It's impossible to put a title on what Mark Soifer is to Ocean City - and the title of city publicist alone doesn't cut it.
For the past 42 years - and counting - Soifer has acted as Ocean City's chief promoter, enthusiast and event planner.
He's responsible for dreaming up the city's silliest of shenanigans including its Miss Crustacean Pageant, the Doo Dah Parade and Weird Week, to name a few of his favorite annual events.
And though the term "Mayor of Ocean City" has already been taken by Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and his predecessors (men Soifer's worked for throughout his 41-year career with the city), all agree Soifer has played a pivot role in making Ocean City what it is today: "America's Greatest Family Resort."
With that in mind, on Feb. 21 the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce honored Mark Soifer as Ocean City's Citizen of the Decade during its instillation and awards dinner. The award came 20 years after Soifer was honored as Ocean City's Citizen of the Year in 1993. The Citizen of the Decade award will replace this year's Citizen of the Year award.
Soifer said he is honored to receive the award, but feels he is the lucky one.
"I am very fortunate to work with Ocean City because it just fits my personality. I'm able to use my creative side, which is fulfilling," he said. "That's what I was born to do really: something creative."
Soifer's pastimes include writing poetry and inventing make-believe stories. When he started his position with the city in 1971, Ocean City had a small budget and its staff was looking for low cost ways to market it.
"If we were going to get publicity, we were going to have to do something nobody else does. I've always liked making up characters so I thought up the spoof on Groundhog's Day and that was Martin Mollusk (the city's unofficial hermit crab mascot whose shadow predicts the season's change.) Then I thought of the Miss Crustacean pageant, a spoof on the Miss America pageant and then Doo Dah Parade, etc., etc."
Ocean City's family-friendly atmosphere also fits well with Soifer's character.
"I have four children and eight grandchildren. I'm a family guy," he said. "I was brought up at the end of the Depression and families were very close. Our family is very close - everyone helped each other. We helped people out on the block who didn't have jobs. So that family thing is really ingrained in me and that's why I really love working for a family resort. I believe in what Ocean City is."
"Mark Soifer is probably the most the influential person in Ocean City history," said Executive Director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Michele Gillian. "The events he plans are so unique and so different, and there not just known throughout Cape May County and Atlantic County, or even the state, but throughout the world. We have the BBC calling to find out about the Miss Crustacean Pageant. He's really put Ocean City on the map.
"Mark is one of the kindest people I've met in my life. I think that a what makes his skills in PR so amazing. He makes time for everyone. He listens and he cares. That kindness on the inside reflects on the outside. He's a great husband, a great friend and the best employee the city has every had."
"He's really an Ocean city gem," Gillian said. "We have the beach, the boardwalk, the bay and Mark Soifer. How lucky can we be?"
During Soifer's 80th birthday celebration last year, May 2, Mayor Gillian proclaimed the date to be known as Mark Soifer Day in Ocean City. Gillian also announced that Ocean City's new visitors center in the City Hall Annex Property at Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue, which is currently under construction, will be named the Mark Soifer Welcome Center. Once upon a time, Soifer's office was housed in a building at that location. His office is currently on the second floor in City Hall.
Soifer said although he's not necessarily thinking about retirement, it's crossed his mind.
"I'm 80 now, and I think I have to start thinking about it really hard," he said. As for Ocean City's future, with or without him, Soifer predicts it to be long and prosperous.
"Ocean City may never be the biggest place or have the most people coming in, but as long as they stick to this family thing, I know they'll do fine," he said.
Fred Miller, a longtime resident and retired lifeguard in Ocean City and the co-author of the book "Legendary Locals of Ocean City," said he doesn't know anyone more deserving of the Citizen of the Decade award than Soifer.
As a lifeguard, Miller used to watch from his stand as Soifer hosted family-friendly events on beach. Now years later, Miller still sees Soifer doing the same things at the age of 81.
"You'll find him on the beach in the summertime in 95 degree weather putting on silly events for kids," Miller said. "He's done so much for Ocean City over the past 40-some years, and he hasn't slowed down at all."
A section of Miller's book, which is based on 175 of the most influential individuals in Ocean City's history, is devoted to Soifer.
"He was an easy one," Miller said, of selecting Soifer for the book. "He's the reason Ocean City continues to be America's Favorite Family Resort."
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