Fun ferry stories remembered at ceremony

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Love blossomed on the Balboa Island Ferry 65 years ago.

Don Russell met his wife, Martha, on the ferry during Easter week in 1945 and though most boys his age danced with a different girl every night during the festive week, he just couldn’t let her go.

“The thing was, at Easter week you’d date a different girl every night,” Russell said, “and then I ran into Martha Bettersworth and its been 65 years… I blew the whole deal! … I was blown away (by Martha).”

They went to the Rendezvous Ballroom to dance and he was surprised she didn’t run off to another man because he kept stepping on her toes.

“I was kicking her in the ankles,” he said. “She’s a wonderful dancer.”

Don Russell shows some old photos, ads and posters from Newport Beach to the crowd at the Balboa Island Ferry historical marker re-dedication ceremony on Thursday morning. —Photo by Sara Hall

Russell’s story was just one of many swapped during the re-dedication ceremony of the Balboa Island Ferry historical marker on Thursday.

About two dozen people turned out for the ceremony, many with their own stories to tell, one woman even brought $2 to pay back a fare she owed.

The event also honored the Beek family, who have owned and operated the ferry since 1919. The event was hosted by the Newport Beach Historical Society, with president Gordy Grundy giving an opening speech.

“When we speak of Southern California, we think of the Hollywood Sign, Disneyland, Miss Newport Beach and the Balboa Island Ferry,” Grundy said.

The current Miss Newport Beach, Juli Hueni, was on hand as well. Hueni spoke with John Fitzgerald about the ferry and what has changed and what’s stayed constant over the past 50 years in Newport Beach.

Miss Newport Beach, Juli Hueni, talks with John Fitzgerald about the ferry and what has changed in Newport Beach over the past 50 years. — Photo by Sara Hall

Fitzgerald, who moved to Newport Beach in 1959 from Arcadia, said it was a cheap and fun date to take a girl around the island and then across on the ferry to dance or see a movie. The ferry cost just 10 cents back then, today it’s $1 to cross (without a bike or vehicle). Hueni said the same activities still make a great cheap date.

Fitzgerald also used to stuff his friends in the back of his car, a 1947 Ford two-door convertible with a large trunk and short windows. He could get about four guys in the trunk, he said, and then he’d take the ferry across and head to the drive-in movie theater.

“I’d say, ‘No, I couldn’t get any friends, just me,’ …and I’d say, ‘Be quiet you guys!’ …Then all my friends would help me with gas money,” Fitzgerald said.

Another ferry-related event sponsored by the historical society will be held later this month, Grundy announced, “Ferry Tales, the Commerce and Culture of the Iconic Balboa Island Ferry” will be held on March 24 at the Balboa Pavilion. The event will feature dinner and a lecture presentation. Visit for more information about the event. Visit for more information about the ferry.

The ferry is an important part of Newport Beach’s history, Grundy said.

“This transportation system, servicing a mere 800 feet, is an indelible function of the great city of Newport Beach,“ Grundy said. “Most importantly, the ferry is a vibrant and visible link to our rough and tumble past.”

Newport Beach Historical Society President Gordy Grundy speaks to the crowd at the re-dedication ceremony of the Balboa Island Ferry historical marker. —Photo by Sara Hall

See more photos of the event here.


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