By TIM KELLY
It was the summer of 1970.
Richard Nixon was in the White House. Protests, raging over the war in Viet Nam, reached new levels weeks earlier after National Guardsmen in Ohio shot and killed four student demonstrators at Ken State University. The Phillies, having traded controversial slugger Richie Allen in the offseason, were playing out their last dismal year at Connie Mack Stadium.
In Sea Isle City, a 20-year-old college student from Collingswood named Warren “Renny” Steele was successful in his tryout to join the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol and assigned to a guard chair to watch over visitors and local bathers.
Steele, now 70 and the beach patrol chief, has been a big part of the Sea Isle scene ever since.
“Sea Isle is lucky to have Renny,” said former SICBP Captain Bill Gallagher, who has known Steele for 49 of the 50 years of his tenure.
“As a guard, he had great eyes and tremendous attention to detail. That attention to detail is true to this very day,” Gallagher remarked. “It has served him well, and it has served Sea Isle well.”
Steele is preparing for his 50th Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial but traditional opening of the summer tourism season and some of the busier days of the year for the beach patrol chief.
That would be true in the pre-COVID 19 pandemic days. But with social distancing concerns and enforcement duties added to normal preparations, things are especially hectic this year.
Steele is in his 35th year of leading SICP, first as Captain and since 2019 in the upgraded position as chief. He is preparing for the annual rookie tryouts next month, getting his veterans assigned, preparing the vehicles, medical supplies, equipment, and the myriad of other duties in anticipation of tens of thousands of visitors and second homeowners.
Major programs and events such as the Junior Lifeguard program, Mascot Races and the Annual Captain Bill Gallagher 10-mile Island Run (also celebrating a 50th anniversary this year) fall under his purview.
Reached briefly on Thursday, Steele said he was looking forward to a great summer. An interview could not be arranged in time for this article. But during a recent talk, Steele said he was preparing as he would for any other year.
“We’ve considered every ‘what-if’ we could think of…regardless of those, it all comes back to being ready. We don’t want to postpone or cancel anything until we have to,” Steele said.
The job and the SICP have changed for the better over the years, according to Gallagher.
“It’s much more advanced now, especially on the medical side,” Gallagher noted. “We have a number emergency medical techs among our ranks.”
He also cited the improved communications technology and the building of a new Beach Patrol Headquarters at 44th Street and the Promenade 10 years ago.
The hard work is something Steele looks forward to each year with heightened excitement as the first big holiday weekend approaches.
“After a few years, the beach patrol becomes part of you,” he said in a 2010 published interview. “It becomes part of your identity.”
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio couldn’t agree more.
“He’s a legend,” Desiderio said of Steele. “Certainly, he is well respected in Sea Isle but also along every mile of every beach in New Jersey. Fifty years is a long time to do anything, let alone to be on a major beach patrol and leading it so well for so long. He’s ageless.”
The mayor added, with a laugh, “I hope he gives us another 50 years.”