SANDBRIDGE — When he was a boy, Marshall Belanga sometimes walked several miles down the beach to join his father, Luther Belanga, who fished at a camp in what is now False Cape State Park.
Marshall Belanga, who died on Sunday, March 12, at the age of 79, continued to fish commercially all of his life. He always shared his knowledge of the local ecosystem and local history with his family and friends, according to his son, Marshall Belanga Jr., and mourners who gathered at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Sigma for a memorial service on Friday, March 17.
Marshall Belanga Sr. grew up in Dam Neck and later moved to Sandbridge Road, where he ran Belanga’s Seafood. He fished on the beach and on Back Bay, and he relied upon his wits to earn a livelihood and survive storms, Marshall Belanga Jr. said.
“He would notice the way the tide was running and the way the wind was blowing, and he knew when he saw those puffy clouds that the wind was about to change, and knew when a storm was coming,” Marshall Belanga Jr. said. “These are things that people have lost over the generations from not having to do things for themselves.”
Belanga Sr. was always willing to share his knowledge with others and to lend a helping hand if someone needed it, his friends said.
“His wife and I would go out kayaking together,” said Mary Goodman, a friend of Belanga’s wife, Sandra Belanga. “And he could tell us where we should depending on which way the wind was blowing. He’d also tell us when the most snakes were likely to be out and warn us that we shouldn’t go then. …
“If we got stuck out there, he’d come get us,” Goodman added, “even after he got sick.”
Belanga, whose family farmed as well as fished, was also an avid gardener. He sold some of the produce that he raised at his fish market. He was also a carpenter who built his own house from wood that washed ashore after the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm.
If there was one thing his father loved as much as fishing, it was telling a good story, Marshall Belanga Jr. said.
His father often told the story of the January 1887 sinking of the Elizabeth, a German ship that sank off of the southern Virginia Beach coast during a northeaster and snowstorm.
Belanga’s ancestor, James Belanga, and four other surfmen died trying to rescue the German sailors, all of whom also died in the wreck. Belanga could describe the wind, crashing waves and the frantic efforts of the surfmen just as if he were there.
Perhaps that is because Belanga had weathered so many storms in his own day, and he could remember the exact moment that the ocean breached the dune line during the Ash Wednesday storm.
“He was parked in the parking lot at Sandbridge,” Marshall Belanga Jr. said, “when the water came across the sand hill and came up to the running board on his truck.”
Belanga is survived by Sandra Belanga, as well as by his son, Marshall Belanga Jr., and daughter-in-law Mary, daughter Merrilee Gumm and son-in-law Jeff Gumm, as well as grandchildren and other loved ones.
Marshall Belanga Jr., who worked with his father from the time he was a little boy, continues to fish part-time, but his father was the last of several generations of Sandbridge fishermen. Despite the hard work, storms and danger, he loved it.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Marshall Belanga Jr. said.
“And a twinkle in his eye,” Mary Belanga said.
The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, 1053 Virginia Beach Boulevard, Virginia Beach, VA 23451. The organization provides food and housing to people in need. Reach the center at (757) 491-2846.
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