Skip to content

Rowland’s Vanishing Legacy



An email I received this morning prompted me to Google Howard Rowland’s name.  I found this July 2010 story interesting.


They’re just traditionalists, and the tradition in Belmar lifeguarding is to win. They won again this week, easily taking their own Howard Rowland Invitational for the 14th time in 15 years. Belmar won five of the eight rowing, swimming, and lifeline racing events.

“We’re like the Yankees of lifeguarding,” (Tim) O’Donnell said.

If they’re the Yankees of lifeguarding, O’Donnell is their Casey Stengel. He’s compact, trim and muscular at 65, with skin like burnt orange alligator shoes from 49 years “sitting wood” — lifeguard lingo for lifeguarding. He still competes master’s level competitions.

Their Babe Ruth was Howard Rowland, Belmar’s chief lifeguard for almost half of the 20th century. Rowland died in 1988, ending a career that began before the Morro Castle disaster. That was 1934, and Rowland was one of many rescuers who braved the roiling surf of nor’easter to save those who jumped from the burning luxury ship.

There’s much more to the Rowland legend. He became a lifeguard at 12. He once dragged out 19 people in succession during one storm. He once swam out 800 feet in a hurricane to recover the bodies of two drowned fishermen, and nearly drowned himself. In off-hours and the off-season, he drove obsessively along the beach looking for people in trouble.

“He always kept a torp (a flotation torpedo) and a pair of fins in his truck,” O’Donnell said. “Even in the middle of winter.”

And to get to be a Belmar guard, you’d have to rescue him.

“He was big and strong with this big barrel-chest,” O’Donnell said. “He start thrashing and kicking and dragging you down. By the time he was done, he would end up rescuing you!”


BTW, of all the lifeguards trained by Rowland, only five still remained on the squad as of last year.  This year Belmar is firing three of them, Tim O’Donnell, Harry Harsin and Ray Elms.

So the email I received was written by a former Belmar lifeguard who was close to Rowland.  He no longer lives in New Jersey.  It was sent to someone who was also close to Rowland, who in turn forwarded it to me.

The writer of the email is in possession of a plaque dedicated to Rowland and was planning on giving it to Belmar once the Howard Rowland pavilion is operational.  (Whenever that might be.)  I can’t quote him directly because this is a family blog, but lets just say he’s not pleased by the recent actions of this administration and has decided not to let these folks get anywhere near this prized possession of his.



  1. GAME ON wrote:

    End of an era…..Mayor Matt how do you sleep at night? Belmar Lifeguards have a tradition of being the best on the Jersey Shore and you’re throwing in the garbage. You’re getting rid of our most valuable commodity our LIFEGUARDS. I wish you well in retaining whom ever is left willing to work for the Great pay scale (pittance) you have implemented. Queen of mean Colleen has no idea what a mess you’ve created. Howard Rowland is a legacy and Tim O’Donnell is not far behind. You’ve thrown away Belmar history. Acting Chief I wish you well replacing these treasured assets with a bunch of untested kids…..Game On….good luck this Summer.

    Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I wonder when they are going to put the Howard Rowland signs back up at the 10th Ave pavilion or are they gonna name it after Dirty Doherty? The savior of Sandy.

    Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  3. Hmmm? wrote:

    The lack of respect for the talent, knowledge, experience and most importantly sacrifice of these guards is disgusting. Residents need to do something. Write letters to County and State legislators. Send letters to Editors. Don’t stand for this. The media spin put on by Matt and Colleen is what has people thinking it’s to improve pay scales. Make beaches safer. I wouldn’t swim in Belmar or spend one penny near the beach. Maybe the BPP would then have an opinion.

    Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  4. ALL TRUMPED UP wrote:

    #1- A couple of free beers here and there could put anyone to sleep at night. And there can’t possibly be a mirror in the house to look at upon rising at 10am. As for Has-bin H-man (aka cone man), if he’s smart he’ll pull the pin come Sept. 1st. I’m sure he’s got plenty of accumulated sick time to use through out the summer, leaving a boat load of extra OT funds to go around to the peasant patrolmen, there gonna need it this summer.

    Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  5. A Voter 2 wrote:

    I really do not get pleasure giving the Mayor a hard time, but his behavior as a Mayor, a Leader, a Man is shameful. From calling residents terrorists,violating beach goers civil rights,the tree planting ceremony cancelled to name a few of his accomplishments.

    Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  6. Beach buns wrote:

    They are not going to have jobs after January 2019 therefore they will do their level, creepy best to scuttle the ship before it sinks.

    The spite even gets darker when you think abut how it will be on other local beaches when OUR Guards are offered their jobs back at the largest attended, biggest post Election night party held in Belmar’s history is held at the BOATHOUSE.

    Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    It’s good people are becoming aware, but I am not surprised. This administration has been bullying many people that are not in the inner circle. Whether it be small business owners, a planting of tree, to a citizen that takes to the microphone and is disrespected etc. It’s a culture that has been developed in Belmar.

    Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    Now who do you think will win this dastardly deed, the Belmar’s USMC like Lifeguards or mcdirty?

    Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  9. GAME ON wrote:

    It has come to my attention that many cities in the United States close firehouses due to manpower issues , not enough manpower, these closing are called brownouts. This is common practice with cities facing financial straights. 2 of these cities are Newark NJ & Phidelphia Pa. So did these cities terminate the management of the departments. NO. So the borough of Belmar felt it necessary to fire the managers of the beach so they say because a lifeguard stand was down. Was this issue ever addressed to the beach managers? No, it was spur of the moment decision to put one of their puppets in. This was said to happen in July so why didn’t they address in July rather than now? Was this ever documented? No specifics. Just push it on the OT acting chief.No facts just fiction. This is smells of collusion by the trio aka Queen of mean colleen, stay at home dad matt(never had a real job) & OT cone man acting chief….soon everyone will catch on…follow the trail….game on…be prepared for Summer…’d that bus feel continuously running you over acting chief?

    Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  10. Doubting Thomas wrote:

    Cooleen’s stamp is written all over the July apocryphal machinations of mcdoherty.

    Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.