By Logan Dubel
The people of Ocean City are quite busy, but one person has truly done it all – and has the resume to prove it. Nancy Howard, a longtime resident, and local leader has worked everywhere, from a presidential campaign to the Carousel Hotel and City Hall. With decades of experience, she is still pushing full steam ahead, proving that there is always more that can be achieved for the community.
Role: President, Ocean City Museum Society (2013-Present), Ocean City Councilmember (1996-2008), In-House Convention Manager at the Carousel Hotel, Project Manager, Ocean City Beach Replenishment, Public Relations Director, Eastern Shore Department of Natural Resources, and real estate agent.
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
First Vacation to Ocean City: June 1961 (following high school graduation)
First Job: Office Assistant at the Smithsonian Institute
Education: University of Maryland (uncompleted)
More than 45 years ago, Nancy Howard moved to Ocean City and has made a mark on everything she has taken part in since. However, before she moved to the island, her life was much different, studying art history and then being in the midst of national politics.
“I loved art, but I could not even draw a stick figure. I really appreciated everything about art, and working at the Smithsonian was magical. It’s a special place,” Howard said. “After I left school, I asked for a job on Capitol Hill and didn’t care what I did. Much like Ocean City, Capitol Hill was much different in those days. I worked as a secretary for the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. In those days though, I was not a political person.”
That would quickly change, as Howard, the daughter of republicans, found herself working for the staunch South Dakota democratic Senator George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign against incumbent President Richard Nixon. To be young and campaigning across the nation is an experience Howard says she always remembers fondly.
“I became involved with the McGovern campaign because he was the chairman of the Senate committee I worked for, and I was shipped out to many primary events. It was one of the most exciting periods of my life,” she said. “I campaigned again in 1974 for McGovern’s re-election run in South Dakota.”
So, with a few years of politics under her belt working in the nation’s bustling capital, how on earth did Nancy Howard end up in Ocean City, Maryland? After leaving the Senate in 1975, she did not have many plans. After just one week in the resort town, she knew it was the place for her.
“I remember one special night that was just magical. The air was dry, it was a cool night, and I saw something special. When I came down for the first time years earlier as a high school senior, I admit that I was not an Ocean City person,” Howard explained. “Fast forward to 1975, without friends, a job completely lined up, or a place to stay, I moved here that December 1st and have never left.”
After settling in, her first job offer came from City Hall, of all places, but she was apprehensive about taking the position. She continued to look and found that the Carousel Hotel needed someone to lead planning for their in-house conventions. Howard, who laughed at the time that the only thing she had ever done in a hotel was sleep, took the job right away and stayed for seven years. In the 1980s, she also did what she calls her “obligatory real estate” experience, and along the way, met another agent, future Mayor Rick Meehan.
Meehan, who had political aspirations at the time, was bolstered by Howard’s strong support when running for a seat on the Ocean City Council in 1985. While working on his local campaign, she met legendary Mayor Fish Powell and received an offer that would later be her claim to fame – to lead beach replenishment efforts in Ocean City.
“This was a job I was not qualified for, and what’s more, is that I was the director of the entire project. What saved me was that I was so passionate about the project and knew how to manage it,” she reflected. “While some people will not admit it, the central reason as to why we are all here in Ocean City is because of the beach. You can say that there are great restaurants, or we have an exciting Boardwalk, but we needed beach replenishment then and still do today because that is what people come here for.”
Due to Howard’s impressive direction, she made a name for herself in the local sphere. Appearing constantly on television and in newspapers about her work to get easements and contracts for the beach operations, Nancy Howard became a household name in Ocean City. Later, she landed a position leading public relations at the Eastern Shore Department of Natural Resources. Beach replenishment was her stepping stone to taking a seat at the Ocean City Council, where she was first elected in 1996. Howard, one of the few progressives on the shore, says very few people knew exactly what she stood for, but they knew that she would get the job done.
In her three terms on the council through 2008, she is proud of the relative stability the town experienced during her tenure. Unlike today, she says the town did not experience a multitude of issues, and life was good.
“I felt like more of a caretaker on the council. We were prosperous, we were building, and the beach was beautiful,” she recalled. “My one regret is that we never raised taxes even just slightly. I believe that was a mistake because our infrastructure needed help, and we weren’t good stewards of it. No one wants to pay more to the government, but someone has to pay for all the things we desire and benefit from. I think we caved too much on that issue, unfortunately.”
Since departing City Hall, she has continued to be effective and argues that she has actually accomplished more outside of government. Her community involvement spans across various sectors, from museums to paramedics. Her current roles include President of the Ocean City Museum Society, which operates the Life-Saving Station Museum, Treasurer of the Worcester County Arts Council, Secretary of both the Ocean City Paramedic Foundation and the Downtown Association, and Vice-President of the Worcester County Library Board.
As a longtime student of history, Howard has loved every minute of leading the museum board and staff, and even choked up when discussing why it is such a special place.
“Being at the museum in Ocean City brings me back to my days at the Smithsonian, and I just love it because it is exploding with possibilities. The museum is becoming part of the added value for tourists,” Howard said. “Museums are a firm reminder that we can never deny the past, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This country has done some wonderful things, but we aren’t perfect.”
Spearheading the mission of historical engagement in the community, Howard is proud to announce that Worcester County History Week will launch for the first time ever in October, featuring museums across the eastern shore.
Reflecting on her nearly half a century in Ocean City, she recognizes that great changes have occurred. The most interesting shift, however, is a change in the way people view the areas surrounding the beach. In the 1980s and 1990s, she says that sending people across the Route 50 or 90 bridges to other towns was seen as a cardinal sin and a terrible idea. Now, that perspective seems unimaginable, with the vibrant small town of Berlin or the unmatched scenery at Assateague Island.
“Town leaders thought at the time that if you gave people a reason to drive out of town, they would never come back, which in hindsight, seems foolish,” Howard explained. “City officials finally realized how great these other places were and that people would still come right back to Ocean City.”
Nancy Howard’s Ocean City Favorites
Favorite Restaurants: Bayside Skillet, Fager’s Island, Kirby’s Pub, and Liquid Assets
Favorite Hotels: The Carousel Hotel
Must-Stop on the Boardwalk: Stephanie Meehan’s Funcade Arcade, The Dough Roller, Shenanigan’s
Favorite Activity: Riding a bike
Favorite Time of Year: October – less humidity and chilly nights
We have to get a handle on some of the issues we have to keep this town rolling. We need to finally do something about traffic on coastal highway because the problem continues to grow. Additionally, we need to have a safe but clean town.