Mel Winge, Prominant Community Volunteer, Dies at 69
July 14th, 2010
by Erik Weber
PINE BEACH - Sailing races will be somber, barbecues quieter and the spark behind borough hall discussions dimmer as neighbors, officials and yacht club members, here, mark the passing of Melvin "Mel" Winge, an altruistic and proactive member of the community who utilized his fairly recent tenure as a Pine Beach resident to make great waves of civic benefit that will echo for decades to come.
Mr. Winge, who was 69, died Monday following a long illness.
According to his wife, Suzanne, Mr. Winge's was an enduring legacy that almost didn't happen in Pine Beach.
"We found Pine Beach by accident," she said earlier this month in a telephone interview with the Signal. "We were looking for a town in which to retire."
The Winges, who at that time - the early 1990s - were residents of the Borough of River Edge in Bergen County for over 20 years, wanted to find a new town that would cater to their love of sailing.
"We've been sailors all our lives and previously sailed on the Hudson River," she said, "and we knew we wanted to retire down this way because our oldest daughter lives in Manasquan, but sailing isn't so good there."
Mrs. Winge said that they preferred to look at moving on or near the Barnegat Bay, which has better access and optimal sailing conditions, and so began to explore the region.
"We drove into Pine Beach just by accident and fell in love with it," she recalled. "It took us a year, but we found our home and bought it in 1994, and at the same time joined the Pine Beach Yacht Club because they were people who enjoyed boating like we did."
Initially summer residents, the Winges sold their River Edge home in 1997, when Mr. Winge retired from his position as a design engineer with Verizon of Teaneck, and moved into their Pine Beach home year-round.
Mrs. Winge said that upon moving to the borough, word got out to then-Mayor Russell Corby that Mr. Winge had served on the land use board in River Edge.
"When he heard this he approached Mel about joining," she said, noting that Mr. Winge went on to serve for 13 years, stepping down earlier this year due to complications from his respiratory system illness.
Before long, Mr. Winge was involved in many aspects of borough projects, including the plans to convert part of the Admiral Farragut Academy campus, which the borough purchased after the school shuttered in 1994 due to lack of funds, into a public park and recreation area.
It was during this period that the Winges met Christopher Boyle, Pine Beach's current mayor who was then serving as a councilman.
Mayor Boyle, who has lived in the borough for nearly 50 years and is also a member of the Pine Beach Yacht Club, recalled being touched by the "careful search and much research that they chose Pine Beach as the perfect town to which to retire."
"They may have been confirming what many of us have already suspected," he said in an e-mailed message to the Signal, "but after coming to know them better and understanding how careful and fastidious Mel is, I realized what a great honor that they had accorded our town."
Singling out his time on the borough land use board, which Mayor Boyle also served on prior to being elected mayor in 2007, he said that Mr. Winge always put the interest of the borough residents ahead of any other goal.
"I was always impressed by his dedication, his clear-sighted grasp of the issues, and his overarching interest in what was best for Pine Beach," the mayor stated. "It was with great reluctance that I accepted his recent resignation."
He added that Mr. Winge's contributions to plans for Vista Park, which already encompasses the former academy football field today redeveloped as Vista Field and includes a basketball court, soccer fields, a multi-use concession building with bathrooms and playground, continues to be felt in current phases that involve the waterfront and docks of the former campus.
"Mel continued to offer his council on the direction of our town, recently suggesting a different approach for the development of the Vista Park waterfront," Mayor Boyle said. "Valuing, as always, his experience, wealth of knowledge and common sense approach, I readily took his suggestions to heart."
"The plans currently under consideration by the borough council are largely the result of Mel’s advice and suggestions," he noted.
Earlier this month, the borough recognized Mr. Winge's work and dedication to his adopted community by honoring him as grand marshal of the annual Independence Day parade. While he was physically unable to attend the event, a photograph of he and his wife was emblazoned along the side of a borough police SUV, and public cries of "We love you, Mel!" were regularly heard as it passed along the route.
Besides their service together on the land use board and through the borough council, the mayor fondly recalled many sailing and social events he and his wife enjoyed with the company of the Winges at the Pine Beach Yacht Club. Mr. Winge was also a trustee of the club.
"Mel and I sailed the Friday night Sunfish race series," he said, noting that the sport of sailing races was "keeping with his nature - he was a friendly, enthusiastic and supportive competitor."
"His words of encouragement as I learned the ropes of competitive sailing will stay with me always," Mayor Boyle added.
During the Independence Day parade, members of the yacht club hung a large white sheet on the Riverside Drive side of the building with "We (heart) You Mel" painted on it.
"We just love Pine Beach and the feel of the community," Mrs. Winge said. "It's a well-kept secret, Pine Beach, and nobody knows about it but the people who live here or know someone who lives here."
"We call it the jewel on the Toms River," she added.
Upon learning of Mr. Winge's death, Mayor Boyle echoed that Mr. Winge's dedication and love of Pine Beach and its citizens will carry on.
"Mel has been taken from us much too soon," he said. "He will be sorely missed, but will live for many years to come in the hearts of all of us who had the honor and great pleasure of calling him friend."
Born in Newark, Mr. Winge served his country in the U.S. Army and was commissioned as a military policeman while serving in France during the Vietnam era. In his earlier residence in River Edge, Mr. Winge was past president of the River Edge Ambulance Corp, and also served on their land use development board.
Surviving are his wife of 45 years, Suzanne; three children, Stephanie Miller and her husband Jim, Melanie Harold and her husband Greg, and Michael Winge and his wife Susan; a sister, Eleanor Schmidt; and eight grandsons, Jimmy, Shawn, Christopher, Craig, Grady, Gavin, Brian and Kevin.
Visiting hours will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 15 at the Mastapeter Funeral Home, 270 Atlantic City Blvd., Bayville. The funeral will be 10 a.m. Friday, July 16 at the funeral home, before celebrating an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Barnabas Church, Bayville. Cremation will be private and in lieu of flowers, please make donations in Mel's memory to your favorite charity.