He loves boats and cars. He’s a businessman and entrepreneur.

Barbara and Gary Pensell from Gary's FB page Most of us know him as the owner of Tidewater Marina (well, before his son Garrett took it over).

The interview reveals more – as do all of our interviews. Gary loved boats from a young age. Listen to him mention the oarlocks his grandfather put in the front steps of the house so Gary could “row for miles.” He shares a bit about family, jobs as a kid, school, buying his first car, helping his dad build Tidewater Marina and later, buying it from him.

You’ll hear Barbara add some thoughts and notice how much of a team they really are. Creative, hardworking, entrepreneurial business folks, and real assets to our community.

In the full length interview, he shares his involvement with Tidewater Grille, a bit more about his childhood, and some insights about our fine city. Visit our SUBSCRIBE PAGE if you’re interested in becoming a member and receiving two full-length podcasts with transcripts each month (beginning January 2017).

Note: photo taken from Gary’s fb page.

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GARY PENSELL

Born: 9/26/1941  in HdG      interview 6/8/2016        age: 75 (76 in a few days)

I was born on Sept 26, 1941. I was born in a house, like a maternity house, in the vicinity of the hospital. I don’t remember much of that because I was very small. (laughter) I understand at that time it was quite common to go to a maternity house, and mothers often stayed several weeks.

(Tell me a little about your family)

I have one sister, 6 years younger than me, not in the area. My mother was born in Havre de Grace, maiden name Mackin. Her name was Alice. Her father was Joe. His better known brother, her uncle, I don’t remember his name, was the owner of the bar that’s now part of Coakley’s – the building on the angle right on the corner of Franklin and St. John. Not Vigna’s – the building right on the corner.

There was a bar there, I understand,  that had a trough of running water, that you could spit your tobacco right there at the bar stool. Again, I don’t remember any of that. That’s what I was told – a lovely character!

My father’s father, I don’t know much about, was killed when I was very young in an automobile accident in Cecil County. His mother was Beulah Wall (married Ken Wall), they lived on Green Street on the corner of the alley. She had been a widow and had a number of businesses: a restaurant on Warren when I was very young. I think I remember that. Later on she had a hobby store on Franklin Street in the middle of the block – “Just for Fun” – NO… the Leithauser building, then a real skinny store, then a slightly wider building – that was her store.

I don’t remember the year my grandmother was born. But they lived their lives in Havre de Grace. We go back a couple generations but I never tried to go back any farther.

(What did your grandfather do?)

My grandfather was a fisherman. He had a boat and did chad fishing, various fishing things and kept the boat down at was in now Havre de Grace Marina.

They lived on Pearl Street, corner of Ontario and Stokes.

My grandfather drilled some holes in the steps and put some oarlocks in ‘em. That’s where I learned to row. I rowed the steps many miles. (you saw lots of the world… laughter)

We lived on Ontario – 634 – til I was about 10 or 11. We built a house on Chesapeake Drive (704 Chesapeake Dr), where Brad Cogan now lives, and I pretty much, I did grow up there until we got married.

Right next door to the house that Hebditch built where Krieger’s – well known and feared 4th grade teacher. (laughter). She came after I was in 4th grade. We remained friends until she died a year or two ago.

That’s the little house that has the arched gate, secret garden. Carriere’s – Angert’s – Montgomery’s –– it was like the 5th house – on the other side of South Adams St.

Went to school in Havre de Grace through the ninth grade. Then I went to school in Baltimore, McDonough – military school. I had a lot of friends, a group of us – Ernie Moretti, Eli (Silverstein). Those were the days when you left the house after breakfast and if you wanted lunch you came back … you had to be back for dinner. After dinner we’d go out and the railroad cut was there, Ernie Moretti lived next to it, we’d play kick the can and just kids games. Boats were always an underlying part of my life.

My father had Friendly Oil Company – that’s where Tidewater Grille is now – fuel oil. He owned that property. He moved out on the highway and it became Phillips 66. It’s now Arrow Oil or something like that. He was on that dock and always had boats.

He was in the Navy during WWII. He got sent way far away for his duties – he was assigned to Bainbridge. (I’ll bet he loved that!) He taught seamanship – he taught seamanship teachers! They had a boat dock down on the water. Right before the end of the war, he was going to be shipped out. Got as far as California coast, and got sent back. So he essentially spent his service at Bainbridge.

But he always had boats and they were tied down there at that wharf. For many years, I don’t remember what age I was, but I wasn’t allowed to untie the boat. But I had real long ropes. So I’d row that thing back and forth. Then, eventually, when I got older, I was allowed to untie the boat but I had to stay in the cove (where the seaplane dock is now), but I wasn’t allowed to go past the point at the end of Green St. The water was deeper in there then. My horizons kept growing.

