By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Hundreds of memorial benches – no one is sure of exactly how many – line the oceanfront Promenade and can be found in other parts of Sea Isle City.
Some are inscribed with simple poetry: “Sit for a while. She loved Sea Isle,” says one bench in tribute to Louise Jensen.
Other benches offer a dose of humor: “Sea Isle City is my happy place. How long you gotta be here before you get a drink?” says a bench that includes etchings of two beer mugs surrounding the name of Ray Hughes.
Most of the benches are touching tributes by family members in remembrance of deceased loved ones: “In loving memory of Toni Carlino … Mom Mom,” says one.
The benches are remnants of a Sea Isle program started years ago that allowed families to pay for makeshift memorials that were placed on the Promenade by the city. The program was stopped when space ran out for more benches, city officials said.
Now, Sea Isle is considering the possibility of reviving the program so that families may be able to memorialize deceased loved ones again with tributes inscribed on benches.
However, city officials are not sure which way would be the best way to do it.
“We’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about it a lot,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
One idea is to perhaps place as many as three memorial plaques on the benches instead of having each bench reserved for just one family, Savastano said during the City Council meeting on May 7.
Savastano told the Council members that “we don’t have a good answer” at this time.
“We’re working on it, and we’re trying to be kind and respectful,” he said.
The discussion about memorial benches began when Sea Isle resident Bernadette Miller asked Council exactly how people go about getting a bench on the Promenade. She was told that the city stopped the bench program years ago, but may restart it in a new format.
In an interview after the Council meeting, Miller said her family is considering the possibility of having a bench in memory of her sister-in-law, who died three years ago.
“I think it would be nice to memorialize the people who enjoyed Sea Isle,” she said.
City officials noted that the memorial benches are popular overall, but have drawn objections at times from some people.
“Some people love them. Some people feel it’s like walking through a cemetery. I’ve heard comments from each end of the spectrum,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Over the years, the benches proliferated and began “cluttering up” the city, including blocking some of the beach paths, driveways and other places, Councilwoman Mary Tighe explained.
Tighe expressed support for having some type of program for memorial benches supervised by the city.
“I think we do need a program. It’s getting out of hand,” she said of having so many benches spread out across the city.
Tighe said someone had suggested to her the idea of installing multiple memorial plaques on the benches so that more than one family could have them as a tribute to their loved ones. If need be, the plaques could be rotated to create space for new ones, she added.
While most of the existing benches were authorized by the city, some of them were not, City Solicitor Paul Baldini said. In some cases, families privately hired a contractor to build their bench instead of paying the city to do the work, he explained.
“They’re doing it at their own risk, and it could be removed if it’s not part of the program,” Baldini said of the unauthorized benches.
However, Baldini pointed out that no benches have been removed.
In the meantime, Mayor Leonard Desiderio’s administration plans to work with City Council to develop a new program for memorial benches, Savastano said.