New London To Toast 'Mr. Ocean Beach'

New London - Anthony N. “Tony” Pero is quick to deflect the praise that New Londoners can't help but heap upon him for loving Ocean Beach Park like a member of his own family.

When informed Sunday night that New Londoners will recognize “Mr. Ocean Beach” tonight with, among other honors, a City Council proclamation, the 86-year-old Pero took a long pause.

”I'm appreciative if that's what's happening. I just don't know what to say about it,” said Pero, changing to the subject he'd always rather talk about: The beach he served for 42 years, starting as a lifeguard captain in 1946.

It wasn't before long that Pero was reminiscing about popcorn at Izzy's or lamenting the loss of the trolleys of his boyhood that took him to the beach.

Pero said if anyone should be honored, it is not himself, but those such as current park general manager Dave Sugrue and the Save Ocean Beach volunteers who share his love for Ocean Beach and New London itself.

”The beach has always been in my system,” said Pero, who retired in 1988 as the park's nearly 20-year manager; Pero had also worked as the park's activities director.

Two years before his retirement, a profile of Pero in the Day noted he had accumulated 145 vacation days and 396 1/2 sick days.

New London City Councilor Rob Pero, Anthony Pero's son, said that Ocean Beach Park “was a part of our extended house. It was his life.” Pero recalled his father once said he would mortgage the family's house just to repair the park's swimming pool.

Local officials and residents plan to honor Pero's lifelong advocacy for Ocean Beach Park with a series of events tonight. Pero will serve as the grand marshal of a children's silly hat and costume parade, a 6:30 p.m. event that recalls the doll carriage and bicycle parades held on the boardwalk in the 1950s.

The night will also feature a marionette show, dancing to the Oldies, and a 7:45 p.m. showing of “Meet Me at the Clock Tower,” a documentary on the park's history.

Pero will also be presented with a citation from the Connecticut General Assembly and a proclamation marking the third Monday in August as “Anthony Pero Day,” said City Councilor John Maynard, a strong advocate for Ocean Beach Park.

Maynard is among the volunteers, including those with the nonprofit Save Ocean Beach, who have helped replace the half-mile boardwalk over the past three years.

At 43, Maynard is among the second generation of New Londoners whose childhood is entwined with Ocean Beach memories.

”If you were a true New Londoner, especially in the summer, you were down here every day,” said Maynard, who would take a 25-cent bus ride to the beach.

Maynard said he partly decided to run for council because he wanted to return some of the past glory to Ocean Beach Park, which he said the city let fall into disrepair in the decade after Pero's retirement.

“After Tony left, the city let it go to hell,” Maynard said. Maynard called Pero a “guy who gave a lot to the city and never asked for anything in return.”

”He left us a legacy to follow up with, and we got to do it,” he said.

Sugrue, the park's general manager since 1999, had previously worked as a food and beverage manager and chef at the park. He started his career at Ocean Beach Park in 1976 as a 15-year-old grill cook after lying about his age.

”As teenagers we all worked for him; as adults we all respected him,” said Sugrue, 48, who inherited Pero's love for the park and his desire to see it endure. “There's a lot of people that understand the lure of Ocean Beach Park. It's got a little bit of magic to it.”

”I wouldn't want to live any other place than New London. We have a lot going for us,” said Pero, who still works five, 6-hour days as the manager of the Birch Plain Golf Course in Groton.

Pero said whenever he gets depressed, he simply walks from his son's house, where he now lives, to Pequot Avenue, where he takes in the view of the lighthouse.

”I go down and sit and look at the water, and it makes you feel good,” Pero said. “Then I go home refreshed.”
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