Fifty Years on Park Patrol

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Belanger celebrates major milestone at Hampton Beach

By Nick B. Reid

Hampton Union, July 16, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Skip Belanger
Skip Bellanger, who has been on the park patrol at Hampton Beach
for 50 years, displays a 1964 parking meter, which accepted dimes,
as he stands near a 2013 meter which accepts credit cards.
[Deb Cram photo]

HAMPTON BEACH — In 50 years on park patrol at Hampton Beach, Albert "Skip" Belanger has seen a lot.

But he's never seen the type of recognition he's gotten recently, in which he's been featured in the news, awarded a state Senate resolution by Sen. Nancy Stiles and even had congratulations etched into the side of the work of the master sand sculptors.

"The folks at the sandcastle come up to me and say, 'We want to take your picture in front of the sandcastle.' I looked down and there was an inscription (saying congratulations on 50 years)," said the meter patrolman who in 1964 joined the first group of state employees to police parking after the Division of Economic Resources and Development took over the task from the town. "I was surprised, honored and kind of embarrassed," he said.

Belanger, 75, who was a teacher at Hampton Academy in the 1960s, said he originally became a patrolman to occupy his free time in the summer and supplement his income because "back in those days, the teachers didn't get too much pay."

He never knew he'd still be at it today, even after retiring from teaching in 1997. But he said there's good reason he's never left.

"It's the best job in the world. It's healthy. You get good exercise walking 3 to 4 miles a day. You meet a lot of nice people," he said. "Some of the people I work with are exceptionally pleasant; that makes all the difference in the world."

Plus, the location doesn't hurt, he said.

"If I have to be somewhere other than home, it's a good place to be," said Belanger, who bought the home he lives in today in Brentwood the same year he joined the park patrol.

Though he's been a staple, the things around him have surely changed over the years.

A far cry from the modern meters that take credit cards, Belanger said he remembers when parking meters didn't even have any moving parts. Patrons would drop a dime or two into the meter — it was mostly 10 cents an hour when he started — and there the money would sit until a patrolman came by and turned a key. Then, a dime would fall into a window to let the patrolman know the space was paid for, and he'd press the face of the meter to make the dime fall into the vault underneath. Then, he'd continue on with his route and come back an hour later.

When he'd return, he repeated the same process. If the patron put in enough money, another dime would fall into the window. If they didn't, nothing would happen when the key was turned and he'd write a parking ticket for $2.

"It was much slower paced then," he said.

These days, he said he spends a greater deal of his time answering questions and helping people who are lost.

One of the challenges he has to deal with is being the bad guy who is responsible for writing parking tickets and getting cars towed.

"We don't carry weapons or anything, so we have to rely on our acumen and our communications skills to help them understand that the mistake is on their part and be sympathetic to them," he said, adding, "Everybody makes mistakes and we try to make the consequences as least unpleasant as we can."

He said there's not much of a downside to the job, or else he wouldn't have come back all these years, but it can sometimes be difficult dealing with the humidity or particularly combative parkers who've been ticketed.

"Some of the people that are upset over getting a ticket or whatever, you can't placate them," he said, noting that he considers it a "personal failure" if he's not able to temper someone's emotions.

On the positive side, he gets to play the hero sometimes just as often as he's forced to be the villain. Every so often he'll find a frantic child who's separated from his parents and he uses those same skills to calm the kid and reassure him or her "because we've always, always, always reunited the separated people," he said.

With a half-century under his belt, Belanger doesn't see himself quitting anytime soon. He said as long as he can still walk around, he'll keep doing the job he loves.

"Well, I tell ya," he said. "I like to say this is my first 50th year."

Hampton Beach park patrolman recalls 1964 riots

By Nick B. Reid

Hampton Union, July 16, 2013

HAMPTON — Albert "Skip" Belanger's first full-year as a park patrolman also happened to be the year when the Hampton Beach riot of 1964 took place.

The long-time state park's employee remembers the incident that he described as "exciting" and "intimidating," as the National Guard was eventually called in the suppress the violence.

"During the summer of 1964, many young folks expressed a disconnect with law enforcement agencies at Hampton Beach. This anti-social attitude reached a peak at the end of the season," he said.

He said rumors spread about, and law enforcement intelligence expected, some kind of "organized disturbance" to be mounted on Labor Day. Additional units from state police and neighboring police departments were called to the beach to help ward off any kind of uprising.

"Gangs of youths and young adults milled around all afternoon and, at a given signal from one of the ring leaders, a large group began charging across the sand and up onto Ocean Boulevard, yelling and throwing rocks, terrifying the patrons caught up in the melee. Rampant destruction of beach businesses, rock throwing at law enforcement officers, hurling of 'Molotov cocktails' which set several fires, and mindless assaults on park patrons ensued," he said.

The disorder, he said, culminated in an attack on the police station.

"According to a summer officer on the scene, (after the assault was repelled) in order to secure the area and prevent a takeover of the station, policemen were ordered to replace the rock salt in their shotguns with buckshot shells. Fortunately, there was no subsequent attack, and no fatalities were sustained," he said.

At this time, Ocean Boulevard was "sealed off" and anyone wishing to get from one end to the other was forced to walk through a single-file gauntlet designed to give state police a chance to identify the individuals they believed to have instigated the riot. Gov. John W. King called in the National Guard, "whose grave, armed presence significantly aided in the restoration of order."

In the fallout of the riot, state law was amended in 1965 to add a provision increasing the penalty for mob violence, Belanger wrote.

The law read as follows: "Violence. Any participant in a mob action which shall by violence inflict injury to the person or property of another shall be fined not more than $1,000, or imprisoned for not less than one or more than three years, or both."

In 1965, there were rumors that another "larger and more violent riot" would take place at the end of the season, but it never came to fruition.

"Flyers were reported circulated as far away as California encouraging malcontents to 'Come to Hampton beach on Labor Day and burn the Casino'," Belanger wrote.

He suggested that the non-event could have been in part due to the efforts of the governor, state parks authorities and local officials reaching out to the young people patronizing the beach to "ascertain the basis for their discontent and provide alternate youth-directed activities to occupy their attention."

Belanger said his history was "gleaned from bits and pieces documented from old memos to and from the Concord DRED office, old Duty Log books at the Park Patrol, old post cards, old newspaper articles and recollections from the writer's own fifty years as a Meter Patrol/Park Patrol officer."

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