Who is John Loeper?

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Builder, businessman and busy volunteer

John and Marj Loeper at home at the Northwood Inn with their dog, Harry. John and Marj Loeper at home at the Northwood Inn with their dog, Harry.

OCEAN CITY — A custom boat and home builder by trade, Ocean City’s John Loeper stays plenty busy serving his community in more than a half-dozen volunteer roles while running the busy Northwood Inn with his wife, Marjorie.

Just in case he has a few spare moments, he keeps handy “boat flank material,” 1,000 board feet of prized flinched white cedar – specially cut with rough edges – just in case he gets the urge to build another boat.  

“I keep it on hand, because you can’t always find it,” Loeper said.

He’s the multi-talented clerk of the works at the family bed and breakfast on the corner of Fourth Street and Wesley Avenue, able to build, create or repair just about anything. The president of the city’s planning board, Loeper spent the past few years working on the city’s recently adopted master plan.

He was appointed to the Ocean City Historic Commission and helped create the city’s historic district. He also served 14 years on the city’s zoning board, the tourism commission, on the board of directors for the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean City Athletic and Rowing Association. For his efforts, Loeper was named a volunteer of the year.

He started the Save Our Station organization to help save the crumbling Life Saving Station, and after successfully lobbying City Council to purchase the property, is the president of US Life Saving Station 30, a nonprofit formed to help raise money to preserve it.

He’s a member of the board of directors of the Ocean City Historical Museum and serves on the Cape May County Cultural and Heritage Museum board. An avid fisherman, he’s a member of the Fly Fishing Club and the Coastal Fly Anglers.

Loeper is a self-described “Renaissance man,” who said his life story is one of fresh starts as his career path evolved, with one exception: He continues to drive the first car he ever owned, a 1954 Corvette Stingray he bought when he was 16.

“It just turned over 700,000 miles,” he said. “If I had a lot of garage space, I’d have a lot of wheels. I really love cars.”

Born and raised in Havertown, Pa., Loeper is a lifelong summer resident. His family dropped anchor in 1904.

“We have sand in our shoes,” he said, adding that he’s always been drawn to the sea.

After graduating from high school, Loeper attended college, studying architectural engineering before being drafted to the Army. He worked on a nuclear submarine and, when his service to his country ended, went to work for RCA as an overseas contractor in the Bahamas.

It was in the Bahamas that he met his wife, Marj. The couple were married and settled in Rowayton, Conn. where they owned and operated a boat yard and sailing school.

“We lived in a house that was built after the American Revolution, and we were the third owners of the house. It was a New England saltbox,” he said.

Having built two successful businesses, Loeper felt a calling to learn how to build the wooden boats he hosted at the boatyard, so he sold everything and worked at a saw mill while waiting for the next class at the Washington County Technical School of Wood Boatbuilding in Maine.

“I was part of the second class to go through the school,” he said, adding that he worked for a boat builder in Mystic, Conn. as part of his cooperative education. 

In 1978, he launched a new career.
“I sent resumes out all over the United States, I ended up with a job at Viking Yachts, and we moved to Ocean City,” Loeper said.

“The one thing I really enjoy about Ocean City is the history and traditions,” he said. “History has always been a passion of mine, and Ocean City is full of history. If you don’t know where you’ve come from you don’t know where you’re going to go.”

When he got laid off in a bad economy, Loeper went to work for Yank Boat Works.

Eventually, he started his own handyman business in Ocean City, which led to a career building custom homes.

“I like to see a piece of wood and create something,” he said. 

Loeper built 20 custom homes before setting his sights on something new. A serendipitous opportunity to renovate what is now the Northwood turned the Loepers into innkeepers 23 years ago.

“The building was sitting here, it had been abandoned,” Loeper said. “It was a gutted shell. I started running the numbers on renovating it and turning it into a bed and breakfast and it made sense to do it. We turned it into a successful business and a good ratable for the city.”

The Loepers worked hard to help make the Northwood a bed and breakfast destination.   

“It’s still fun. We still enjoy it,” he said, despite the time-consuming and demanding nature of the business.

Always on call, chores and repairs beckon, meanwhile breakfast is served, the rooms need to be cleaned and the towels and linens need to be washed.

“We don’t have much time to ourselves in the summer, but we love it. We have mostly repeat customers; about 70 percent come back every year. You get to know them; you look forward to seeing them come back. Customers become friends. It’s a very nice life.

“We’ve always been in the people business,” Loeper said. “The Northwood Inn is a natural extension of the boat building business. When you’re dealing with high-end boats, you have to work very closely with your customer. You get to know them.”

The Loepers have one daughter, Rebecca Kolb, and one granddaughter, Madelyn Carol Kolb, who spend most of their summer visiting.

Loeper said he’s faced many challenges in his long tenure on the planning and zoning boards, and the historic commission. None of them, however, compared to the recent master plan reexamination.

“It’s the toughest thing I’ve been through,” he said.

The historic district wasn’t easy either, he said. It was a “huge controversy,” requiring years of meetings to bring to fruition.

“My neighborhood is in the district, and it hasn’t changed in 20 years that I’ve lived here. And I find that enjoyable. The historic commission found a way to preserve the neighborhoods within the district and there is a certain value in that,” Loeper said.

He’s most proud, he said, of the successful “overlay zone,” introduced several years ago to rid the city of the “barracks look,” where rows of duplexes were built.

“The overlay zone provided for better architectural design and sensibility, better style,” he said. “It allowed architects to be more creative, design buildings that were different, unique. You couldn’t get nice development before that.”

Loeper was also the brainchild of the popular picture with Santa Claus in an Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeboat during the Christmas season.

“Ocean City has a lot of volunteer opportunities,” he said. “My mother taught me the importance of volunteering, like President Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ She instilled that in me. I have always moved from one thing to the next, wherever I was needed or could be of help. I never stop moving, that’s the way I like it.”

John Loeper driving the only car he's ever owned: a 1954 Corvette Stingray convertible. The car, which he bought at age 16, just turned over 700,000 miles. John Loeper driving the only car he's ever owned: a 1954 Corvette Stingray convertible. The car, which he bought at age 16, just turned over 700,000 miles.

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