Family Enjoying 50th Straight Summer at Same Place in Beach Haven

By Eric Englund | Jul 31, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Beach Haven, NJ — When he was working for the Bendix Corp.’s Utica, N.Y., plant in the late 1960s, Paul O’Hara had frequent business dealings with a sales representative named Bert Smith. The two became friends, and one day Smith told him about how he had purchased a summer home in Beach Haven.

Smith invited O’Hara to one day check it out, and the latter took him up on his offer. The Jeffries Avenue home included several rental units, and Smith asked O’Hara if he would be interested in taking one. O’Hara said yes, and thus started a longtime summer tradition.

For the past 50 years, O’Hara and his wife, Helen, have made the 5½-hour drive from their upstate New York home to spend four weeks at the place. This year, the couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

“One of the biggest differences I’ve seen over the years is that when we first came here, Jeffries had mostly small cottages,” said Paul O’Hara. “But they’re all torn down to make room for two- and three-story homes. So many of those little houses have disappeared, not just in Beach Haven but other towns, too.”

He said the main reason they’ve been going all these summers is the ocean.

“We love the beach. Growing up in upstate New York, we went to lakes, but that isn’t the same as the ocean.”

Helen O’Hara agreed. “The ocean is so relaxing; we just love sitting on the beach and watching the waves,” she said.

Helen said the biggest change she notices is how Beach Haven “has gotten so crowded.”

“When we first came here, there weren’t a lot of attractions for kids,” she said. “But then we got Thundering Surf and Fantasy Island, and now it seems like the main place to go on the Island. It’s still fun to go shopping at Bay Village. We always make sure to stop there a few times.”

This year, many family members will be coming by to celebrate their 50th straight year in Beach Haven with a big barbecue.

Smith died in 1978; the home is owned by his daughter, Brenda Griffin.

“They’re a wonderful family,” Griffin said. “Paul and Helen were a very hard-working couple. After he left Bendix, Paul later became a teacher, and his wife was a nurse. They raised five wonderful children and they have a big collection of family photo albums. It has been such a pleasure to have them as renters all these years.”

Pattie Preston, one of O’Hara’s daughters, said the Smiths and Griffin “were such kind and wonderful people and we loved hanging out in the backyard with them, chatting and having barbecues.”

“We have continued to rent the same place for 50 years because Brenda and her family have always treated us like family,” said Preston. “They have gone above and beyond to make everything so comfortable and welcoming. Heading to the beach meant going to the library at home and getting stacks of books to read on the beach. We all shared books and if we ever ran out, Brenda always had shelves of books to share.”

Preston recalled how in the early years, her mom and dad stood in the shallow water, holding the hands of their youngest children, Kellie and Dan, as they learned to “jump the waves.”

“They continued to do the same with their 11 grandchildren, until everyone was able to swim on their own,” Preston said. “Dad then spent time every summer teaching all of his kids, then grandkids to body surf the waves, often beating all of them on distance, or at least staying competitive into his 80s.”

Preston said it was a daily competition at the beach to try and solve the riddles on the back of the lifeguard chair, and to try and guess the water temperature for that day.

“Mom and dad spent so much time with their kids and grandkids, but were able to take a few minutes every day for their walk on the beach,” she said. “We loved watching them walk off to the jetty, holding hands all the way there and all the way back.”

She said if it rained, there was still fun playing Tripoli, Scrabble, poker (using pennies or peanut M&Ms), Boggle, Spoons and crossword puzzles.

“Our family is so happy Beach Haven survived Superstorm Sandy and is better than ever,” said Preston.

— Eric Englund


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