- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

OCEAN CITY | When Martin Furst’s surfing buddy Mike Chester died in 1991, Mr. Furst vowed he’d erect a memorial statue on a swatch of grass he can see from the window of his 61st Street restaurant, Coach’s Corner Diner.

Though the spot remains empty today - after years of controversy, followed by ignominy and fading memories, Mr. Furst says the statue has finally been bronzed and that he is about $4,000 short of bringing it to the resort by next year.

“I wake up at two or three o’clock many nights just thinking about the project,” Mr. Furst said of the 13-ton, 22-foot-tall statue for which the Ocean City Town Council has designated room at the corner of Coastal Highway and the Route 90 Bridge. “I believe if you say you are going to do something, you’ve gotta come through with it.”

Mr. Furst, who moved with his family from Gaithersburg to the coastal resort when he was in third grade, concedes part of the delay has been his lack of organizational and public relations skills.

There was the time - early in the process - when he presented a miniature copy of the statue featuring Mr. Chester surfing in the nude. Such major media organizations as Sports Illustrated and the New York Times pounced on the story. The City Council quickly made clear to Mr. Furst that the statue would need some swim shorts.

His good nature has at times also derailed his efforts. He gave a couple thousand to a family to help them with medical bills for a child with leukemia and a thousand dollars to help local teens go to college.

“We’ve given more than $60,000 to various causes,” said Mr. Furst’s wife, Jenny, one of the few people who has continued to help her husband on the project since the beginning. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but we’re getting there.”

There also is the ever-increasing price of precious metal since 1991, the additional workers that sculptor Edmond Shumpert had to hire to move the enormous statue, Shumpert having to hire additional workers to help move the enormous statue and benefactors who have come and gone.

Mr. Furst hasn’t held a fundraiser in years and as a result has lost connections with some of his major donors, many of whom have since moved away and largely forgotten about the Mike Chester Memorial.

“I attended a couple fundraisers, at least two,” said Jim Mathias, a former mayor and now a state delegate who helped get the project rolling for Mr. Furst. “I support the guys in their quest to do this. Though I don’t know where it is right now, we did the best we could to help get it facilitated.”

There also was the story about 10 years ago in a local paper that raised questions about Mr. Furst’s use of the donations.

Instead of defending against the attacks by producing documentation and going to the families he helped, Mr. Furst withdrew from the public and the project.

“I feel bad for my parents and friends who have to stick up for me,” he said. “I just did not like the idea of bringing the people whom we helped into it. I didn’t like the idea of benefiting from their hardships. … I got de-motivated when people start saying that I use the money for myself.”

Throughout the process, Mr. Furst, whose clean-shaven head and surfer’s chest make him look more like a Marine than a short-order cook, has maintained the statue has always been the secondary goal.

He hopes eventually to sell T-shirts and trinkets adorned with the Mike Chester statue, keeping the memory of his friend alive and allowing him to continue to help people without the weight of an unfinished statue hanging over his head.

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