Niagara Sailing Club
Established in 1934 “to encourage the sport of boating; to promote the science of seamanship and navigation and to provide and maintain a suitable clubhouse (and grounds) for the use and recreation of its members.”
THE CLUB’S EARLY HISTORY AND CLUBHOUSES
We started out as Edgewater Yacht Club. On Sunday, September 9, 1934, fourteen sailors raced offshore from the Edgewater Landing Hotel on River Road in North Tonawanda. As a result of this interest in sailboat racing, eight of those sailors met on Thursday, September 13, and formed the Edgewater Yacht Club. The founding members were Harlan Dickey, Bernice Groskpf, Herman Holler, Oscar Olsen, Allan (Dutch) Roy, Robert Siemer, Robert Lee Smith, and Bernard Starck. Of the charter members, Harlan Dickey was elected Commodore, Dutch Roy, Vice Commodore, and Bernice Groskopf, Secretary.
The first meetings were held at the hotel and the races sailed offshore. A club constitution was formulated by Chairman Oscar Olsen and was adopted on October 13, 1934. A club burgee, designed by Bob Siemer, was to be a red pennant with a white chevron. H. Morton Jones donated the first trophy for racing.
In March 1935, the name was changed to Niagara Sailing Club. The racecourse was shifted upriver to a new location on Grand Island, now the present site of NSC. Meetings were held at the homes of members. Annual Club dues were $7.50 for a family membership and $5.00 for a single membership.
On May 15, 1935, the Club held the first banquet at the YWCA, North Tonawanda and on Memorial Day of this same year, the members held the first cruise around Grand Island. On November 12, 1935, an Awards Banquet was held at the Westbrook Hotel Marine Room. Since then, and until about 2001, all awards banquets were held in November. The Annual Awards Banquet was renamed the Commodore's Banquet in 1990 and is now planned each Fall by the current Commodore.
A club’s newsletter, "THE JIB", was established in 1935. The original copy, kept by Harlan and Bea Dickey, is now in one of the club’s scrapbooks which are held in safe keeping by life-member Marcy Holler. For some reason, the newsletter was dropped over the years, but re-established in March 1986.
From 1935 to 1941, before the clubhouse was built, the members would sail their boats from the Tonawanda / North Tonawanda shore to Grand Island and return home after the races. The committee boat (and clubhouse of sorts) was a cruiser, "Lazy Daze", owned by Barton Wardell.
In March 1938, the land presently occupied by the Niagara Sailing Club clubhouse was leased from the Stafford Estate for $75.00. On June 24, 1941, a building permit was issued to NSC to construct a wood building to be used for club activities. In 1941, the first clubhouse was built at a cost of $206.12 - a few cents over the estimate of PC Irving (Hockey) Holler, chairman of the Building Committee. The entire building was built by the members and had little more than protection to offer its members. Soon after, improvements were made to the small clubhouse, and in 1956, the interior was paneled, and a kitchen, bar and heating system were added.
In 1965, PC Jerry Blake was appointed to head a building committee for a new clubhouse. Building Committee members were PC Bob Aschenbach, Bob Haefner, PC Herm Holler, PC Joe Holler, PC David Holmden, PC Bud Kroening, PC Dick Manz, PC Bernie Starck, and PC Joe Tries. A building contract was entered into with builder O.A. Pfohl, Inc. on September 30, 1966, and was signed by then NSC Commodore Calvin E. Schmiege. On Sunday, October 2, 1966, a ground-breaking ceremony was held to mark the beginnings of the new clubhouse. Members included in the news coverage photo were the Flag Officers, the Building Committee, PC Hockey Holler- representing the life members, Alice Hooper- representing the women, and Gary Wagner- representing the junior members.
The new clubhouse contract was for $18,100. Pfohl built the structure and members finished the inside for an additional $2,000. NSC took out a Mortgage for $20,000 on November 4, 1966, to pay for the build. Funds for the wrought iron railing, paneled walls and the bar were raised through donations and garage sales. The furniture in the main room was purchased by the women, who raised the money from a fashion show held at the Buffalo Launch Club. The men of the club, spearheaded by PC Jim Holler, handmade wooden chairs, engraved with NSC initials, that lined the entire exterior deck of the clubhouse.
True to its mission of promoting the sport of boating and the science of seamanship, NSC has a rich history of teaching sailing. In the early 70’s PC Herm Holler brought the first Sunfish to the Club. This was the beginning of a large fleet of Sunfish and Lasers and the beginning of single-handed racing at NSC. By the mid 70’s, PC Judy Walker had started a successful women’s sailing training program using Lightning and Sunfish class boats. That progressed into a long series of junior sailing programs conducted then by Nora Clements, PC Bob Starck and PC Cal Schmiege until 1994, when most of the junior sailors grew up and moved on. The junior sailing program, and racing in general at NSC, remained dormant for several years until it was resurrected in 2001 with more than 35 junior sailors enrolled for the 2001 Junior Sailing Program! Chuck Meyer Jr. is largely credit with resurrecting the junior sailing program back in 2001 and has been assisted by a host of helping instructors throughout the years. The Chuck Meyer Jr. Memorial Junior Sailing Camp uses Sunfish, Lasers and adult-guided Sharks to teach children from the ages of 9-18 how to sail. The program currently runs for one week and is typically the week following the fourth of July. Interested students should sign up on NSC’s website, www.niagarasailingclub.com.
