It’s officially Cruisin’ Weekend in Ocean City MD and Special Event Pro is ready to celebrate their 27th year of putting on this special event. Very little is known about the workforce behind the annual Cruisers Weekend that takes place each May, but luckily, ShoreBread has the “in” and we were able to spend the afternoon interviewing the family behind the magic.
It all began in 1980 when husband and wife team, Jack and Sherri Hennen, approached the town of Ocean City with an idea to bring a hot rod show to the convention center. They chose Ocean City because at the time, very few events were being held in our resort town and they wanted to attract visitors to the beach town that they had grown to love. After they found success with the hot rod show, they began booking live entertainment events that included bands like the Temptations, Four Tops, The Beach Boys, and the Platters, just to name a few.
In 1990, the town office approached Jack and Sherri about bringing a new event to Ocean City to attract visitors during the shoulder season. Thus began the famous Cruisers Weekend, which was originally held in connection with Spring Fest and in the White Marlin Mall parking lot. Their first year, they had 42 registered antique cars and in the following year, just about maxed out their allocated space in the mall parking lot. It was then that they decided this event was only going to continue to grow and that they needed more space. The Cruisers weekend was moved to the weekend following Spring Fest so that they could utilize the Inlet Parking Lot to accommodate all of the antique cars and fans rolling into town.
Jack and Sherri weren’t on their own, though. They rallied the troops to help them coordinate all of the moving parts for this special event. This included their father, affectionately known as Pop-Pop or “Reds” Howard Harrington. Reds’ primary job, and this was a big one, was to make sure that all of the Cruisers accessed the Boardwalk on 27th Street in a safe and timely manner for the Boardwalk Cruise. Back home, their mother would take care of then toddler, Jackie, while older sister Meredith would help hand out trophies to the top Cruisers. Eventually, Jackie would join the ranks with her family at the beach to help out, too. This included stamping hands and selling tickets with sister, Meredith. The girls knew that they wanted to take on more responsibility and they would definitely get their chance, but mom and dad had two requirements before taking on the family business: graduate from college with minimum a Bachelor’s Degree and work outside of the family business for a few years following college. Both Jackie and Meredith fulfilled their duties and are now the ones leading the charge behind Special Event Pro.
You can still find Jack and Sherri working behind the scenes making final preparations for this event and others hosted by Special Event Pro, in addition to Jackie and Meredith’s Husbands, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and family friends who have helped for years. The Cruisers Weekend truly could not happen without the support and dedication of so many volunteers. But the events don’t stop here. Since taking over for mom and dad, Jackie and Meredith have added new features to Cruisers weekend, including the first ever social media award, the 3rd annual pin-up contest, and a kid’s peddle car contest. In addition to new Cruisin’ features, several concerts have been added to the line-up, including shows by Under the Streetlamp, The Beach Boys and the Highwaymen Live in 2017. This is just the beginning for this new generation. Of that, you can be sure for both Jackie and Meredith have big plans for the future and for events in Ocean City.
They look forward to bringing their children into the family business to hand out trophies and stamp hands just as they had years ago. Husbands, Ryan and Scott, now run the events at the Convention Center and Inlet Parking lot, officially accepting the torch from Jack during the 25th Anniversary of Cruisers Weekend.
We couldn’t leave our interview with the Special Event Pro team without asking mom and dad about some of their favorite memories from year’s past.
For years through high school, the Homecoming dance and Prom would always fall on event weekends. The family would travel to Ocean City to prepare and execute an event to then drive back home on Saturday afternoon to make sure that they were there for photos and seeing the teens off.
In 2011, when Jackie graduated from college, but chose not to walk, Jackie and Sherri asked friend Henry Winkler, better known as “The Fonz” to perform a quick graduation ceremony on the Cruisers stage to hand over the official diploma in front of 3,000 car owners and fans.
Several years ago, when Pop-Pop, or Reds, passed away, the family purchased a memorial bench on the Boardwalk to be placed right there on 27th street in his honor. To this day during Cruisers weekend, you can still find Jackie and Meredith’s grandmother, also known as “Mimi”, sitting on that bench greeting car owners as they begin their cruise.
These were only a few of the memories that Sherri shared with us during our short time together. And of course we can understand because as soon as we leave an interview, that’s when all of our thoughts and memories start flowing to the forefront of our mind. One thing that Sherri did make clear during the years of raising their family is that family always came first, no matter what, and that is the same policy that she and Jack follow as they watch their grandchildren play in the convention center, just as Jackie and Meredith did when they were the same age.