Saving lives and beautifying beaches through Shore Beach Service.

July’s MVP: RALPH WAGNEREverything about his office has the usual corporate feel to it: an oversized wooden desk, family photos sprinkled throughout, however, visitors don’t receive the standard guest chair. It seems only appropriate that the “president’s office” would have beach chairs for visitors. When you’re the longtime owner of Shore Beach Service, green beach chairs for your guests make sense.

Ralph Wagner has been at the helm of Shore Beach Service since 1992. The beautiful island beaches we all know and love are kept that way in large part by Wagner and his staff. Shore Beach Service (shorebeach.com) is in charge of keeping the beaches beautiful as well as the ultra-important task of keeping beachgoers safe and out of harms way.

Wagner originally hails from the Midwest but came to Hilton Head Island in the early ,90s from snowy Chicago where he worked in corporate America as a controller for a Fortune 100 company. When the opportunity arose to purchase Shore Beach Service, the move was made.

Under his watchful eye, the company has grown tremendously. His first staff amounted to about thirty people. Today, Wagner employs almost 100 during the peak summer season. His lifeguards, who are spread along a 13-mile stretch of beach, come to the island from virtually every state in the nation, as well as Canada and various other countries around the globe.

While a summer spent life guarding may sound like a get-a-tan dream job for many, it’s a role that Wagner and his staff take very seriously. His lifeguards are well-trained and highly skilled when it comes to rendering assistance to beachgoers. On any given day, that might mean everything from saving a life in the water to renting a beach chair and soothing the sting of a jellyfish for a kid from Ohio.

Wagner notes that, by far, jellyfish stings are the most common calls for assistance his lifeguards encounter and they deal with literally thousands of them every season, along with sting ray mishaps and around 800 missing persons along the beach each year who wander away from their spot on the sand. “We’ve found them all,” said Wagner.

On his first week on the job, an alligator strayed into open water and gave Wagner a run for his money. He notes that most gator encounters are handled today by critter experts called in to assist.

He spends about two to three days a week on the beach and stays active. Wagner and his top lifeguards compete each year in the South Atlantic Lifesaving Association’s competition. Last year, the team placed in the top five and he placed first in the veteran’s division.

Wagner also knows how to relax. One of his three children, Michael, is now heading up much of the Shore Beach Service operation, which gives him more time to hit the links at Long Cove, travel and spend time with family, including his six grandchildren.

When asked about where retirement might take him, he was quick to point out “we’re already here.”