To look at Herb Adams’ life history, with his service in World War II and his engineering degree from Drexel University and his 34 years of never calling in sick once at Atlantic Electric and his volunteering on just about every board and commission that existed in his longtime hometown, Ocean City, you’d have to believe he was a very serious, studious, businesslike man.
And you’d be right — up to a point. But then there’s this point, as raised by the youngest of the seven kids Herb andCatharine Adamsraised in their 62-year marriage.
“He never grew up,” said Cathy Kanefsky, 48, of Middletown, Del., remembering all those kids standing outside the Adams family’s house near the bay, waiting for their dad to get home from work on warm evenings — so they could rush right to the beach or bay and hop in the water.
“You never had to drag him. He wanted to go,” Kanefsky said of her dad, who was 88 when he died last month. “He was the first one in and the last one out. ... We probably did that from May to October.”
And even when he was fully dried off, “He was the life of the party,” his daughter said.
“At his funeral, everyone talked about his sense of humor and his smile. He was a fun guy,” Kanefsky said.
But obviously, you don’t get to be president of the Board of Education — or any of Herb’s other professional or volunteer roles — by being strictly a class clown or a beach bum. Just the volunteer part of his life took up two long paragraphs in his obituary.
Along with leading the school board, he was president of Ocean City’s library board, the Kiwanis Club and the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of Ocean City’s Zoning Board. He was a member of his hometown Planning Board, the Coastal Conservation Board and the Utility Advisory Board. He led the school board at St. Augustine School in Ocean City — even though he was a loyal, lifelong Methodist. (But Cathy is Catholic, and the kids all went to Catholic schools for at least parts of their educations, so Herb helped there, too.)
All those affiliations earned him his title of Ocean City’s volunteer of the year in 2003.
He was active at his own St. Peter's United Methodist Church in Ocean City, where he was both a trustee and a member of the choir. Plus, he filled enough volunteer roles at the Ocean City Tabernacle to be named the Tabernacle’s volunteer of the year for 2005.
He did so much for so many organizations over the years that seeing the list even surprised his own kids — who were right there for most of the decades he was doing all that.
“When we looked at everything compiled together, it was amazing that he had so much time for the family,” said Mitzi Tolson, 60, of Upper Township, the oldest of the seven children.
The oldest son, Ted Adams, of Ocala, Fla., emphasizes the same point.
“Even though dad did all those things over the years, and they took a lot of time and commitment, he still found time to make sure that we — all the children — were absolutely the top priority in his life,” Ted said. “All those other things were secondary to him, but he did them.”
Still, an old friend said when Herb took on a job, he made sure he could give it the attention it needed.
“Whatever he got involved in, he was always a big part of the picture,” said Ralph Bingham, now of Egg Harbor Township, who knew Herb from the time when they were growing up a few doors away from each other in Millville.
Herb was an only child. His parents were divorced, and he was raised by his father and his grandparents, a rarity in the 1930s. The Binghams had three sons right down the street, and Ralph was the youngest — “He tells me he remembers pushing me in a baby stroller,” Bingham said.
Later in life, they were engineers together at Atlantic City Electric, and they were on Ocean City’s planning and zoning boards at the same time. Bingham also worked in a land-surveying business that Herb ran on the side — one big job was setting up the outlines in the woods of Hamilton Township for what’s now Mays Landing Golf & Country Club.
Bingham said his old friend was a competent, consummate professional — who didn’t need to show everyone what a big shot he was to get all his jobs done.
“Herb was a good project manager. He was involved in a lot of building projects,” Bingham said. “But he was always well-liked. ... He had a good sense of humor; he was always smiling. He never came across as being real serious.”
And it was a point of pride with him that he had perfect attendance at work for 34 years, which led the minister at his funeral to point out that Cathy Adams probably also deserved a certificate for Herb’s decades of perfect attendance at work.
“They were the ultimate team,” said Kanefsky, their youngest child, who recalls when her parents teamed up to literally be lifesavers for her and her husband after she gave birth to severely premature twins 22 years ago.
When the boys got home after four months in intensive care, Herb and Cathy moved to Delaware with the Kanefsky family — and Herb actually saved an infant Sam Kanefsky’s life by giving him CPR when the boy stopped breathing.
“He had a lot of grandchildren” — 23, plus 15 great-grandchildren at last count — “but from that day on, there was such a special bond there,” Kanefsky said.
Still, this comes from the last kid in a big family who knows that her dad — for all his professional accomplishments and his volunteer contributions — had a special talent in his own home. She doesn’t know how he did it, but she is sure of this:
“He had a way of making every single one of us feel like we were his favorite.”
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