A fact not well known about NSC is that in 1941, when Bernice Groskopf Dickey was elected Commodore, when NSC’s first clubhouse was being built, she was known to be the only woman Commodore of a yacht club in the United States at that time. Since then, NSC has encouraged and promoted woman Commodores and has had four lady commodores, PC Diane Knight, PC Candy Mc-Combs, PC Judy Walker and PC Sue Dobmeier. As of 2022, two current Flag Officers are women and are in line for Commodore positions.
In 1984 NSC held its Golden Jubilee (1934-1984) with a gala party on Saturday, August 4th. It was attended by many past and present members including Charter Members PC Herm Holler and PC Bernie Start. In 1987 NSC held a Mortgage Burning Party. The “new” 1965 clubhouse was paid for! Among those in attendance was Dorothy Blake, wife of Building Committee Chairman, PC Jerry Blake.
One of the many traditions of NSC relates to it’s Commodore Punch Bowl. In 1956, when improvements were being made to the first clubhouse, PC George (Bud) and Lois Kroening and PC Jerry and Dorothy Blake had Don Beverage create a large wooden base on which an even larger chrome steel bowl was mounted. The base includes small chromes plates with the name of each commodore. A deed of gift was hand lettered by Lois Kroening and was signed by the Charter Members. This bowl is used to this day at Opening Day/Flag Raising events. The bowl has its own special ladle and only Past Commodores have the privilege of serving guests out of this very special bowl.
NSC flourished with families, recreational sailing, racing, competitions, picnics and events from the 1940-1990’s. Then much of membership began to age, and their children moved on to form their own lives.
For 56 years, 1965-2021, the NSC clubhouse underwent many improvements, among them a new roof, installation of deck awning and hardware, stairs and decking repairs, and the complete replacement of the concrete sidewalks and entries, which made the club handicap accessible and much easier to enter at grade. Inside, many decorative improvements were made including the installation of all Past Commodore photos, kitchen and bathroom upgrades, upgrading of sliding glass doors, a beautiful new bar back with a welcoming customized NSC mirror, bar appliance updates and many more improvements. A major interior renovation started late 2013, which completely overhauled the flooring in the main room and kitchen, an overhaul of the men’s bathroom and the entire bar area, plus the addition of solid oak trim panels that lined the interior. A solid wood-plank ceiling lined with attractive mariner’s rope trim and the refinishing of the “ship’s wheel” decorative light finished off the project which was completed on-time by a great many of the club’s members time and talents. These latest renovations were led by PC Ray Dan Jumbo, PC Tony Albano, and the board and directors. New life was breathed into NSC’s clubhouse as it was transformed into a modern and fashionable, social, gathering and dining place for NSC member’s friends and family.
The 1990’s proved difficult for the aging membership of the club. Membership was down and so were annual revenues. It was at this time that NSC began to embrace powerboating in earnest. Led in large part by PC Dana Holler and PC John Dickinson, a large influx of membership occurred in the 90’s, and the basin became filled with powerboats and membership filled with members with common boating interests. The clubhouse, pool and lawn were filled with parents and children again. The club had again begun to flourish with young families. Another generation was again raising their children at NSC.
Fast forward another 20 years, to 2018, NSC is seeing a large uptick in the return of sailing interests again, thanks to Fritz Dusel and Mike Wiedl in getting our aging fleet of Sharks in good shape. In 2021, 18 powerboats shared a full basin, 8 jet skis filled our jet ski platforms, a party boat managed an unlikely space, and 5 sailboats were on mooring balls in front of NSC in 2021. NSC is an active member in UNSA, the Upper Niagara Sailing Association. Surely the best is yet to come.
The Club Grounds
On July 1, 1950, the land of the present clubhouse plus land across East River (southerly end of parking lot and back forty) and a parcel of land extending south to Ransom Road was purchased from the Estate of James B. Stafford. The following year more land across East River Road was purchased (northerly side of parking lot) from Frank and Dorothy Malco. In 1963, the property shoreline was extended and a cement retaining wall was installed. This retaining wall was shored with a wooden brace in 2020 by RC Jack Dally.
In 2007, a memorial tree was planted to honor our dear departed PC Bruce Kaiser, with an annual Steak & Lobster fundraising dinner memorializing his memory. Unfortunately, the tree became diseased and was removed in 2021.