When we lived on Chesapeake Drive, I was 11-12 and we would on occasion row from there to the wharf. That’s a pretty long row. These were 16-18’ bushwhack boats, not like they were rowing shells. (laughter and chatter)

Eventually I got a 3hp outboard motor. But anyway, my whole life was around a progression of boats.

That, and I was fascinated with cars. I always worked. I remember I worked weekends at my grandmother’s hobby shop for 50 cents an hour. I remember I wanted to buy a sleeping bag. Leithauser’s was the Boy Scout outlet. They had a sleeping bag there for $16. I was going to have to work for 32 hours. I was at the age where I didn’t think I was going to live for 32 hours. I thought I was never going to get the $16. But I did. And I bought a sleeping bag.

Then I wanted an English bike. The guy selling them was Roger Stottlemeyer  in my grandmother’s house. That was $54. But I might have been making 75 cents an hour then! Shortly after that I was looking forward to the day I could drive. I was working and saving quite a few years.

When I turned 16, with a little help from my father, I bought a brand new Chevrolet. But I worked all the time – weekends, holidays. He worked for the oil company, rode the fuel truck, pulled the hose through the snow for the fuel and such. He didn’t pay me any princely sum, but I worked and worked and worked and bought a 1958 Chevy Bel Air. (How cool is that…. Then he was the King of the Road. Laughter) Few years later I bought a Corvette, etc. Have been a car freak and work a lot of time for the cars.

I was in high school I think when he started opening gas stations and signing up others to open stations, etc. He had a pretty nice oil business.

Then he went to Port Deposit to the boat dock where he worked at in the Navy. The Navy had declared it excess property. He went to see who bought it. Turned out, my dad bought it. He built what became then Port Deposit Marina.

In the process of doing that we accumulated some construction equipment. Bartol Silver (Spencer Silver Mansion) was president of Havre de Grace Banking and Trust. He became a good friend of mine, he was a friend of my father’s. He and Frank Maslin were two of the guys in that bank. They became friends. Anyway…

He owned the tomato cannery – most of the marina at one time was canneries.

He wanted us to put in some pilings and such. This was pretty much after the tomato canning industry was gone. My father ended up buying that. I think the first slip was rented in 1958 starting at the other end. (We’re in Gary and Barbara’s home at the end of Congress St. next to the marina). The marina was being built through the late 50s, very early 60s – 5-6 years. I guess we had all this property from Fritz’s building (it was Rose Furniture then) – to Hutchin’s Park.

I graduated from high school in 1959, the marina was not completed. We were still doing construction work. I went to college – LeHigh. I didn’t much like it there, didn’t see much point in being there. I rushed home to work.

Then I met her (Barbara) in Ocean City. What was it – the ’63 ‘Vette you wrecked – you bumped.  (laughter) I guess a year later we were married and started having babies. Then the Viet Nam War warmed up. We had babies, so I was exempt from the draft. I was never in the service.

I dropped out of college before I got married. I ran the construction stuff at the marina. My father never took a real active role in the marina. He was the man. He owned the place and I worked for him. But he was busy with the oil company. He was perfectly happy to have his boat here and would come down and shout a few orders.

He was not a very good delegator. We had some bitter, loud arguments constantly. I tend to carry a grudge and he didn’t. I’d be seething. He was tough, and would pop off quickly. One day I told him, “I quit, I’m out of here.” I sent off a couple letters for other jobs. Got some offers for operating a bull dozer or something. But I didn’t see myself doing that forever.

There came a time when I said I either wanted to buy this place or get out of it. He agreed to sell it in pieces. I bought the business and paid him rent for the real estate. That went well. A few years later, we made a deal to buy him out.

Any rumors you heard that my father gave me everything, not true. I did pay him an appraised price. It was arms length, but it was a fair price.

There used to be small fishing boats, small power and precision boats. They came from Lancaster area. Then in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes went through, she scoured the bay. Agnes scoured the bay, literally emptied the grasses – so there was no fish, no ducks. It all went down the bay. So the fishing boats left, too. We weren’t quite sure where we were going to go from there.

I had a 36’ wooden sailboat here, one of only 2 or 3 in the whole marina at the time. We got involved in sailboat sales – selling 50 to 100 thousand dollar sailboats. For many years we might have been the largest sailboat dealer in the United States. We were the largest dealer for the largest builder!

What also changed was the sail boaters were coming from Philadelphia area. The fishing boats were from York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster. Now they were from Philly. The center of our universe was switching to Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Then 10 years or so ago I sold the business to my son. Unfortunately, the recession came along and killed the sailboat business. We’ve had vacancies that we’ve never had in forty years! And that’s across the bay. Percentage wise, we’re probably in the better group.

So the business is changing. I don’t know what the future holds. Recreation is changing.

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