Time For Tony To Take A Bow

New London — Although he retired more than a decade ago, Anthony Pero's name remains virtually synonymous with Ocean Beach Park, at least in the city's memory.

For 41 years, he was an unflagging presence at the park, at various times the captain of the lifeguards, the recruiter of entertainment and the supervisor of all beach operations.

“Tony knew every aspect of that beach, even the tide,” said Sheila McCarthy, a member of the Ocean Beach Park board for 12 years. “He was always visible, always present. He knew every grain of sand.”

On Sunday, the Musicians Association of Eastern Connecticut, a union, will acknowledge Pero at its 100th anniversary dinner at the Radisson Hotel for his past efforts to bring live music to the beach.

A New London native, Pero served in the South Pacific as a Navy ship-fitter during World War II. In 1947, the year after his discharge, he became captain of the lifeguards at the beach where he had spent summers with his grandmother, diving off a two-story pier called the “dolphin” that was destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938.

His starting salary was 60 cents an hour.

A promotion to activities director came five years later, a position well tailored to Pero's easy, affable manner. He trooped around the state, recruiting school groups and church youth groups to use the beach for June parties and musicians to fill the stage at the Port 'N Starboard.

These days, Pero, 82, is as gregarious as ever. With no taste for retirement, he took a job at the Birch Plain Golf Course in Groton, greeting golfers, taking tickets and sometimes, he said, “talking too much.” A past chairman of the Southeastern Connecticut Tourism District, he still serves as chairman of the marketing committee of the organization now known as Southeastern Connecticut: Home of Mystic Places.

Pero's mind is a gallery of life at Ocean Beach during the postwar years, when big-band music was the fashion. As activities director, he brought in the marquee names of the time — Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and the Glen Miller Band — for the Sunday night concerts that regularly lasted until 1 a.m.

“We also had our own bands that were excellent,” he added, referring to the union musicians.

One of the union members, Dick Pillar, approached Pero 38 years ago and asked if his polka band could perform at the beach. The show that band delivered blossomed into Polkabration, an 11-day dose of polka music that is still performing in a downsized version at Mohegan Sun.

“So many musicians got the opportunity to perform while he was manager of the beach,” Pillar said of Pero. “I wouldn't have gotten where I am today without the start Tony Pero gave me.”

Pero became beach manager in 1972, the year Augustus Menghi retired. The position fused his old task of recruiting entertainment with responsibility for all operations at Ocean Beach.

“He ran a good ship,” said William Nahas, a former city councilor who also ran the gift shop at the park. “The man worked day and night.”

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