Octogenarian Dispenses Wisdom With Beach Tags
At 89, Jim DiMarco is one of the Jersey Shore's oldest workers. What keeps him coming to work? He loves to share his positive outlook on life—and hugs, lots of hugs.
Buy a beach tag from Jim DiMarco and you might get more than you bargained for. Just ask the young couple who stopped by his office on a recent Saturday morning to buy a pair of weekly tags.
“Is this your wife?” DiMarco questioned the impossibly young-looking customer about his equally youthful companion.
Taken aback a bit, the man answered that yes, it was.
“Well, here's my recommendation,” DiMarco said. “Listen to her.” Dramatic pause. “Then do whatever you want.”
The couple laughed good-naturedly, then went on their way, presumably to enjoy some beach time in Ocean City.
After they left, DiMarco admitted, “I'm not afraid to do anything I want.”
And why should he be? After all, DiMarco, who works at the office at the Ocean City Music Pier, has been around the block a few times.
At 89, he is Ocean City's oldest—ahem, perhaps “most senior” sounds more respectful—employee.
The young couple had no way of knowing it, but DiMarco's unsolicited advice also is rooted in quite a bit of experience—next month, he'll be married for 65 years to Jean.
DiMarco said he started selling beach tags about 11 years ago after a friend who was an official of the program asked him to.
“I had a car, so he said, 'Would you like to work at 45th Street?' Then I went to 34th, then 10th, now here,” DiMarco said.
He walks to the Music Pier five days a week from his and Jean's one-bedroom condo at Ocean Colony, a couple of blocks away.
On Thursday, DiMarco said he stays home to check things off his “honey do” list. Sundays, he goes to Margate Community Church, which he absolutely loves.
But from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. most days, from Palm Sunday through Labor Day, DiMarco can be found behind the desk at the Music Pier selling tags ($10 weekly or $5 daily, cash or credit card), which he encourages purchasers to keep in a safe place on the beach.
“I look forward to it. They're all...” DiMarco said, gesturing conspiratorially toward his co-worker on this day, Rachel Ballezzi, 21, a brunette Stockton College senior.
Let's just say DiMarco appreciates pretty women. (Jean DiMarco is a beauty of 88.) OK, he's a ladies' man. And a guy's guy, for that matter. He likes everyone.
“I like this job because I meet people,” said DiMarco, who has the endearing habit of putting the back of his left hand up to the right side of his mouth when he talks, like he's telling a big secret only to you.
“I'm a funny person. If somebody comes in here upset, I say under my breath to myself, 'That's a nice person, they're just having a bad day.' I treat people the way I want to be treated.”
Jean and Jim moved to Ocean City about 16 years ago, after selling their home of decades in Stone Harbor because the town was “too dead in the winter,” he said. They lived briefly at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point (“Too much in and out of the car”) before moving to Ocean Colony.
Ocean City has been the right fit.
“I relax for 10 weeks while the crowds are here,” DiMarco said. “In the off-season, I love the town, the restaurants, everything.”
That's right—summertime, when he's selling beach tags, is DiMarco's “relax” time. He's been through enough in nearly nine decades to appreciate every day.
DiMarco grew up in Philadelphia, walked to school and lived through the Depression. He went to work at 16 in the family construction business, which he and three brothers bought in 1947, the same year he rented his first house in Stone Harbor. After working in the family business 37 years, DiMarco said he walked away.
“It had 19 corporations and 300 employees,” he said. “It got too big.”
In his free time, DiMarco enjoyed success on the golf course -- breaking 70 many times, he said; as a championship sailor; and accidentally, in horse racing.
"I even had a racing farm and won quite a few races," DiMarco said.
He and Jean raised five children— sons James V., Richard and Paul and daughters Amy and Jeana, in Abington, Pa.
In Stone Harbor, DiMarco sold real estate, opening his own office. When his son wanted to leave the business and go to school, DiMarco closed the office and -- get this -- went to work collecting tolls on the Garden State Parkway. He did that for almost 10 years.
The guy obviously has something against retirement.
DiMarco has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, including one-year-old twins. His daughter Jeana “has been in heaven a long time,” but he is happy his grandchildren who never knew her know all about her.
“I have her picture on my table and every night before I go to bed, I say, 'Well, Jeana, I'm one day closer to meeting you again.'”
Another milestone in DiMarco's life: “Twenty-two years ago, I decided I'd give back to the Big Man. I was spending too much time on the golf course, then at the after party with 14 other guys.”
DiMarco said he was gambling on golf and drinking too much. He gave both up by adhering to the 12-Step recovery program and still ticks off the names of three men, sponsors he said are responsible for him staying sober.
DiMarco has returned the favor. He said he led Alcoholics Anonymous workshops all over North America—including Montreal, San Diego, Chicago, New York City and Florida on many occasions, he said.
“My famous remark was—When I had everything, I had nothing,” DiMarco said. “Now I have nothing, but I have everything.”
He doesn't travel anymore, but DiMarco said he still makes his phone number available as a hotline for people struggling with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions. When they call, he said he listens and then thanks them for calling.
“I tell them, 'Everything you said helped me. Now you know what to do. Just do it.'”
There's a key to being a good listener, DiMarco said.
“Most people confide in me because it”—he makes a zipping motion across his lips—“goes in the vault. I keep everything in the vault.”
After 89 years, there must be a lot of stuff in that vault.
DiMarco carries little palm-sized cards imprinted with the “Prayer for Serenity” -- "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...." It is the mantra of those in recovery and he gives them out to people he thinks might need them. (This reporter got one.)
“Here's the way I live,” he explained. “If you get up in the morning and you feel bad, you're going to think about bad things. I think about good things.”
DiMarco's mission in life—still going strong, some eight months before he turns 90—is to spread that positive energy.
Which is where his job selling beach tags comes in handy.
“When I meet you and I talk to you, you're my friend,” he said, coming from behind his desk to give this reporter a hug. “I give at least 10 hugs a day.”