(Nov. 6, 2020) Sandy Hurley worked her final day as the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum’s curator last Saturday, ending a four-decade career with the museum.
Hurley, 63, was born and raised in Ocean City, and has worked for the museum since its inception in the late 1970s.
Her ties with the museum are connected through her mother, Janice Davis, and her in-laws, George and Suzanne Hurley, who were founding members of the Ocean City Museum Society that saved the building from demolition in 1977.
According to the museum’s website, the current life-saving station building was built in 1891 and was located at Caroline Street. It later merged with the revenue cutter service in 1915 to form the modern day U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard used the building until 1964, after which the building was abandoned and the new station built near the Ocean City inlet.
After its abandonment, the building was used as governmental department offices, but deteriorated greatly and was scheduled to be demolished in 1977.
The museum society stepped in and the mayor and City Council allotted it funds to move the building to its present location at the southern end of the Boardwalk.
“At the time, I was living at home finishing up my degree in biology at Salisbury University,” Hurley said. “I was studying biology and one of the very first things they did when they got the museum open was to install salt water aquariums.”
The museum society quickly realized, however, that salt-water aquarium upkeep was more complex then it had anticipated.
“Everything was done by volunteers at that time,” Hurley said. “They found out it was very time consuming to take care of saltwater creatures. I was taking a couple of classes and they approached me and said, ‘Do you think you could go in and feed the fish a couple of times a week?’”
What began as a part-time fish-feeding job eventually turned into a full-time position, and after Hurley graduated from Salisbury University in 1980, the city hired her as the museum’s executive secretary a year later.
“I was looking at other jobs [at the time in the field of biology] and fortunately for me, I didn’t take them,” Hurley said.
Hurley said she was happy at the museum and didn’t feel the need to leave it for a career path of which she was uncertain.
“I have a lot of pride in the town and its history,” Hurley said. “My mother and my in-laws were involved in it and a lot of my family members and people I respected were part of the museum society, so I thought, ‘Why would I want to leave?’”
Hurley worked under her mother-in-law, who served as the museum’s curator.
“It [the museum] started off … and it really didn’t have much of anything,” Hurley said. “They [museum society] were trying to collect artifacts … [but] their main purpose was to save the building.”
Hurley recalled how early exhibits were simply plywood boards covered with burlap.
The museum society eventually was able to hire a company to create a professional life-saving station exhibit in the building’s boat room in 1985.
“One of the first things they (museum society) did, and I got interested in, was the photograph [collection exhibit],” Hurley said. “My in-laws, George and Sue, wrote a book on Ocean City’s history back around 1978, so they had collected all of these photographs for their book, and after the book was printed, whatever they could they turned in to the museum society.”
Hurley recalled the museum working with the American Association of Library and Museum Studies, which taught the museum society members the finer details of photography.
During this time, Hurley’s role slowly evolved from executive secretary to assistant museum curator.
Then, in 2010, Suzanne retired and Hurley stepped in as the new curator.
One of the first projects she led as curator was the museum’s “Surf’s Up” exhibit, which explored the rising surf culture in Ocean City during the 1960s — a movement in which Hurley participated.
“It [Surf’s Up exhibit] was fun for me because surfing has been a part of my life and my husband’s, [Jeff], life,” Hurley said. “We both grew up here … and it was just a part of Ocean City culture I thought should be represented and it’s been very popular.”
Hurley said the museum was one of the most important cultural experiences guests and residents can enjoy while in Ocean City.
“You can learn a lot from history if you pay attention to it,” Hurley said. “It keeps the community connected. We hear it all of the time, ‘I’ve been coming here with my family since I was a little kid,’ and it tells a story of the people that would be forgotten if we didn’t [document it]. For instance, the new women’s exhibit that we just did.”
One of Hurley’s main reasons for retiring is simple: she wants to travel and spend more time with her children, two of whom live on the West Coast.
Following Hurley’s retirement, assistant curator Christine Okerblom will take charge as the new curator.
“I’m going to miss interacting with people and being involved with the staff, and I will miss coming to work” Hurley said. But, “I won’t miss the responsibility,” she said breaking out into laughter.
She added that she would miss parking for free in the inlet lot, too.