He loved fishing on a grand scale, so widow hooks one in his honor

August 10, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

Ocean City -- The chrome sculpture cuts a silver arc into a perfect summer day, the kind that pulls fishermen out of the office and onto the water.

The sculpture, a 19-foot, 1-inch fish hook crafted by a local metalworker, is the world's largest; it's scheduled for inclusion in next year's Guinness Book of World Records. It's also a memorial to Baltimore builder Kenny Deinlein, a man who worked all his life and loved to fish.

"I just want people to know how he was," says his widow, Helen Deinlein, who had the sculpture installed in the White Marlin Marina where her husband ran sportfishing charters. "It's my husband and this was his life -- my life too. He was a pusher, a worker . . . I don't know. He was just everything."

She is standing by the window in a bayside condominium overlooking the marina, the fishing getaway she and her husband bought several years before his death at 65 in March 1993 of liver complications after surgery. The window overlooks the marina and the sculpture, and as she speaks, the big white sport fishing boats shift gently in their slips.

"He's here -- this place is him," says the tiny woman everyone at the marina affectionately calls "Miss Helen."

Mrs. Deinlein bought the 750-pound sculpture, crafted by local metalworker Skip Johnston, and had it installed at the marina, on Somerset at the bay. It's functional art: the hook's boom arm serves as part of a weigh station for fish. It will weigh anything from a one-pounder to a 2,000-pound marlin, the kind of fish that drew Kenny Deinlein to the water.

"He was a builder. He built houses and we raised four children. He worked all through his life to raise his family," she says, turning from the condo's window. And when the youngest of their four daughters graduated from college, he said, "Now it's my turn," she recalls.

And so he bought a boat. First it was a 31-foot sportfishing boat. Then, he turned that in for a 35-footer, then a 46-footer. And all of them named for his wife: The Helen D. The Helen D II. The Helen D III.

While his daughters were still in school, he kept a small boat on the Middle River, fishing on weekends. But when the last girl graduated, he began to fish the Atlantic regularly, eventually buying a place in Ocean City and keeping his boat there.

"He's not just a fisherman; he didn't do this until his later years," explains his widow. Her loss is evident and her grief still fresh nearly 18 months after his death. She corrects herself frequently, realizing she's still using the present tense for her husband.

"Our first boat was a 31-foot Bertram. He loved that boat," she says. "He was always in his khaki pants, run-down shoes." And dozens of pictures in the Ocean City condo bear carefully framed witness -- Mr. Deinlein in the boat's driver's seat, on the dock holding a fish, standing with his wife and a big marlin.

When he began to run charters out of Ocean City, it wasn't long before he was a fixture on the local fishing scene.

"He knew everybody from Ocean City. He could talk about anything -- he had the knowledge," Mrs. Deinlein explains. "He never was retired. He'd go to Hatteras in the middle of May, fish down there, then come here the first of June.

"We said, 'We have to have something down there for Kenny.' Everybody loved him so much," she says.

"He was a character, he was funny," recalls John Lewis, the manager of the White Marlin Marina where Mr. Deinlein kept his boats and ran his charter business. "I still get people in here asking about him."

So Mr. Lewis put Mrs. Deinlein in touch with Mr. Johnston, who owns the Metal Magic shop in West Ocean City. The arrangements for the fish hook sculpture began to fall into place.

Mr. Johnston knew Mr. Deinlein, and had fished against him in Ocean City's annual White Marlin Tournament.

"He was one of those guys that was always smiling. He liked to fish -- he didn't do it for the money," says Mr. Johnston, who had made the fish hook sculpture several years ago and lent it to a local restaurant until Mrs. Deinlein bought it.

"I would much rather it stayed in Ocean City," says Mr. Johnston. He sold it to Mrs. Deinlein for $6,500. It was one of the largest projects he's ever undertaken -- "I probably have 200 hours in that thing."

"We had to use a 35-ton crane and a 126-foot boom," says Mr. Lewis of the sculpture, which was installed shortly before Memorial Day this year.

"I decided, whatever it takes, I'm going to do it," recalls Mrs. Deinlein. "I have the money and I'm going to have it done."

The family plans to put a plaque on the sculpture, so passers-by and anglers weighing their catch will know it's a memorial to Mr. Deinlein. Until then, Mr. Lewis can tell anyone who asks about it that it's a permanent memorial to a man who liked boats and loved to fish.

There won't be a Helen D docked at the marina anymore, and others are running the fishing charters. But Kenny Deinlein is remembered on the docks, a memory made visible by a silver hook and a woman who loved him.

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