Bert Long prefers to wear shorts, and for most of the year he's able to. When the weather turns bitterly cold early in January, he and his wife, Penny, leave their Lewes home and head south to Pine Island, Fla., to ride out the winter in tropical splendor. His Lewes friends keep up with his fun in the sun via Facebook.
The couple has been making that trip for the past eight years. He said the barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, about two miles north of Sanibel Island and west of Fort Myers and Cape Coral, reminds him of Sussex County. “There are no high-rises and two small towns. It's so laid-back,” he said. The largest island in Florida has a population of 9,000.
The couple leads active lives in Lewes and Pine Island with two sets of devoted friends. With his pulled-back ponytail and signature tropical shirts and flip-flops, Bert always has a smile and enjoys every minute of his life in Lewes. Even with back surgery and two hip replacements over the past three years, Bert manages to persevere, always with backup from his wife. “She's my senorita. She's a real trouper,” he said.
He had another hip operation the last week of September. It might have something to do with years of climbing power poles, riding motorcycles and snowmobiles, and even sky diving. “The first time I did it at age 43, Penny told me to tell her I was going to Lowe’s so she wouldn't worry,” he said.
He may have slowed down a little and has to use a cane, but he's still far from out. It won't be long before he's back taking long bike rides he cherishes so much.
Moved south from Lancaster
Born and raised in Lancaster, Pa., he watched his small town become a mecca for tourism and growth. “People say it's gridlock here. Well, it really is gridlock there now,” he says. Bert and his wife are among those locals call the Pennsylvania Navy – people who come with their boats to the area.
He retired from Pennsylvania Power and Light Co. and his wife from teaching. They moved to Lewes full time in 2003. Before that, for most of the weekends during the year, they would come from Lancaster to their weekend-vacation home in West Bay Park off Camp Arrowhead Road on Rehoboth Bay. There they got hooked on the Cape Region lifestyle and Lewes in particular. It didn't take the couple long before they decided to build a house in Lewes. The area fit Bert's lifestyle because he loves any activity that takes place outdoors, especially fishing and boating.
Bert, who is a member of Lewes American Legion Post 17, retired as a first sergeant after serving 20 years in the 28th Division of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. The couple has two daughters and four grandchildren ages 7 to 21 who all live in Pennsylvania. He said among their fondest family memories are trips to Walt Disney World when each grandchild turns 8 years old. “That way they will have those memories they can remember forever,” he said.
Wood carving among his passions
Bert is not one to sit around. He works part time as a dockmaster at the Lewes Yacht Club, and before that, he worked for 10 years on a Lewes charter boat. “At the yacht club. I'm near the water and love to talk with the customers,” he said, adding he's seen some strange sights over the years. “There are some people who probably shouldn't have a boat,” he says with a laugh.
He's an active member of the Lightship Overfalls Dirty Hands Gang, the volunteers who have converted the historic ship into a showcase museum.
Bert is also an artist who spends a lot of time in his home workshop carving unique caricatures. “I've always enjoyed working with my hands,” he said, adding he became interested in working with wood back in junior high school in shop class.
He does some commission work, and displays and sells his work at the two Lewes Historical Society craft shows. In his workshop are a lot of projects in various phases. His wife creates her own artwork, beautiful and unique Iris greeting cards. He took a bird-carving class in 1993 and has been fine-tuning his skills ever since. “I made doll houses and doll furniture for the kids. That always made Christmas for me,” he said.