SEA ISLE CITY — Lifeguards have a way of blending into the beach. They're always there, as much of part of the surroundings as the sand, the waves, and the seagulls.

That's even more the case in Sea Isle City, where the Beach Patrol has been active for 100 years. 

The city is celebrating that anniversary this week. Captain Renny Steele has been around for half of its history.

"It's really a milestone," said Steele, 69, who started in 1968 as a lifeguard and took over the head position in 1986. "The community has really gotten involved, which makes me feel good to think that they value the service that we provided all these years."

The city is marking that milestone in grand fashion. On Thursday, a mass will be held at St. Joseph's Catholic Church for deceased lifeguards. A parade on the promenade with the oldest-living alumni, Andy Sannino, (also 100 years old), and then a "row-out ceremony" on the beach featuring bagpipes and a gun salute, will follow shortly after.

Alumni are probably most excited for the celebration.

Steele said he's been hearing from old friends who he shared the stand with over the years and plenty more are coming from out of town.

"Once a guard, always a guard," he said.

Dr. Thomas McCann, 67, an amateur historian and author of a book on the beach patrol, was a lifeguard in the city for 16 years, starting when he was fourteen years old. He was the lifeguards' mascot before then, he said.

On Saturday, before a "Paddle-Out Wreath Ceremony," McCann will lead a presentation on the history of the Beach Patrol at the Sea Isle City Library.

McCann was a lifeguard for around 35 years in a number of shore towns, including in other states. He finds himself drawn back to Sea Isle.

"My roots, and my heart, is in Sea Isle," McCann said.

The strong connection that lifeguards have to their summer job and their coworkers is "subliminal," McCann said.

"I believe it has a lot to do with the sun, the salt air, the friendly environment, the social environment that comes with it ... the weather," McCann said. "It was more fun than work."

Current lifeguards put it simply: it's the friendships, the network. 

Bridget O'Hanlon, 22, of Medford, and Kristi Rohrer, 22, of Sea Isle, sat overlooking kids playing in the water at the start of their shift on Wednesday afternoon. O'Hanlon is in her fourth year with the Beach Patrol, and Rohrer is in her sixth year.

It's their second year as a team.

"When you first join, it's like an instant 90 friends," O'Hanlon said. "This is the second summer I'm sitting on this beach, and we became best friends from sitting on this stand."

​Contact: 609-272-7260

Twitter @ACPressColtShaw

Staff Writer

I cover breaking news on the digital desk. I graduated from Temple University in Dec. 2017 and joined the Press in the fall of 2018. Previously, I freelanced, covering Pennsylvania state politics and criminal justice reform.

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