Lifestyle

Quirky Temple alum left lasting effects on Ocean City

Ocean City publicist Mark Soifer is retiring after 45 years.

Ocean City public relations director Mark Soifer has been working for 45 years — and it all started with a three cent postcard.

In the mid-1960s, Soifer created a clothesline art exhibit that caught the attention of Dr. Marcia Smith, Ocean City’s first female physician. Smith sent him the postcard asking him to help organize an event for the city.

As Soifer heads towards retirement in January, the 1954 Temple journalism graduate looks back on the plethora of odd jobs he worked that led him to settling down with the Ocean City public relations staff.

He fell in love with writing at a young age when he discovered poetry, and started a humor column in college at The Temple News called ‘Verse and Worse.’ He never signed it with his name, only with “dedicated to the uneducated,” he said.

After graduating, he was immediately drafted into the army. Ending up in Houston, Texas, Soifer worked at Joe Ball Associates for only one summer before he was sent to Stuttgart, Germany.

In Stuttgart, Soifer wrote for “Ivy Leaves,” the newspaper of the Fourth Infantry Division and edited the 7th Corps JayHawk, a weekly American military newspaper.

Soifer had 16 poems published in the “Stars and Stripes edition column,” he said. “It was probably the best thing that happened to me, because I got training in the job I would eventually have and an outlet through the poetry I wrote.”

Soifer worked with people in Ocean City before B. Thomas Waldman, the mayor at that time, hired Soifer full-time for PR related jobs in 1971. Soifer has been there since.

“I start a lot of…unusual events,” Soifer said. “We needed publicity in those days, Ocean City had a low profile and a small advertising budget.”

The first event Soifer created was Martin Z. Mollusk Day: similar to Groundhog Day, a Hermit Crab comes out to find his shadow in May, predicting if summer is coming early.

Soifer wrote a whimsical article about the event for Ocean City’s public relations website, describing himself as the crab’s “spiritual advisor and chef,” and as the “only person who can communicate with Martin.”

“Martin Mollusk Day defined what Mark was about,” said Doug Bergen, the public information officer of Ocean City. “That sense of humor and goofy family-oriented type event is something Mark has duplicated time after time.”

Soifer remembers watching a pie-eating contest that led to the creation of more goofy events.

“It was gross. People were spitting out all over each other,” Soifer said. “I said, we should provide an artistic pie contest. Why don’t we do something with salt water taffy? And then I said…let’s make it all week.”

Soifer’s idea resulted in a “Weird Contest Week” of food-building events, including “salt water taffy sculpting,” “french fry sculpting,” and “That’s the Way The Cookie Crumbles,” where participants transform a giant cookie into a work of art.

“I noticed my grandkids liked to run around screaming naked, so we started Little Miss Chaos and Little Mr. Chaos,” Soifer said. “Kids sit on stage and bang pots and pans making as much noise as they can, while we play Dire Strait’s music.”

Soifer even created something called the Quiet Festival, opening the ceremonies by dropping a pin and forming the World’s Only Wind Chimes band.

For the festival, he wrote lyrics for an original song “Brother, can you spare a chime” taken from the depression song, “Brother, can you spare a dime,” Soifer said. He laughed exclaiming, “It’s been on the windchime charts for 50 weeks.”

His work didn’t only focus on creating ridiculously fun events. In the 80s, Soifer heard the mayor of Wildwood, New Jersey, had “worked out something with the state to add tax to promote tourism,”he said. “I went to our mayor and said, this is something we should do.”

Soifer contacted the state and got an abling legislation to be passed by city council, and thus created the Ocean City tourism commission.  

“It’s brought in millions of dollars in advertising, so I pay for my salary,” Soifer said.

Soifer, a family man, was the ideal person to create perfect events for the community.

“He’s never met a pun he didn’t like, and he has a heart of gold,” Bergen said.  “So many people can talk to him on a personal level.”

Soifer will be married to his wife, Toby, for 60 years in January, and together they have four children and eight grandchildren.  

His plan for retirement is to keep writing. He’s written nine books of poetry and has quite a few poems published. “I’m 84, so I better get going,” he said. “The latest book I had is called ‘A Nation of Things’ and it’s about inanimate objects. Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself.”

Soifer attributes much of his achievement in his diverse background of work to listening.

“The main thing is to listen to people,” Soifer said. “You’re not king of the hill or anything, you’re dependent on people to help you – I don’t like this boss attitude,” he added. “That’s my motto.”

Tsipora Hacker can be reached at tsipora.hacker@temple.edu.

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