A Timeline of Our Founding

MODC: In The Beginning

By Ellen Bradfield

The year was 1965. Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States. Popular music was dominated by the Beatles and students had not yet begun protesting the Vietnam War. Interest rates hovered between 4 and 5 percent and consumers did their shopping at local stores rather than in malls.

In Monmouth County, Route 35 from Eatontown to Asbury Park was one lane in each direction. The Garden State Parkway was a mere 10 years old and Route I-195 did not even exist. The county’s commercial center and primary resort town was Asbury Park, where $15 million in new construction had recently taken place.

It was in 1965 that a mild-mannered, bespectacled man named Kendall Lee resigned his post as Asbury Park’s city manager, a job he had held since 1957. During his tenure, the city acquired a new beachfront, saw a boom in apartment buildings, and initiated redevelopment of its west side. On summer weekends, this thriving city, with a year-round population of nearly 20,000, was jam-packed with tourists thronging to its mile-long beach.

“Nobody did anything in Asbury Park without Lee’s approval. The things he looked for were those that would improve the city,” recalled Edwin Ambler, who was Chamber of Commerce president at the time. “When he left the city manager’s office, Asbury Park ceased to improve.”

That year, 16 candidates were pitted against each other in a bitter election for five seats on the city council, including that of the mayor. As the campaign heated up, some of the candidates tried to besmirch Lee’s reputation, calling him “a well-seasoned politician feared by his employees,” and claiming he misspent funds in his “misguided efforts” to improve the city.

But Edward R. English, running on the ticket backed by the previous administration, and one of the eventual winners, replied: “I say Kendall Lee has worked harder for the city than any other man in the history of Asbury Park,” and pointing out that during his tenure, Lee brought in $1.2 million in federal, state and county aid, and $5 million in urban renewal and public housing aid.

Lee’s widow, Camile, recalled how he loved Asbury Park, and especially its beachfront. “Of all causes dear to his heart, he was most vitally interested in promoting the town and its shore,” she said. It was this love that led Lee to help form the Asbury Park Development Committee in 1959. Members, appointed by the mayor, were charged with promoting property investment, attacking problems that could affect the city’s resort image, and pressing for better access roads in and around the area.

By 1965, the committee realized that promoting the shore would take more than 28 men from one town, so Kendall decided they should expand. They invited the mayors from all the towns along Railroad Avenue. “We had been trying to get Railroad Avenue made into a through street and we weren’t very successful,” said Ambler, a founding member. We invited the mayors from all the towns along Railroad Avenue to join us. We couldn’t get any response at first until we started holding free luncheons and inviting people who got things done.”

Such was the start of the Shore Area Development Committee, later to become the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council.

By 1966, the committee’s membership had grown to 55 representatives from 19 towns. A monthly publication, “The Compass,” was begun, with articles focusing on the economic development of Monmouth County. In the inaugural issue, Lee, who held the post of executive vice president, outlined the committee’s mission: to undertake an exhaustive study of the cultural and economic needs of the shore area and develop a program to call these needs to the attention of the proper officials.

“There is a need for a unified approach in the solution of municipal problems. That is the hallmark of the Shore Area Development Committee,” Lee wrote in the May, 1966 issue.

One problem facing the area was the lack of adequate transportation facilities. Although the state had promised to widen a portion of Route 35 for years, no action had been taken. Commuters were at the mercy of inadequate rail service. A trip to Trenton took several hours along narrow, unimproved roads.

“It was very important to the committee to have decent railroad service and a better road to Trenton,” said Camile Lee. “I used to go with Kendall to state civil service meetings in Trenton and it was such a long ride. The road was one lane each way.”

In setting its agenda for 1967, the committee said, “The shore area is suffering economically from inadequate and outdated highway arteries. Construction of new, improved traffic arteries will continue to be one of our major objectives.”

But the state Department of Transportation wasn’t cooperating. As Duncan Thecker, who chaired the committee’s efforts to have Route 35 widened, complained, “All we get are target dates – a new one every year for the past 20 years. “In fact, things had gotten so bad that “The Compass” awarded the DOT’s Highway Division a “Booby Prize of the Month” for neglecting to show up at a scheduled meeting with the Crusade Highway 35 Committee, whose members included representatives of 10 shore area first aid squads and the most junior member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders – Harry Larrison.

At the same time, rail commuters were suffering on un-electrified Jersey Arrow trains that rarely ran on schedule and that were operated by several companies nearing bankruptcy.

Frustrated, committeeman Milton F. Untermeyer wrote in October, 1967, “Things are getting no better faster. Trains are overcrowded, schedules are not maintained, and the equipment is dilapidated. There’s no hope for relief until one railroad is responsible. The economic development of this county is tied to its commuter facilities and, as they say in the military, everything transportation-wise is SNAFU.”

As 1967 drew to a close, transportation remained high on the committee’s agenda. So did it’s own growth. As Lee put it, “Every day, another survey is released by some government agency or private survey group showing the trend to regionalization… Our aims and objectives are entirely regional in concept.”

For 1968, Lee envisioned a group of movers and shakers made stronger by a growth in membership, with sound financial backing, and a permanent office base. “We need the maximum support of public officials and industrial leaders in the area contiguous to and east of the parkway,” he said.

It was during that year that Ocean County became involved.

“I personally feel that one of our most significant achievements was in 1968 when the two counties agreed to join together for our mutual benefit. Two counties working together carry a much stronger voice than going it alone,” said former president Jim Dolan.
Founding member Michael Slovak called Ocean County’s involvement, “A good move. The two counties are close in all facets of community life and so much more can be accomplished on a bi-county basis.”

