Jacobsen uses expertise and experience to benefit Bethany

With news that beach replenishment will be starting soon, many in the area who hadn’t before have now heard the name of Julia Jacobsen — a long-familiar figure in Bethany Beach politics and community life, and an outspoken supporter for beach nourishment.

woman 9.14: Julia Jacobsen sits on her porch in Bethany Beach.Coastal Point • JESSE PRYOR
Julia Jacobsen sits on her porch in Bethany Beach.

What they might not know about Jacobsen is that she will be publishing a new edition of her book “From Idea to Funded Project” in late fall. This fifth edition was re-written with co-author Jan Fay Kress, to include the digital-age information, such as Web links and Internet resources, that schools, charities and others seeking grant money can now use.

Born on the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey, Jacobsen kept those academic ties throughout her life. She has spent time as an earth-science teacher, as owner of a fundraising/public relations mailing-house business, as director of Government Relations for Sweetbriar College and as a published book author.

Of all the positions that she has held, the “part-time” position she held as director of Government Relations at Sweetbriar brought her the most satisfaction, Jacobsen said this week. She traveled the country, giving lectures on how to get funding for schools, research projects and non-profits.

“There’s no such thing as a part-time job,” Jacobsen said. “This job I really enjoyed because I got to meet bright people with good ideas. It was after I sold my business. I didn’t apply or anything. Sweetbriar decided they needed a director of Government Relations, and the head of department met with me and told me I was to meet with the treasurer regarding compensation — just like that. … I retired 22 years later.”

Jacobsen recalled the impression some of those she met during her work got of the expertise she accumulated on the job.

“You had to know enough to sell your self, your idea, your need for research, to the people who had the grant money,” she said. “There was a chemist, who when I told him I wasn’t a chemist, he didn’t believe me. ‘But you know so much!’ he said. “I only know enough that you don’t know what I don’t know,” she replied.

It’s only natural with that kind of savvy that Jacobsen currently chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee for the Town of Bethany Beach, where she has lived part-time since the 1950’s. A major function of the committee is working with local, state and federal politicians, or “lobbying — the unpopular way to put it” as Jacobsen says, for beach replenishment. It is one of many hats she wears.

“People ask me how I do all the things I do. When you get to be my age, you have a lot of time to do a lot of things,” she explained.

But multitasking is not new to Jacobsen. She and her husband, Lawrence, bought their first lot in Bethany Beach, on Third Street, in 1954 for $1,800 and built a house on it. That led to involvement in the local real estate market that kept them busy for many years.

The Jacobsens made Bethany their permanent residence about 15 years ago, after living and working in and around Washington, D.C. The late Lawrence Jacobsen served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves and retired as assistant director at the D.C.-area headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Julia Jacobsen now splits her time between both homes, with Bethany holding a special place in her heart since they first visited in the 1950s.

“I liked Bethany — the simplicity of it. Rehoboth was like Washington all over again. A local builder, Hugh Hickman, had these cute cottages. You could buy one for $8,000 and it had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, kitchen and fireplace. We splurged and spent another $250 to get a second bathroom,” she recalled.

After the infamous storm of 1962, they bought their neighbor’s house.

“We had water up to the windowsills, and she had sand that just came in from the storm into her yard. She just put a ‘for sale’ sign up right there in the sand, so we bought it,” Jacobsen said, noting she also came up with an ingenious way to get the house out from under all that sand. “I buried silver dollars in the sand and so, of course, my kids found them and kept digging for them. It cost me 10 bucks, but they dug us out!

“After the storm came, people just gave up, sold their houses and left,” Jacobsen said of the post-storm Bethany. But there was a silver lining for the Jacobsens. At one point, the family bought six lots and four buildings in the Bethany area.

“I drew the short straw and had to do the bidding at the Sheriff Sale,” she remembered. “There was only one or two of us bidding. It got up to $30,000 — so I bid $30,000.25, and we got them.” Her son and daughter-in law went on to buy Connor-Jacobsen Realty in Bethany, and her daughter-in-law still owns the business on Pennsylvania Avenue today.

Aside from living in Bethany, much of her interest in beach replenishment efforts can be attributed to her years as an earth-science teacher with a specialty in the coastal plains. Her husband and father both were engineers, and her father even worked on the Empire State Building.

“I remember he took me up to a bathroom and filled a sink with water to show me how the building swayed,” she said. “The first year we were here in Bethany Beach, our house was shaking, and I expressed concern to my husband, who said, ‘If a house doesn’t shake, get out’ — referring to that the fact that you don’t want a building to be too rigid or it will start to crack.” That was another case in her life where perceived expertise has come into play, Jacobsen said. “We had a unique, sturdy-looking bulkhead, so people always thought we knew something they didn’t, because he was an engineer. Really, he just liked the way it looked better.”

One could say Jacobsen was raised in politics, too. Her father was mayor of her small hometown of Florham Park, N.J. “My sister and brother wanted nothing to do with politics, but I thought it was fun,” she said. That enjoyment of public service played out later in her own life. Her husband served two terms on the Bethany Beach Town Council, and Jacobsen then served four two-year terms of her own on the council.

“My husband wasn’t much into politics, either,” she explained of her start as an elected official. “So when the time came to run, they said at least I’d have name recognition. So I did it. That’s what I like about this place — everybody knows everybody.”

Stories of Bethany Beach’s past spill out of Jacobsen, free for the asking.

“I remember when Bethany Beach had one police officer, and in the winter, he had to fix the boardwalk and the Civic Club bought him the tools. Teenagers would play a game, called “running the policeman,” where they would take turns throwing firecrackers, and when he would look down on the sand, another kid would run up on the boardwalk and throw another firecracker,” she recalled, laughing.

Paintings done by friends and family adorn her house overlooking the Atlantic, depicting both the “old” and “new” Bethany. The Seaside Hotel once stood where houses are now, and a painting of how it once looked is on her kitchen wall. “You see those houses right there,” she said, pointing to the houses to the south of hers. “They weren’t there. The house we are in wasn’t here. That hotel was, and the ’62 storm just sliced that right open.”

After she suffered a stroke in 1998, Jacobsen received occupational therapy. And that was when she met Jan Kress. “I was on the board of the Visiting Nurses Foundation, so I’m sure they had them send me somebody extra good — and I hate that,” she said, full of both modesty and characteristic forthrightness. It was a fortuitous meeting for the two. And they later co-authored the new e-edition of her book on finding grant funding.

Jacobsen still maintains her house in Washington, D.C. A family from the Philippines lives there, and she stays with them when she goes home.

“I had a lady living there, and it was a year before I knew she had a family — a husband and three kids stuck back in the Philippines with a visa problem. So I called the State Department up. I didn’t know anybody there,” Jacobsen admitted. “All my friends are either retired or expired. I just called them up and explained the situation, and they said that a mistake had been made and that her husband would get his visa right away. And that’s what happened. So, now they are all together as a family.”

Jacobsen is clearly a woman who knows how to get things done. Whether it be lobbying for beach replenishment, keeping a family together, or teaching people how to raise money, she’s up for the challenge. And she’s sharing what she’s learned with others.

“I learned on the job, I made mistakes,” she said this week. “I’ve done every kind of fundraising; direct mail, capital campaign, general funds. I don’t like to ask people for money. I train people to do it.”

So, before beachgoers set out to sunbathe on the newly widened shoreline of Bethany Beach next summer, they may want to pick up a copy of the fifth edition of “From Idea to Funded Project.” The expertise behind the book is, after all, part of what brought all that new sand onto the beach.