Before he was a doctor, Earl Kanter was a lifeguard.
And the 15 (or more) summers he spent protecting people on Ventnor's beaches would stay important to him until he died last month, at 91, after a long fight with Parkinson's disease.
That lifeguard part of his life mattered to him even after he became Dr. Earl Kanter, an obstetrician and gynecologist who - by his family's best estimate - helped close to 10,000 babies start their lives safely over four decades of work, mostly at hospitals in Atlantic City and Somers Point.
So his daughter, Beth - the second of Earl and Ruth Kanter's four children, along with Blair, Joseph and Joy - actually included more lifeguard and beach pictures of her dad than doctor pictures in an online memorial she put together for him. (You can read it at
"He had a lifelong love of the ocean," Beth said, and he was a champion swimmer at Atlantic City High School and Lafayette College. "He liked rowing, sailing, surfing, taking walks on the beach" - and building sand castles with his grandchildren, even into his mid-80s.
After he graduated from college, Earl enlisted in the U.S. Navy - World War II had broken out, and he was sent to the Philippines as a lieutenant. But when he was home on a leave, he went back to his old lifeguard headquarters in his Navy uniform. His family has the picture to prove it.
When the war ended, Earl returned to Lafayette as chemistry teacher - a job that let him go back home and lifeguard in the summer. And when he decided that what he really wanted to do was be a doctor, he used his summer med-school breaks to guard the beaches in Ventnor.
Eventually, he gave up that lifeguarding labor of love, sometime after he became a full-fledged doctor and moved his family to Margate in 1962. But that didn't keep him off the beach, because this doctor also became a pioneer of New Jersey surfing. There's a family picture of him in the water in about 1962 with his prize, old-school surfboard, and his two oldest children.
Of course, then there was the doctor part of his life, which is how longtime friend Edith Kramer met Earl and Ruth. Kramer worked for the doctor for a year before she moved to Cherry Hill and started her own family.
"He delivered all three of my children," said Kramer, who lives in Atlantic City and Florida. "I kept my legs crossed all the way from Cherry Hill to Somers Point just so Earl could deliver" one baby.
"I think he delivered everybody in town," she added. "My goodness, he worked hard. And he loved, loved, loved what he did."
He believed in technology, and got his first beeper - to notify him of patient emergencies - in the 1960s. But that beeper sent him rushing to the delivery room so often that his kids named it the "ruin-the-day machine," wrote Beth, who lives now in Los Altos, Calif. Earl also was an early computer fan who got his first Apple in 1980, she said.
And even after he retired, the doctor kept practicing. He enjoyed traveling with his wife, and they did some of their touring through the western United States, where Earl would do volunteer medical work on Indian reservations. He was also a small-plane pilot, and did some traveling that way.
But the longtime lifeguard never minded finding a beach in another part of the world - and never lost his taste for the beaches back home.
So to honor his memory, his family did several things, all with that history in mind. The Kanters are "adopting" their Brunswick Avenue beach in Margate by promising to keep it clean - in Earl's name.
Earlier this month, the family also put together a "paddle-out," a traditional tribute to a deceased surfer. Family and friends get on their boards, ride out into the ocean and get in a "surf circle" for a floating memorial service. But for this world-traveling, high-tech guy, Beth - a blogger and author by trade - transformed that into a "virtual paddle-out," encouraging people to honor her dad's commitment to the ocean from anywhere they were.
She got more than 3,500 tweets from around the world, she said, for what may have been history's first paddle-out for a 91-year-old surfer, a veteran lifeguard who made sure he never really retired from the beach.
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