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Gathering yearly in resort tradition for lifelong friends

(Aug. 1, 2014) A group of 13 high school friends descend on Ocean City for a week of beach, banter and beer. Horseplay and friendly competition are par for the course on their bayside balcony.

Lifelong friends, from left (back) Harry Morningstar, Kevin Sullivan, Rick Buterbaugh, Brian Sanders, Tim Dill, Jeff Masters, Kirk Izer, David Miller, (front) Steve Gonzales, Mike Martin, Rick Carbaugh, Dade Royer and Bill Hodge reunite in Ocean City every August, a tradition they started 40 years ago at age 16. (Clara Vaughn | Ocean City Today)

It’s a typical summer scene in the resort, except this particular group has been meeting here every summer for the past 40 years.

“It’s the greatest bunch of alpha dogs you’d ever want to meet,” said Harry Morningstar, one of about a dozen from Waynesboro, Pa., who made a pact four decades ago to return to Ocean City the first Saturday of every August.

As he tells it, the agreement began when the friends were 16 years old on a trip to the resort.

“We were there on the beach and we could see we were all going different directions,” Morningstar said. “I had just seen a movie about a group who did this sort of thing,” and the pact was born.

For the next five years, the group made the annual trip religiously. Then, at age 21, life started interfering with the yearly visit.

“That was the year we brought girls,” Morningstar said. And with marriages and children to follow, numbers often fell short in years to follow.

One of the originals, Dade Royer, changed that about 16 years ago, though.

“Dade called me and said, ‘Harry, I’m putting the band back together” — just like in the Blues Brothers,” Morningstar said. “We’re back on track now.”

From their 25th reunion, when the group of former quarterbacks and wrestling champions collectively lost more than 200 pounds after making a pact to get fit the previous summer to getting booted out of a bar, the men have reunited every summer since. Its members ebb and flow each year, but each fills a unique niche.

Rick Buterbaugh, senior art director as The Biestle Company, designs the banners that have become a tradition for the past 14 years, for example, and without Kirk Izer — aptly nicknamed “Chef” — the others scramble for dinner ideas.

“Some are CEO’s, some are CFOs and one of us has even retired,” Morningstar said, but the pact “is what gets us together.”

Though they have been spotted at Seacrets and starting an evening out at Liquid Assets is near-tradition, the bunch doesn’t come to Ocean City just for the nightlife.

“There’s a lot of sitting on the back porch. These guys could sit here and tell stories for weeks — and we do,” Morningstar said.

Even when the trip’s over and everyone disperses, they manage to keep in touch, he said.

“It’s not just the week. We stay in touch the whole year… It’s weird to go a month without talking,” Morningstar said.

While members have gotten married and divorced, raised and lost children, their high school friendships have remained a constant, he said.

“It’s nice to spend time with people who knew you before life screwed you all up,” he said. “It’s like having 12 big brothers watching after you.”

And though many things have changed, one remains constant year after year: No girls are allowed in the house during the trip to Ocean City.

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