THE SUMMER of 1947 was a memorable one for Ocean City’s Kelly family. Since 1920, when Olympic champion John B. Kelly was barred from competing in the Henley Royal Regatta (because he did manual labor), he dreamed of seeing the Kelly name on the Diamond Sculls victory list.
The dream came true on July 5, 1947 when 20-year-old Jack Kelly Jr. sent his scull knifing through the water on the Thames to beat all competitors. Besides his parents, two of his sisters, Grace and Lizanne, were there to congratulate him when he was presented the world’s premier rowing trophy.
The big win was covered in the July 28, 1947 issue of Life Magazine under this headline, “KELLY VS. HENLEY, Son Jack wins Diamond Sculls to end old grudge against Regatta.” America’s favorite magazine devoted three pages to Kelly and included seven pictures.
Jack Kelly Jr. was recognized as the fastest rower in the world after he won the single sculls honor in the United States and Canadian championships.
Kelly received much attention when he arrived in Ocean City. He was grand marshal of the 38th annual Baby Parade held on Thursday, August 14, 1947. Appropriately, he waved to the crowd lining the Boardwalk from an Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeboat. Three years earlier, Jack rowing with Joe Regan, won the 1944 South Jersey Lifeguard Doubles Rowing Championship.
A few days before the parade, the Kelly family gathered on the 26th Street beach for a family picture. Of course, the family posed in and around an OCBP lifeboat.
Kelly was honored by his friends at 28th annual Life Guards’ Ball on August 29, 1947. It was a record crowd on the Music Pier where over 1,400 people gathered for the end-of-summer event. The dancers filled the entire main auditorium and solarium and many more danced outside in the pavilion to the music of Alex Bartha’s Orchestra.
The highlight of the evening was a tribute to Jack Kelly. He was given a commemorative silver bowl from Mayor Clyde W. Struble, and a plaque from OCBP Captain Thomas Williams.
The shell that Kelly rowed when he won the Diamond Sculls was displayed on the stage of the Music Pier along with the Diamond Sculls trophy, and the gold goblet he received for his permanent possession.
Among those attending the ball to honor Jack Kelly Jr. were five resort residents who were all Olympic oarsmen: John B. Kelly, Sr., Charles McIlvaine, Paul Costello, Joe Burk, and Augustus S. Goetz.
Capping off the championship year, Jack Kelly won the 1947 James E. Sullivan Award as America’s outstanding athlete.
Find this and more in the July Magazine