Ice Cream Johnny’s nickname came from his favorite job.
John Godfrey got that name over years of walking the beaches of the town where he grew up, Ventnor, and selling ice cream to people who may not have known him by any other name.
He hadn’t worked the beaches for maybe the last 10 years or so, in part because “the box got too heavy,” said his sister, Pat Johnston, of Ventnor. Still, that summer job was such a part of his life that in his obituary last month — Godfrey, of Margate, died at 71 — his family called him “Ice Cream Johnny” in capital letters, right after his actual, formal name.
“He really enjoyed the job, and he loved little kids,” said Johnston, who used to see her brother out working on the beach — and knows a lot of their growing-up friends also ran into him there. “From what people told me, he probably gave away more than he sold.”
And after he finished a hot day of work on the sand, Ice Cream Johnny liked to stop for a cold drink at the old Sailfish Cafe in Margate. There, he’d usually give away anything he hadn’t sold that day from his box — which helped spread both his nickname and his popularity.
Sure, he had other jobs — for years, he was a maintenance man at local U.S. Post Offices. And he lived other places besides South Jersey, including two years the U.S. Army sent him to Korea. Then after the Army, he lived in Colorado, California and Florida.
But by the early 1980s, he was back home. In 1983, when The Press ran a picture of a guy hauling an ice-cream box through a heat wave — shot from the back — Godfrey cut it out and saved it.
“Me,” he wrote, giving an identity (and his initials, J.P.G.) to the Unknown Ice Cream Man.
John McLaughlin has spent “many, many years” selling ice cream on Ventnor beaches, but he knew Godfrey even longer than that — since the late 1940s, when they were about 7, McLaughlin figures.
“John and I were friends all our lives,” said McLaughlin, now of Linwood, who describes the relationship between ice-cream men working the same beach as “friendly competition.”
McLaughlin joked that it takes a classic combination of traits to make it in the beach-ice-cream business — “a strong back and a weak mind,” he says. “You have to not mind the heat, and have a lot of patience to walk around all day carrying the box. ... It weighs 25 or 30 pounds empty, but when it’s full, it’s anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds, depending on how you pack it.”
Ron Kashon, of Margate, is another veteran Ventnor ice-cream man. He too knew Godfrey since they were kids, and explained that the key to carrying all that weight with one shoulder strap is “in the balance of the box. You rest it on your hip.”
He can’t explain the lure of the job, but he understands it:
“There’s something about selling ice cream that’s like lifeguarding — you never want to give it up,” Kashon said.
In other words, it’s the kind of job that can stick with you for life — or after, even.
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