BEACH HAVEN — It’s been 100 years since a small group of summer residents formed the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club.
Generations later, club members and organizers say the exclusive organization is still thriving.
As the club prepares to celebrate its centennial later this month, members have adopted the theme, “Beach Haven is Home.”
Families gathered Wednesday at the club’s dock on West Avenue for the annual Fourth of July children’s sailing races.
The Little Egg Harbor Bay was full of children ages 8 to 14, sailing Optimist dinghies and taking part in what has become a local tradition each summer.
In 1923, the club unveiled the Skippers program to teach boys sailing and seamanship. Later on, the club adding the Skipperettes program for girls.
“This club is a traditional sailing club, and what has kept us going is the lifeblood going into the sailing events,” former club commodore Richard G. Oelkers said.
Oelkers said most of the club’s members live part-time or year-round on Long Beach Island. The club has come a long way from its humble beginnings 100 years ago and will host four sailing regattas this year, he said.
The club was formed on July 13, 1912, and by the end of that summer it had 30 members. There was no road bridge to the island at that time, and access was available only by ferry or train.
Today, the club has 670 family memberships, 450 active members and 140 junior sailors.
Tom Cox, 52, of Mount Laurel, Burlington County, was named the 94th club commodore in October. His father served as commodore in 1988.
“The club is made up of generation after generation of families. The core of the club has been volunteerism, friendship and family, and that has not changed,” Cox said.
Yacht clubs throughout the nation are struggling due to the economy, but the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club is thriving, Cox said. The club has become the backdrop of popular national and international regattas, he said.
“It’s just amazing that back in 1912 someone decided to buy all of this property for the club,” Cox said as he stood on the dock and looked around.
Cox said a family membership to the club, which is the oldest on the island, is $1,200 but an affordable option for younger generations coming up in the sailing world.
Cox’s three daughters grew up at the club during the summer season and all sailed, he said.
The family ties in the club are particularly binding for 63-year-old Nancy Lampman, of Moorestown, Burlington County.
Lampman, a third-generation member, is related to 40 families in the club through marriage. She said the club is like a family and everyone gets along. Volunteerism is what keeps the club thriving, she said.
“Everybody makes their best friends here and almost everyone lives within a few blocks of the club, so we all ride our bikes here,” she said.
Doug Galloway, of Jeffersonville, Pa., also is a past commodore, and his family has roots in the club dating to 1921. His mother and father were recently inducted into the Barnegat Bay Sailing Hall of Fame.
“It’s been thriving for 100 years because a club really isn’t a facility, it’s a group of people who get along well,” Galloway said.
Galloway a third-generation club member, owns a summer home on West Avenue, just blocks from the club. He noted that the club has changed over the years. Membership and events have become a little more informal, and ties and coats are no longer required at parties, he said.
But sailing traditions and families teaching others how to sail have remained the cornerstone of the club, he said.
“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. That was a quote from Kenneth Grahame. Google it. That’s what it is about here,” Galloway said.
As he looked over the water Wednesday morning as young sailors leaned into the wind, navigating the beginner race course, Galloway smiled.
“This gives kids a chance to take control of something, and out there they’re basically in control of their own ship,” he said.
The yacht club will hold a members reunion weekend July 20-22 to celebrate its centennial.
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