, for special occasions, she liked to go out to a favorite little place of hers, called the Oyster Creek Inn.
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