By late 1968, the name Shore Area Development Committee no longer fit the organization’s identity, for it implied a group concerned only with the resort industry. Among the new names proposed were North Jersey Shore Development Council, Mid-Jersey Development Council, Central Jersey Development Council, Shore Counties Development Council, and the eventual choice: Monmouth-Ocean Development Council.

The name change took effect in 1969, the same year that Brookdale Community College opened its doors and Ocean County Community College was accredited. That year, the council elected Untermeyer its first president, took in its 100th member, opened a permanent office on Mattison Avenue, administered a Park, Shop and Ride program in Asbury Park, published “Info 69,” a guidebook for visitors and residents, and co-sponsored a seminar on pollution at Monmouth College.

As a new decade began, the world was in turmoil. Protests against the Vietnam War had escalated; racial unrest reared its head in Freehold, Red Bank and Asbury Park; marijuana and LSD were in vogue; and women were becoming a force to be reckoned with.

“A new attitude developed in the soaring ’60s,” wrote Lee. “We became an uninvolved society. Each group cared only about its own problems. Almost everyone was protected except taxpayers, small businessmen and local governments. This void gave MODC its rapid advance.”

MODC celebrated its fifth anniversary in 1970. At its annual dinner, chaired by Slovak, four individuals were honored for their contributions toward making the two-county area a better place to work and live. They were philanthropist Maurice Pollack; former Monmouth County Planning Board chairman E. Donald Sterner; Frank Sutton Jr., president of the First National Bank, Toms River; and the recipient of the first ecology award, Emanuel M. Terner, whose company, Midland Glass, was salvaging and recycling bottles nearly two decades before it became mandatory.

That evening, state Supreme Court Justice Hayden Proctor told guests to “Start giving a damn about society and the world in which you live. We have got to get involved if we are to preserve Monmouth and Ocean counties not only for the present, but for the benefit of those who will live here in the future.”

MODC rose to the challenge, ushering in a “Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix-Up” campaign in its members’ towns. It sent a delegation to Washington to petition President Richard M. Nixon for federal aid to improve the Springwood Avenue area of Asbury Park, hosted a Quality Environmental Protection conference at Ocean County Community College, adopted a policy to support cultural and educational programs initiated and sponsored by Asbury Park’s West Side Coalition, and formed an Industrial-Educational Careers Committee whose “Careers” guidebook helped match young area workers with local businesses.

In 1971, former Eatontown mayor Herbert Werner became MODC’s second president. By then, an aggressive membership drive had opened MODC’s doors to women.

“In the early days, the committee was inviting politicos, movers and shakers to join. There weren’t too many women in power then. But after they started charging for their lunches, everyone was invited,” recalled Edwin Ambler.

“A recent new member is from the distaff side,” read a “Compass” article welcoming Lucy Wilson, owner of H.J. Wilson Boat Works in Oceanport.

“I was the first woman on the Long Branch city council. That’s why I got involved. Everyone was very kind to me,” Wilson said.

Other women pioneers included Letitia Acheson, founder of the Stuart School of Business, and Helen Cotter, manager of New Jersey Training and Employment Services in Asbury Park.

“I came into the Asbury Park area in August of 1971 and my first contact with MODC was that Christmas,” said Cotter. “Ed Ambler was the general manager of JCP&L and I was across the street. I visited him on a business matter and he asked me to be his guest at the Christmas party. When we got there, he said, ‘There’s a lady I’d like you to meet,’ and introduced me to Letitia Acheson.”

Cotter, Ambler, Acheson and her husband, Albert, became a foursome at many MODC events until Cotter was transferred to Trenton in 1973, temporarily leaving the council. She rejoined a decade later.

“I remember Kendall Lee quite well,” she said. “He was a character, with his little porkpie hat and those dark-framed glasses. He was very easy-going, but always got what he set out to do. He was a great guy for the job.”

In 1974, when Jim Dolan became MODC’s fourth president, membership had reached 262. Monmouth County’s valuation exceeded $4.1 billion, while Ocean County’s ratables were just about $3 billion. Both had been valued in the millions only a decade before. An interchange improvement and lane expansion program on the Garden State Parkway was expected to attract even more tourists and businesses to the area.

“Growth must take into consideration many factors: the environment, the presence of existing natural resources, transportation facilities, service facilities and increased job opportunities,” said Dolan, emphasizing MODC’s direction as it prepared to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 1975.

Two months before he could complete an anniversary retrospective for the January, 1975 issue of Compass, Kendall Lee died. Instead, the magazine, by then a quarterly, paid tribute to the man who, “more than any single person, fed the flame of dedication as to the aims and purposes of MODC.”

Edwin Ambler remembers Lee as, “A doer, not a dreamer. When two fires destroyed the Asbury Park boardwalk, he helped get Shore Protection money to have it rebuilt in the form of a bulkhead. That’s the kind of creative thinking he was capable of.”

To Michael Slovak, “Kendall was a guiding force, a spark plug. Sure, he was controversial. Anyone in his position was bound to be. But he believed in what he was doing and got it going.” MODC’s first two presidents, Untermeyer and Werner, both of whom are now deceased, called Lee a remarkable, unusual person whose organizational ability and executive capacity were impressive.

Wrote Untermeyer, “When St. Peter meets Kendall Lee at the pearly gates, I am sure he will say, ‘Come in, Kendall, your desk is waiting. Our regular monthly meeting is next week’.”