By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Tom Feaster recalled that when he was a boy, his father stored a small boat at 44th Street and the bay in Sea Isle City and his mom would sit in the stern and teach him how to row.
By sheer luck, he and his childhood buddy, Mike McHale, found a duck boat floating in the bay one day, rigged it with lifeguard oars and began practicing.
He’s been rowing ever since. The former Sea Isle lifeguard’s celebrated rowing career has culminated in the distinction of recently being named one of the all-time great athletes at his alma mater, Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio.
During his four years at Marietta, he was a three-year letterman with the crew team and served as its captain when he was a senior. He rowed with two undefeated and national championship teams.
Now living in Tampa, Fla., the 72-year-old Feaster fondly looks back at his lifeguard career in Sea Isle as the foundation for his rowing success in college and as a coach and mentor to generations of younger rowers.
“When I was 15, I couldn’t wait to get out on the beach,” Feaster said of his first year as a lifeguard back in 1962.
His older brothers, Richard and Bill, were lifeguards ahead of him, so it only seemed natural that he would join the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, too.
“I just wanted to follow that course, watching my brother row and my other brother swim,” Feaster said in an interview.
Richard, who is deceased, and Bill, now 81 and living in Egg Harbor Township after moving from Sea Isle, both had distinguished lifeguard careers of their own.
As a boy, Tom served as a “mascot” to both of his brothers when they were lifeguards. The lifeguard mascots run errands for the members of the Beach Patrol and help out in other ways. Essentially, they are lifeguards-in-training.
“I was hanging around the lifeguards all the time,” Feaster remembered.
Later, he qualified to become a full-fledged lifeguard, serving with the Beach Patrol from 1962 to 1973 and rising to the rank of lieutenant. He was also a champion lifeguard rower.
His childhood buddy, Mike McHale, the one who joined him in practicing rowing on the aforementioned duck boat they found floating in the bay, also became a lifeguard. McHale, now 73, served as a lifeguard for 11 years and led the Beach Patrol as its captain in 1982.
“Mike McHale was my rowing partner,” Feaster said of their time together as lifeguards.
McHale entered politics after his lifeguard career was over, formerly serving as a city commissioner and as mayor. After his political career ended, he became a leading member of the Sea Isle City Historical Society & Museum.
The Beach Patrol’s history was celebrated with a parade and other special events last summer to commemorate its 100th anniversary. As part of the 100th anniversary celebration, Feaster wrote a magazine article that recounted his family’s involvement with the Beach Patrol and his cherished memories as a lifeguard.
“My first memory of the Sea Isle Beach Patrol’s annual City championship was in 1957,” he wrote in the beginning of the article. “I was a 10-year-old Mascot cheering my brother Bill and his partner Hugh Bowen. The race took place off the 45th street beach. My viewing vantage point was the Pavilion that was located at 46th street and the beach at that time. My mother, father and I were cheering for Bill and Hughie.”
It was right around that time, Feaster wrote, that his father, Bill Sr., had kept a small boat at 44th Street and the bay and his mother, Emma, sat in the stern and taught him how to row. His parents are both deceased.
The Feaster family was from Philadelphia and would spend their summer vacations in Sea Isle, staying at the old Colonnade Hotel. Tom Feaster was an infant when his family first brought him to the shore.
“The inspiration for me (becoming a lifeguard) came while spending my summers then in Sea Isle,” he said.
While attending Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, he became the National Scholastic Singles Sculling Champion. His rowing success in high school was the springboard for his storied college career at Marietta starting in 1965.
Later, he was inducted into the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Hall of Fame and Marietta College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Feaster, who is a retired corporate real estate executive, remained involved with rowing after his college career was over. He coached national championship crews at Marietta High School, the Sanford Naval Academy and the University of Tampa.
He was a board member for nine years with the United States Rowing Association and currently serves as president of the Stewards Foundation, a rowing group that teaches teamwork and responsibility to young people in the Tampa area.
Even now, in his 70s, he still gets out on the water to row.
“I continue to Row and sometimes compete in my single but can assure you that I have lost more races than I have won since those glory years in Sea Isle, Father Judge and Marietta College,” he humorously wrote in his magazine article.