The bench was placed in 1997, after Wayne Porreca died of a stroke at age 65. It offered a way for the family to both cope with its grief and celebrate the good times at the Shore.
For the Porrecas, growing up in New Jersey meant summers in Ocean City. With four boys and his wife, Audrey, at the Shore home, Wayne Porreca would shuttle during the week between his appliance store in Millville and the beach. He grew tomato and basil in his garden, barbecued for friends, and exercised with his boys on the beach.
The sons are now scattered across the United States, but they still visit the Shore and bring a new generation of Porrecas with them. Of course, a trip to the Shore means a trip to the bench. When Wayne Jr., 51, who now lives in Leesport, Va., visited for July Fourth, he struck up a conversation with someone he saw sitting on "Pop's bench."
"It was special for me to see someone even just sitting there," he said. "It's a city bench, but it's our family's bench."
The Porreca bench was placed when few memorial benches appeared on the boardwalk. Today, 450 benches with commemorative plaques are located along the 2.5-mile boardwalk. The city created the boardwalk bench program in 1996 as a way for longtime Ocean City vacationers and residents to remember loved ones and fun times at the Shore for the cost of the bench and a plaque, up to $650.
The program placed 350 benches before running out of room along the boardwalk in the early 2000s. It got a reprieve in 2008 when 100 benches were added.
One of the issues for Ocean City and other localities is how to maintain the street furniture.
Wildwood Crest, which has programs for both park and beach benches, recently began charging families $500 every five years for upkeep.
Ocean City years ago floated the idea of a recurring fee, but the public wasn't interested, said James Mallon, the town's community services director.
Those interested in Ocean City memorials now are directed to newer options like adopting a bike rack, donating a surf chair, or placing a paver at Veterans Memorial Park. A paver costs $150 and a tree, the most expensive memorial option, is $1,000.
Mallon said the option of planting a tree or buying a bench in parks at North Street, Eighth Street, and 34th Street is attractive to those who remember trips to the parks as children with parents or grandparents.
"They have a special bond with Ocean City," he said.
While the new programs draw interest, the boardwalk benches are the sentimental favorite. On a sunny weekend day, that's where families stop to pack beach gear, individuals are deep in the pages of a book, or couples sit with an ice cream and hold hands.
For some, these benches are part of the background. Others feel connection to the benches and will walk down the boardwalk scanning the names. Occasionally, a name will stick out to passersby.
People approach Pat Croce, the former 76ers president, to tell him they sat on his bench, and he'll correct them. "That's the real Pat Croce's bench," he will say.
The bench is a memorial to his father, who died at 65 in 1993 of prostate cancer. Croce's mother, Dolores, bought the bench at Pennlyn Place for her husband. It reads: "Pat Croce's Bench / Hi Dad! / We're with you on the boards / Love Dee, Pat, Vince, Joe & John."
Croce said he imagines his father - a "gregarious, tough Italian" - sitting on the bench when he passes during his morning exercises down the boardwalk. He pictures his father laughing, wearing one of his favorite T-shirts, which read "I'm the real Pat Croce."
"If I ride or walk in the morning, I see it and it makes me laugh. I can see the old man smiling," Croce said during a recent visit.
William Meehan, de facto leader of the Republican Party in Philadelphia for many years before his death, also has a bench.
"If we could reach up and hold a star for every time you've made us smile, the entire evening sky would be in the palms of our hands / We Miss You Dad / William Austin Meehan / 1925-1994," reads the Meehan bench, located near 13th Street and complete with cloverleaf inscription for his college years at the University of Notre Dame.
The five Meehan "girls" had the idea for the bench and shared it with the four Meehan brothers, said daughter Marianne DiDonato, 58, of Blue Bell.
"He would love to just sit on the porch, prop his feet up, and wave at the people driving by that he knew," DiDonato said, recalling her father sitting outside their beach house on Wesley Avenue.
The Meehan family owned a home at the Shore for more than 20 years. It was where the nine children found their first jobs and one daughter met her future husband, said Meehan's son Michael, leader of Philadelphia's Republican Party.
"The summer respite was at the Shore," Michael Meehan said. He recalled that longtime Delaware County GOP leader John McNichol, who died in January, had a Shore home a couple of doors away. Jack Kelly, the Olympic athlete, would vacation there with his family, including daughter Grace, future princess of Monaco.
The majority of those who have ordered plaques are families who have visited Ocean City for generations, said Jon Wulff, production manager at Schoppy's in Linwood, which has made the plaques.
Some plaques are more notable than others, but all come with a story, Wulff said.
"It gives them a sense of closure and they have somewhere they can go and remember them that's personal," Wulff said.
Not all benches are memorials; they can be gifts to individuals or the community. Inscriptions on the benches may be simple ("Happy Birthday Wilma / September 25 / Love Bob") or cryptic (" . . . in all the word of song or pen . . . the best are those that might have been. . .").
The Brigidi family bench, between 12th and 13th Streets, is one of the few presents JoAnn Brigidi has kept.
"I thought it would be a heck of a present. She wouldn't be able to return it," said Bart Brigidi, 65, who gave her the bench in 2004.
The bench includes a message Bart worked on for months with JoAnn: "Thank you God & St. Jude for our children, our blessings, and our . . . Little House - Big Water / Bart & JoAnn Brigidi / 2004 / 'Buy High, Sell Low.' "
Ocean City isn't a vacation spot for the Brigidis. It's where they have made a living renting and selling houses, which, as their inscription teases, didn't always make them money.
Now living in Vineland, the Brigidis hope to move back to Ocean City. JoAnn, 59, told Bart she doesn't need a big house, just a chance to look at the ever-changing ocean and sit on her bench.
"We love our bench. I would never return it," she said.
Contact Dara McBride at 215-854-2703 or email@example.com.