Well-known For Advocating His Positive Vision For Beach Precinct
By Lara Bricker
Hampton Union, Friday, April 16, 2004
HAMPTON BEACH - Skip Windemiller was early into his days as a beach business owner when he received a visit from three Hampton Beach Village District commissioners.
Mary Loughlin, Dave Witham and Terry Sullivan showed up at his Oceanside Inn one day and asked him if he might consider attending one of their meetings.
"I was a little hesitant, but they convinced me to come to a meeting," Windemiller said this week. "Sure enough, the next year, they got me to run. It's funny how things like that work."
This March, after more than 15 years as a commissioner, Windemiller decided it was time to call it quits. He said he's been a commissioner for so many terms he's forgotten when he officially started in the job.
His seat has been filled by John Kane, another longtime resident of the beach.
"He will be missed terribly, I don't think they realize how much they'll miss him. The job's a lot harder than anyone thinks, " said Tom Higgins, who served as a commissioner with Windemiller for a decade. Higgins pointed out behind-the-scenes parts of the job such as negotiating for the fireworks shows, band concerts and advertising.
Windemiller is still actively involved with the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Hampton Beach Commission, but thought it was time to step back from being a commissioner.
"It'll give me a little bit more time to do what I want to do around here," Windemiller said in reference the inn and real estate business he runs with his wife, Deb. "I think that it's time to get some new blood in the precinct."
Windemiller's approach to his commissioner post was the same approach he had toward running his business, said Hampton Selectmen Chairman William "Skip" Sullivan.
"He probably has one of the nicest looking pieces of property on Hampton Beach," Sullivan said of the Oceanside Inn. "I think that just points out how much interest and dedication he has to the beach."
Windemiller said he hates the negative reputation some associate with the beach and has worked to improve perceptions of the area.
"Skip has always held great respect for Hampton Beach and just to look at his own property is to tell you where he's coming from," said Bob Houle, who has worked with him though the chamber of commerce and as an independent consultant. "He wanted to grace everything around Hampton Beach with that same kind of persistence and dedication to detail."
Windemiller had a cottage on the beach before he moved to the area and bought his business. He was working in the ski industry when he walked by the Oceanside property one day in 1979 and thought it might be a nice seasonal business. It soon turned into a full-time job.
His dedication to improving the beach soon became almost a second full-time job. And it wasn't easy.
One of the more difficult projects he was involved with was bringing a new playground to the beach. "The old playground had a chain link fence with it, it looked more like a prison yard than a children's playground," he said.
The beach district raised funds for the playground and hired a contractor to do a stonewall around the outside. The contractor didn't finish the job. Some in town wanted to tear the whole thing down. Windemiller was a vocal supporter of the need to finish the project and saw it to completion.
"We got it built and it was beautiful," Higgins said. "I think a lot of it was his vision on the stone and the attractiveness of the playground, it was his concept."
During his tenure, Windemiller helped improve the relationship between the town and precinct, starting when he served on the Budget Committee.
"There are people in this town that think Hampton Beach is a separate city," Selectman Sullivan said. "That's not true, it's as much a part of this town as any other section of the community. Skip was a real proponent in bringing the two sides of town closer together."
Higgins remembers when the two sides were not as cooperative.
"I think one of Skip's best things was breaching the bridge between the town and the beach; our relationship with the town improved," Higgins said.
Windemiller felt the relationship was helped by individuals who were involved in the beach and town over the years.
"It was the tenor of the selectmen for a while, they fought us at the beach. We got new selectmen into the town, they started seeing this as a business opportunity for the whole town," Windemiller said. "We all started working together. They wanted to further the beach. I think they see the value of the beach as a business center for the whole town of Hampton."
Windemiller is most proud of the projects the village district has completed to improve the infrastructure and image of the beach. For example, the district added landscaping around the beach fire station, added new benches at the state park and moved the beach master plan forward. He was responsible for getting new welcome signs on the beach that feature little birds reflected in glass.
New streetlights have been added on Church Street and Highland Avenue.
"If you just look at those two streets and see the difference it made," Windemiller said.
He embraces the image of the beach that brings residents and tourists to the area.
"A lot of people will use the word honky tonk with the beach, they would use the same word if they went back and looked at things from the 1920s and 1930s," he said. "To me, it's just part of Americana. It they have cotton candy or popcorn or fried dough, if they come back and they smell that, it instantly brings them back to their childhood. We're still like that little pocket of Americana. You don't know what's going to happen in the future. I don't want to see it completely change the beach."
For many, Windemiller has become as much a part of the beach community as the cotton candy, casino and the beach.
"He's just a part of the fabric that makes Hampton Beach a desirable atmosphere," Houle said. "Everything he touches is meaningful and he wants to beautify the beach. Hampton Beach is very fortunate to have him."