It Takes a Village to Celebrate the Ocean Beach Centennial

By Timothy Bolger ~ Revelers who love the Village of Ocean Beach have a new reason to rejoice as the community prepares to host a string of centennial celebrations in Fire Island’s unofficial capital this summer.In addition to its 100th birthday party, a centenary gala, and a beach bash, community leaders are also organizing an exhibit detailing how the village changed over the past 10 decades, a multimedia project documenting local resident’s memories, a special commemorative publication, art installations in which the public can participate, and downtown beautification projects. Myriad memorabilia, including posters, T-shirts, and pins, is also being made available at the village’s gift shop to mark the historic event.“Anytime you reach a milestone like that, that’s amazing,” said Jonneigh “Bunny” Adrion, the deputy clerk for the village who is organizing the first event, the Centennial Celebration scheduled for July 31, from 6-8 p.m., at the Ocean Beach Community House, where local dignitaries are expected to be in attendance. “That’s a long time for anything to be operating.”Besides village government officials, also organizing festivities are the Ocean Beach Community Fund and the Ocean Beach Historical Society that it operates, the Ocean Beach Association homeowners’ group, and the Ocean Beach Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses downtown.The chamber’s efforts will be among the first things people notice upon entering the village, with aesthetically pleasing items such as centennial-themed flower boxes downtown, pins marking the occasion for workers that are being provided free to businesses that are members of the organization, and warmer signage that say “Welcome to Ocean Beach” and another placed as visitors board the outgoing ferry saying, “Thank you for visiting Ocean Beach.”“Somewhere along the way we forgot to say ‘welcome’ and ‘thank you,’” said Laura Mercogliano, who’s spearheading the project for the chamber and is co-owner of the Fire Island News and the The Palms Hotel Fire Island.In addition, the chamber is organizing a pair of participatory art installations dubbed “100 Wishes” in which members of the public who donate $10 can write their centennial wish, quote, or just their name on a “feather” that will be posted together to form the shape of angel wings placed on the east end of the downtown. One will be for children and the other for adults. The chamber hopes to create similar projects in the center and west end of downtown.As for the Ocean Beach Community Fund, its annual gala boasting a centennial theme,“100 Years, Land of 100 Dances,” is set for Aug. 7, from 7:30-11:30 p.m., at the Community House. The nonprofit is the umbrella group supporting the Ocean Beach Historical Society, which is preparing its “100 Years, 100 Voices” project documenting local residents’ memories that will be included in a special exhibit running from Aug. 14 to Sept. 6.“Ocean Beach is not just a place, it’s a community,” said Holly Etlin, president of the Community Fund. “People have their best memories of their childhood and young adulthood from being in this place. It’s very important to preserve the history of our community for future generations.”To that end, in addition to creating a video and audio archive of residents’ recollections, the group also is raising funds to continue the historical society’s efforts to digitize its archives of historic photos, documents, and newspapers into a publicly available, searchable online database, and store the physical files on mainland Long Island to avoid potential storm damage in its current location in the village. Donors can help the group meet its goal of raising $60,000 to complete the project by visiting

Also contributing to the efforts is the Ocean Beach Association, which spearheaded the Centennial Committee coordinating all events, is planning in collaboration with the village a bonfire party on the beach scheduled for Sept. 18; engaged artist Matt Langley to design commemorative logos that appear on banners hung around the village; and is publishing the nearly 200-page journal document- ing residents’ written memories, photos, and art for the occasion.

“My vision is flavored by what I can recall of the age of 10 and 15 from the 50th anniversary [of Ocean Beach] in ‘71 and the [U.S.] bicentennial in ‘76,” said OBA President Maria Silsdorf, who has been in the village for 60 years and is the daughter of former longtime Mayor Arthur Silsdorf. “It’s really gonna be phenomenal.”She said the publication takes a page from the Ocean Beach Diamond Jubilee publication printed for the 75th anniversary in 1996. Although there are no known surviving residents who remember when the village was incorporated in March of 1921, in the 75th anniversary publication there was an essay from one who wrote of being there.“I am delighted that my grandfather, Joseph Stretch, lived to see the incorporation of his beloved village,” wrote longtime resident Betty Peters in that publication. “He had spent the last 16 years of his life building Ocean Beach. Literally building it! The boardwalks, the houses, the real estate office, the sewer system, etc.”Like the prior commemorations, the centennial is sure to be one for the ages.“If there were ever a year and a cause for celebration, this would be the year to do it, having been through one of the most difficult times with COVID,” Adrion added. “I think this is a great reason to come together and enjoy this event for the historic milestone it represents and to lift our spirits. Hopefully it’s a fun trip down memory lane.”  Shoshanna McCollum contributed to the article.Centennial logo by Matt Langley