In 2007-2008, PC Ray Dan Jumbo and a team of volunteers built a garage in the 'back forty' (beyond the parking lot) to store lawn mowers and other equipment that were crowding the basement storage rooms.
In 2016, PC Jim Holler designed and constructed a miniature light house at the outside entry to the NSC grounds, providing a beacon for all who visit NSC.
The Swimming Pool
To the delight of members, in 1971, an in-ground swimming pool was built and was officially opened in time for the Niagara River Lightning Championship Regatta held in July. PC Jack Swanson was Building Chairman.
From 2016 to 2018, a complete renovation of the Niagara Sailing Club swimming pool was completed. The renovation included raising the depth of the pool to 4’11”, adding a new filtration system, 6 returns, 3 skimmers, 2 bottom drains, a new liner, extending pool deck area, pool safety plan, decking and cement. The pool project was led by board member Eric Pecoraro and Past Commodore Ray Dan Jumbo. The project completion was due to countless work hours of members dedicated to the future of the Niagara Sailing Club. Of course, seasonal daily pool maintenance is necessary and periodic maintenance of the decking, gates, locks, and filtration equipment is necessary. The pool remains our member’s favorite amenity in summer months.
The flagpole at Niagara Sailing Club is a replica of a whaler mast and was built by members in 1955. Designed by PC Bob Siemer, a well know commercial artist, the 55-foot-high mast was carefully scaled and built to the size of a mast of the old Bark Sailing Vessels. Much research went into the work. Don Beverage and PC Irv Holler, designers for the Richardson Boat Company, and PC Joe Holler did most of the detailed woodwork. In July of 1955, a ceremony was held for the formal dedication of the flagpole in memory of Past Commodore Percy Bowen.
Maintenance of the flagpole has always been performed by club members except where heavy equipment might be necessary. In 2002, PC Jim Holler and PC Frank White completely rebuilt the rotting wood flagpole gaff, yardarm, main topmast, made new halyard blocks, and replaced all halyards. In 2017, Past Commodore Jim Holler restored the Niagara Sailing Club flagpole again.
Relatives of the Swanson family plant flowers around the flagpole annually.
Prior to 1953, a temporary dock was installed every spring by the members and removed in the fall. Then in 1953, driven piles were installed and permanent docks were built; the upstream dock was in the shape of a left-handed "F" to provide dockage for guest powerboats; the downstream dock had ramps to provide dry storage for the small boat fleets of Thistles, Jollys, International 14s, and Albacores. The short leg of the main dock was removed in 1976 to provide for more in-water mooring for Ravens. Lightnings and Hobies were dry sailed on their own trailers on the concrete ramp next to the hoist.
Prior to 1989, the Club did not have moorings for powerboat members, but, as the number of sailboats diminished, and for lack of sufficient operating funds, members with powerboats were accepted and provided mooring. To help increase membership, the Club has accepted a large number of non-boat owner applicants with common boating interests.
A major dock renovation, spearheaded by PC Steve Webb, added 30 ft. to the upstream dock, along with new decking and lights. Club and Member-owned Jet Ski docks now line the downstream dock, while the board boat docks line the shore between the upstream dock and the boat launch and are used by NSC’s junior sailors.
On March 20, 2021, the first day of Spring, a fire ravaged the NSC Clubhouse. We lost everything – the entire building and all of its contents, but the most terrible loss is the 87 years of history – the trophies, the wall plaques and all the content that those richly engraved items contained. The Past Commodore photos – mounted in year order, along the east and southerly walls of the clubhouse - perished. These are truly the irreplaceable items. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve the charred Commodore’s Punch Bowl out of the ruins. We did get in a 2021 Chili Cook Off before the fire and the Chili Cook Off trophy was off premises, being engraved with the new winner, so that survived the fire as well. Luckily, the BOD purchased a fireproof safe in the 2000’s and as a result, we were able to salvage most of our real property documentation from that safe which was in the basement office. While we lost all the pool filtration equipment, the pool itself survived with only a singed cover. Otherwise deemed a total loss, the remaining clubhouse structure and its ruined contents was demolished days later.
It took a while to replace the filtration equipment, but with the help of several dedicated members, the pool reopened in early August. Club members enjoyed the remainder of the summer of 2021 at the pool with a makeshift shack from which beverages were available for members. With the thanks of many of the area’s boating clubs who offered their facilities, NSC was able to maintain continuity and hold its Board and Member’s meetings without difficulty. A special thank you goes out to all who helped in the aftermath, held or organized a fundraiser, donated or volunteered, lent a space, and to those who just said a little prayer on our behalf this past year.
Because we have lost so much history, we now value the importance of safekeeping what we know about our club’s history This document was created by founding members PC Jim Holler and PC Frank White, and has just been updated in 2022.