Philadelphia natives and lifelong friends reconvene in Ocean City, the same shore town where they earned their independence as new Cardinal Dougherty Class of 1970 graduates
It’s a warm summer evening in 1970, and anyone walking down South 14th Street in Ocean City is greeted with a cacophony of sound. When nearing one of the rented bungalows or storied homes, however, the discord falls away, revealing the intricate vocal blends of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the suave sounds of Johnny Mathis, the raspy stylings of Bob Dylan.
It was Motown meets rock, soul meets folk – a melding of music that defined a generation. But for seven friends from Philadelphia, it was more than that.
It was the music that defined a summer of burgeoning independence and lifelong memories.
“This is the first time we’re down here together since 1970,” Karen DiDio Groesbeck said from her condominium at The Impala Suites at Shorebreak Resorts.
The Perkasie, Pennsylvania, resident was hosting a mini reunion with friends Patty Siegfried Hunter, of Southampton, Pennsylvania, and Kathie Kintsch Lezotte, of Somers Point and Mount Laurel. The trio, along with high school classmates Maureen Martin Wittenberg, Janice Holderback, Debbie Hughes and Pat Iby, spent the summer of 1970 together in Ocean City, experiencing a new kind of freedom and responsibility away from parents before heading to college in the fall.
Getting together in Ocean City in 2022 had a special significance for the friends, too.
“We were the Class of ’70, and we all just turned 70,” Hunter said with a smile.
The seven are graduates of Cardinal Dougherty High School, a Roman Catholic high school in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia that the archdiocese closed due to declining enrollment in 2010. In the 1960s, however, the student body was some 6,000 students strong, and Groesbeck, Hunter, Lezotte and their four comrades were all part of the school’s drill team, world renowned alongside the Cardinal Dougherty marching band, a team with storied history having performed for Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration and when the New York Giants took on the Green Bay Packers at the 1962 NFL Championship Game.
“We were in all the parades,” Hunter said. “That’s why everybody was so close.”
“We were together 24/7,” Lezotte added.
A VERY, VERY, VERY FINE (RENTAL) HOUSE
Most of the women also hailed from the same neighborhood – Fox Chase in Northeast Philadelphia. It was there they would return each week during that 1970 summer, working Monday to Thursday before hitching a ride with parents or friends back to Ocean City for the long weekend. They had to earn their $30 a week price tag to pay for their rental, after all.
The friends shelled out $2,100 for the entire summer – or $300 per person. They stayed in the two-bedroom bottom floor of a brick three-story building at 13 West 14th St., a building long gone and replaced, like the majority of buildings on the block, by a large, modern home.
“The houses are so beautiful now. Most of them were Cape Cods, little ranchers. There’s a whole different feel when you come down here, but it’s not like it went too far in a different direction and you lost that hometown feel. It’s still here. It just looks better,” Groesbeck said.
LET’S HAVE A PARTY
While the summer introduced the seven friends to some newfound independence, it didn’t change their unfamiliarity with parties and alcohol. Coming from a Catholic, conservative background, the friends didn’t drink in high school, so the Ocean City parties were largely new territory.
And so was the rock music. The seven young women came to Ocean City equipped with their turntable, the “Funny Girl” album and Johnny Mathis records. The college boys down the street – influenced by the previous year’s inaugural Woodstock, sporting longer hair and smoking pot – were playing Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the like.
“That introduced me to rock music. That was what was really happening in 1970. We were used to Motown coming from Philadelphia. Rock artists were just new then,” Groesbeck said. “For me, that defined the whole summer – the music. Everywhere you went, you heard it. It was inspirational.”
Groesbeck, Hunter and Lezotte laughed when remembering some of the antics they got themselves into that summer, including the time they hid a bottle of sloe gin fizz from the police in a fold-away mattress, ruining the mattress in the process.
“We were more upset we lost the alcohol,” Groesbeck said with a laugh, adding sleeping arrangements in the two-bedroom rental included one person sleeping in the bathtub (“We made it nice!”) and others on couches.
Another memory was the young women’s introduction to “jungle juice” at a party thrown by a group of college guys renting down the street. Traditionally a strong concoction of mixed alcohol, the drink was ladled from a bag-lined trash can, and everyone at the party had fun imbibing late into the night.
“We found out later, they didn’t put any liquor in it,” Groesbeck said, adding with a grin, “but everyone was acting like there was!”
THE REUNION TOUR
In 1970, the Cardinal Dougherty graduates didn’t have a lot of money. They worked to pay their summer rental, and when in Ocean City, their life revolved around lounging on the beach and walking the Boardwalk by day and stopping at parties by night.
They remember going to Bob’s Grill at 14th and Boardwalk and traveling over the Ninth Street causeway to eat at Point Diner in Somers Point. Ice cream was a staple when strolling the boards. Sometimes they would hit up The Dunes (known locally as “Dunes Till Dawn”), a bar just over the Longport Bridge.
In 2022, there was a bit more freedom as far as spending.
“We didn’t have the money then,” Groesbeck said.
“It’s not like now,” Hunter added.
When enjoying their mini Ocean City reunion, the three friends checked out Wards Pastry – a new spot for two of them – and Hooked on Breakfast, as well as grabbed Randazzo’s pizza for a late dinner. Scannicchio’s in Atlantic City – of the famed Philadelphia Italian restaurant of the same name – was on the schedule, too.
And like many old friends who do not see each other often, the trio fell into a comfortable rhythm, talking nonstop and reminiscing about that 1970 summer – and everything since.
“We haven’t stopped talking since yesterday,” Groesbeck said.
As the women laughed about their long-ago Ocean City crushes – the boys who played basketball in college, the ones who rented bicycles in town – they also recognized how their beach trips turned into something more.
“The shore was a connection, really, for our future,” Groesbeck said, detailing how the experiences at the beach ultimately led to meeting husbands (and some now ex-husbands). “It all sort of went together.”
After that 1970 summer in Ocean City, the friends returned to shore spots in subsequent years – but they were never all together in Ocean City again. Lezotte ended up summering in Margate for a few years, and her family later owned a house in Ocean City. Groesbeck and Hunter rented in Wildwood, and later in life Groesbeck spent summers on Long Beach Island.
“But I always felt the pull here,” Groesbeck admitted. “There’s something about Ocean City that’s very special, I think, and I don’t think I ever lost that.”
Find this and more stories in the July issue of Ocean City Magazine