By Mary Walton
Rounding the bend on Fletcher Lake Avenue the other morning, I spied a replica of the Ocean Grove Fishing Club headquarters in the shady front lawn of #85. Painted white with green trim, just like the real thing, it even included window boxes stuffed with flowers.
Meanwhile, enjoying the shady porch of #85 was a smaller version of Ralph, the familiar, stuffed fisherman who perches beside the Fishing Club headquarters at the eastern end of the Ocean Grove pier.
Whoa! Not every day do you see that in someone’s front yard.
As it happened, though, I had seen this very structure in a float with Ralph aboard in the Ocean Grove 4th of July parade.
As I was snapping a picture, Carol Egner Boniello popped out of the house, car keys in hand, on the way for morning coffee. Boniello and her friend Bob Borders constructed the original Ralph after a 1992 Nor’easter destroyed the pier and plunged the club’s cabin into the briny depths. It was designed as a symbol of hope for the pier’s future.
Not only did she make the miniature cabin, she said, with an assist from Borders on the roof, she also made a Ralph dummy for the parade (“Little Ralph”) and strode alongside the float in a Ralph costume, waving an American flag. It was this very “Little Ralph” who was enjoying the shade of her porch.
Boniello joined the Fishing Club three years ago so she would have a key to headquarters and permanent access to Big Ralph, who requires constant maintenance. She has to “rewrap the head, paint it, give him a new beard and new clothes on a yearly basis. Seagulls sit on him. Pigeons poop on him.”
The future home of the little cabin is a six-acre park with a pond, owned by the Living Water Church, that is under development in Wall Township. “We’ll have animals,” Boniello said. “It will be a place for kids to go and play and hang out.”
Ralph stands for “Rising Above the Long Pier of Hope.” His story is told in The True Story of Ralph: the Ocean Grove Fisherman, a picture book written by Boniello and illustrated by Janet Nicastro. To read the Blogfinger “Portrait of Ralph” click here: BF Portrait of Ralph
The fishing pier needs hope. It has been closed to large groups, including the popular summer youth program, since Hurricane Irene swept away nine pilings and lopped off 20 feet of decking. Repairs are estimated at $150,000. The pier is owned by the Camp Meeting Association, which leases a portion to the Fishing Club.
Earlier this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down an application for funds on the basis that the pier is a privately owned facility. That decision is said to be under reconsideration, but a FEMA spokesperson last week told Blogfinger the agency had no record of an appeal.
Fishing Club president Al Dawson, who was elected just last week to replace Alan Trembley, maintained that the issue is, in fact, under appeal. “There’s some confusion with FEMA. We’re still awaiting a decision.”
NOTE: To read Paul Goldfinger’s article on Ralph, published last December, go here.