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Turning vacation into vocation is a family matter: Ocean City stories

The Croker family’s attitude toward Ocean City was solidified long before they moved to town permanently. In fact, in their recollection of their family vacation is the seed of how they were able to take hold of what mattered to them the most when the opportunity presented itself.

Ron and Sheila Croker brought their children Melissa and Timothy to the beach for vacation every summer, as many people still do. But the vacation was more than just a getaway from the family home in Arnold, it also was something of a family reunion.

It’s the kind of vacation with which many people with large families may be familiar. Cousins, aunts and uncles all plan the same week. They stay at the same hotel, condo or house and have different variations on the same adventure every year as the kids get older.

The old folks stay up late playing cards on the porch while the kids play on the sand below. It is as if there’s a wall, because when you’re on vacation even 50 yards of freedom seems bigger than it does at home. Melissa remembers the feeling of independence that came with the kids having the beach to themselves, just barely out of earshot of the grownups but still a world away.

“Parents could still see you from the porch, but it was like your own,” she said. “It was big time.”

Vacationing in Ocean City, even back in the 1990s wasn’t radically different than today. It was a place where families could have a great time on a budget because there was enough to do without spending a fortune, and money could be spent tactically. Plus, the point of vacation was to get maximum beach time, which is easy to do, especially if you have a lot of kids all together who can entertain one another.

“We would always make the beach a priority,” Ron said. “But we’d break it up at Trimpers, down the Boardwalk and get some pizza.”

Dinners often were taken apart, since it was nearly impossible to get a reservation for 30 people or even consensus among them about what to eat, where and when, but another of the vacation highlights was a big communal meal all the same.

“One night would be a crab night,” Melissa said “We’d all get crabs and bring them back to the house.”

It is probably a safe bet that massive family crab feasts are a highlight for many people who spend their vacations in Ocean City. These glimpses of perfect summers are what keep people coming back or, as in the case of the Crokers, what entices them to stay.

Life changing decisions

Ron worked at PBS and Sheila in the medical field, and while they enjoyed their jobs they weren’t driven to them. As Ron put it, going to work was something they did apart from one another. Working was something they did to facilitate better quality time as a family.

In the late 1990s they decided it was time for a shift. Things were changing from analog to digital at PBS and Ron had to decide whether he wanted to relearn his old job, or get a new career entirely. Plus, he and Sheila had been itching for a career change anyway. The kids were all for anything that meant more time at the beach, so the family started looking for business opportunities in Ocean City. Eventually they settled on Odyssea Watersports, a company that rented jet skis, which was a still-emerging business at the time.

It took two years for the family to complete the move. Ron kept at his job while his wife and kids moved down to the beach to make a go of it. He’d come down every weekend and whenever he had time off to help run the business and maintain the equipment.

“My dad is one of those guys who can fix anything,” Melissa said.

In the ensuing years, she has become part of that tradition, attending school to learn to repair and maintain jet skis as well. It’s actually the smallest of the adjustments they’ve had to make as a family.

The Crokers lost Timothy and Sheila several years apart not long after the turn of the century. Father and daughter have continued on and grown all the stronger as a family for their endurance. Melissa’s husband, Justin, also has become a critical asset both to the family and to the family business. But like making the sacrifices during the early years, first to save for the annual family vacation to Ocean City and then to move down and become part of the civic and business community, making the effort has been worth it. And it was all done just in the right time.

Purchasing the business and working together gave the family the kind of quality time they never could have had with everyone working separate jobs on the western Shore. It’s something that is lost on neither of them.

“If we had not had done this,” Ron said, “They we would have missed all that quality time.”

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