Grace Kelly in front of her family’s house at 26th and Wesley (Photo credit Associated Press) By Tim KellyNearly 36 years after her death, Grace Kelly still holds a special place in Ocean City’s heart.The Philadelphia-born, Oscar-winning actress gave up her Hollywood career at age 26 to become Princess of Monaco. But even after marrying Prince Rainier III in 1956, Kelly continued to visit OC, which she considered her second home.Ocean City has returned the love with an exhibit at the Historical Museum, special Grace-themed events, and most significantly, fond remembrances.She spent every summer of her life, except the last one in 1982, living or vacationing at the family’s house at 26th St. and Wesley Avenue, and at a larger beachfront home on 26th.“She was a nice person,” said Ocean City’s Bob Harbaugh, who dated Grace’s younger sister Lizanne when Grace’s acting career was first gaining steam. “I still have letters Lizanne sent me from (Los Angeles) because their father wouldn’t allow Grace to go out to Hollywood by herself.”The Historical Museum’s exhibit is extensive. It includes an exact replica of the wedding dress she wore for her marriage to Rainier and numerous artifacts from her childhood, her years in Hollywood and later as European royalty.An annual Grace Kelly High Tea, for the benefit of the Museum, has taken place at the Flanders Hotel since 2015. This year’s event will be held June 6 at 2 p.m. The cost is $35 for Museum members, $38 for the general public, event organizer said. Kristina Haugland of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, responsible for the preservation of Kelly’s original wedding dress, will speak at the event.To purchase tickets, visit www.ocnjmuseum.org.Another special event, “I Remember Grace” is being planned for June 8 at the Museum, during which Miss Ocean City Madison Leigh Kennelly will portray Grace and read some of her lines from the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Rear Window” in which Kelly co-starred with James Stewart.Clearly, Ocean City considers Grace Kelly to be one of its own. But before she became a Hollywood icon and a real Princess, she was just plain “Grace,” a waitress at the Chatterbox restaurant and a regular at the popular beaches at the time, 2nd Street and 14th street.“She was never a prima donna,” Lizanne said in an interview. During her years as a movie star, and later as a princess, “she would come in, kick off her shoes and run around barefoot just like the rest of us.”Kim Davies of Ocean City said her sister in law Michelle Davies met the Princess and her daughter Stephanie on the local beaches. “They were regular people, playing in the sand and swimming,” she said.Historical Museum Executive Director Jeff McGranahan said the family’s approachability and Grace’s celebrity was very much a product of its time, well before social media changed the game.At her peak popularity, McGranahan said “the celebrity culture was much more subdued than it is today.”Not that there weren’t moments. He told of an incident at the time of Grace Kelly’s first pregnancy when a crowd of spectators and media were staking out 36th street for a glimpse of the Prince, the Princess and her royal “baby bump.”Other times, what Bob Harbaugh termed “Grace’s Hollywood friends” would visit, including a New Jersey native by the name of Frank Sinatra.A prominent statue of three-time Olympic champion John B. Kelly, Sr. on the banks of the Schuylkill River, where he trained and competed. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)Prior to Grace’s celebrity, the family was already famous. Her father, John B. Kelly Sr. was a three-time Olympic rowing champion. But he was famously banned from the famed Henley Regatta in England because he worked as a bricklayer and was deemed to be “not a gentleman.”Kelly gained the ultimate revenge by building the dominant brick business in Philadelphia and helping construct many of Philly’s most recognizable buildings, including Wanamakers’ department store. A longtime renter for his OC vacations, the newly-wealthy Kelly purchased a beachfront lot at 26th and Wesley. In 1929 he built the Spanish Revival-style house that still stands and looks almost exactly as it did originally. He and wife Margaret raised their growing family there during the summer months.As the elder Kelly amassed a fortune, his son John B. Kelly Jr. became a prominent rower in his own right. The four-time Olympian was permitted to row at Henley and won, avenging his father’s ouster from the event a generation earlier.In subsequent interviews, Kelly said his training for the regatta was enhanced by his years rowing lifeboats for the Ocean City Beach Patrol.Kelly’s athletic ability was unquestioned, said Harbaugh, whose rookie lifeguard year was 1944, the summer after Jack Jr.’s last year on the beach with the OCBP.Harbaugh said Kelly Sr. always had a key interest in the lifeguards and made contributions for equipment and to fund awards for lifeguard competitions. His daughters attended several Life Guard Balls.An Ocean City woman who asked that we not use her name, was a waitress at the Oceanic Hotel in the 1940s when a handsome lifeguard asked her out on a date. “It was Jack Kelly Jr.,” she said. “I turned him down. I had my eye on dating another lifeguard who had a better personality. Looking back on it, that might have been a mistake,” she said, laughing.Another local claim to fame was Kelly’s connection with the legendary Duke Kahanamoku, known as the father of modern surfing. Duke was also a world-class swimmer and Olympic teammate of Kelly in 1920. Jack Sr. was said to have persuaded Kahanamoku to surf in Ocean City, an easy train commute from Duke’s home in Philadelphia at the time.“Kelly’s friendship with Duke Kahanamoku was one of the main reasons for surfing catching on (locally),“ said Harbaugh.In the 1950s, the publicity focus turned to Grace. She established herself as an actress on Broadway, appeared on some early television shows and achieved movie stardom in “Mogambo” with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. The performance earned her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.Meanwhile, John B. Kelly Sr.’s empire continued to grow, He was a co-owner of the Atlantic City Race Course which opened in 1948 and quickly became one of the top attractions at the South Jersey Shore,One of the patrons at the track in the mid-50s was Monaco’s Prince Ranier, who was introduced to Grace in her dad’s owner’s box. A romance ensued and Grace retired from Hollywood to marry him, after appearing in just five feature films.Grace Kelly on her wedding day. An exact replica of her dress is part of an exhibit at the Ocean City Historical Museum. Photo credit: Getty Images.Becoming a princess did not diminish Grace’s love of Ocean City. She returned each summer.The Kellys hosted a family reunion and party each Labor Day, which Grace and her growing family attended most years. Thus Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie became Ocean City kids in summer months, frolicking on the beach and strolling the boards at night.The Labor Day bash included a barbecue cook-off, during which guests brought their own food to grill in a fun competition. There was also a body surfing contest, Harbaugh said.“I was fortunate enough to attend many of their family functions, but I never made it to the Labor Day (party),” Harbaugh said. “I had to return to college earlier in the summer because I was playing football.”By all accounts though, he said the parties were a highlight of the summer. It was not uncommon for neighbors or even the curious to join in on the fun.Grace died, tragically, from injuries sustained in a car accident in Nice, France, just outside Monaco in 1982. She suffered a stroke at the wheel and the car went over a cliff. Miraculously, Stephanie, who was in the passenger seat, escaped serious injury.Princess Grace’s death marked the end of an era in Ocean City. Lizanne and other family members continued to vacation here, but it was never the same.The family home was sold in 2001. But even to this day, the Kellys and their glamorous Princess Grace remain as iconic figures in Ocean City history.The original Kelly family home as it appears today.