Written by Dr. Frederick Haffner
The original concept of the Les Cheneaux Yacht Club was inspired and conceived at a meeting held at the cottage of Dr. E.A. Wagner in August of 1937. Present at this organizational meeting were various members of “Cincinnati Row” including Dr. E.A. Wagner, Robert Heuck and Gustav Haffner. In addition to these members there were also present O.C. Altmaier, and H.J. Kauffman of Columbus, Ohio, Steve Noyes of Indianapolis, Chuck and Donald Horsburgh of Cleveland, and E.J. Mertaugh of Hessel. This organization was originally intended to be a Yachting Division of the Les Cheneaux Islands Association, and had as its purpose the furthering of interest in sailing and boating in the Les Cheneaux area and the promotion of competitive racing, in particular, sailboat racing. This was later expanded to include other water sports, tennis, and various recreational and social activities.
In 1938 this concept was approved by all interested parties, and the Les Cheneaux Yacht Club was formally organized as a Yachting Division of the Les Cheneaux Islands Association with the following officers elected to direct the club’s activities:
Commodore: E.A. Wagner
Vice Commodore: Steve Noyes
Rear Commodore: H.J. Kauffman
Secretary: Gustav Haffner
Treasurer: Charles Letts
Mr. John Maescher, with an assist from Mr. Robert Heuck, designed our present insignia and burgee of black, red and gold, with two horizontal stripes of black and red, and a gold diagonal field at the mast end with letters L.C.Y.C. inclined vertically across the gold field. This was officially accepted and authorized in August 1938.
Mr. John Maescher as chairman of the Constitution Committee also devised the original Constitution and By Laws io 1938, which served our Club as guidelines until a more formal and complete set of Rules, Regulations, and By Laws was adopted in 1940.
In the fall of 1939, the Executive Committee felt that to perpetuate the organization and broaden the scope of activities, it would be desirable to have a clubhouse as a permanent home. With this in mind, Dr. E. A. Wagner and Mr. O.C. Altmaier had investigated the property known as Flemings’ Point on Marquette Island overlooking Muskellunge Bay. This property was owned at the time by Mr. Thaddeus Gardulski, but since his taxes on the same had been delinquent, the property was to be expropriated for sale by the state of Michigan on November 1, 1939. Since quick action was necessitated, it was decided that Dr. E.A. Wagner, O.C. Altmaier, H.J. Kauffman and Gustav Haffner would purchase the property, each contributing quarter shares. Mr. O.C. Altmaier was appointed to make the purchase as trustee, and this was accomplished for the bargain price of $10,000 in October 1939.
This property consisted of about 23 acres of land on which stood a large handsome boathouse, a beautiful spacious lodge, a caretaker’s cottage and several smaller buildings to house an electric generating plant and water pump. The buildings were all finely constructed of Florida Cypress and elaborately designed. The property also included a functional clay tennis court. The buildings had been constructed in the years 1913 and 1914 for Mr. Arthur Fleming who had originally purchased the property in 1908. Mr. Fleming, a railroad magnate, had also been an official of the Statler Hotel chain. He became internationally known when he financed the railroad car in which the Peace Accord was signed following World War I.
Following Mr. Fleming’s death, the property had been deeded to his daughter in 1921 and ultimately was sold in 1926 to Mr. Thaddeus Gardulski of Detroit. How long Mr. Gardulski enjoyed the property is undetermined, but we are all grateful for his failure to pay his taxes, which happily led to our acquisition of this lovely site in 1939.
In 1940 our Yacht Club was formally organized and incorporated as a body independent of the Les Cheneaux Islands Association, and an official Constitution and By Laws was adopted as a legal governance of club functions. In these early years the membership consisted of approximately twenty families from the various reaches of our island chain, of which about half were represented by the families of “Cincinnati Row”. As the years have evolved, membership has been enhanced six fold. In the 1960’s, our roster embraced some 65 families, in 1976 this had become 90 families, and at the present time we enjoy a membership of 125 families, which attests to sound management with good future direction, and the provision of excellent recreational and social activities.
During the war years 1942-1946, club function consisted mainly in fostering an annual sailing regatta in which the girls and ladies served as chief crews and skippers. The Sunday night picnic suppers were the only social activities during those lean years, but the club was nevertheless held together.
In 1946, the main lodge on our property was sold to the Paul Gerwin family of Columbus, Ohio, formerly of Cincinnati, for $8,000. The proceeds of this sale were used to make needed repairs and improvements in our remaining building and docks. The electricity and water supply were generated by our own electric generators and water pump which was shared with the Gerwins, as the pumping and generating plants were now on their property. This accommodation continued until 1949 when the electric generators and water pump were moved to the woodshed adjoining our caretaker’s cottage. This intricate maneuver was accomplished chiefly through the expertise and efforts of Mr. Albert Luhrman and Mr. John Maescher. This remained our source of electricity until 1958 when power from the mainland became available from the Edison Sault Electric Co.
Throughout the late forties, fifties and sixties, the club functions and activities consisted mainly in conducting the annual sailing Regatta, and enjoying the weekly Sunday night picnic suppers. In addition the clubhouse served as a social gathering place for various teenaged parties on the weekends. One of our few land-based activities was shuffleboard, which was very popular at the Sunday night socials. Our present shuffleboard courts were constructed in 1952 in response to popular demand. This was completed after a donation of $375 was received from Dr. Martin Dumler for that purpose. Although there was a small cost overrun, the exuberant membership gladly approved the additional expense; such was the appeal of shuffleboard at that time. This was later improved to provide a basketball net and backboard at the court’s eastern end.
During the seventies and eighties the club activities were expanded to embrace a more diverse group of interests such as our annual golf and tennis tourneys, a men’s night cookout, weekly catered dinners, a Labor Day party to close out the season, and more recently, family nights where younger members could enjoy a cookout and movies on our newly acquired VCR.
For many years there had been discussion concerning the development of a tennis court on the site of the old clay court on the point, east of the Club House. It was felt that the club needed some extra facilities to enhance the activities afforded our membership, but this had never materialized due to a lack of funds. In 1982, however, this problem was resolved with the sale of several original oil paintings, one by the noted artist Edwin Potthast, which had been in our possession for some 30 years. They had been a gift to the club from Dr. Martin Dumler of Cincinnati, who was one of our early members. The proceeds from this sale netted $12,000 of which $10,000 was allocated to the development of an all weather tennis court. The rest of the cost, $20,000 was raised by the private solicitation of interested members. The result was the construction of our present handsome all weather court, replete with boundary fencing and a beautiful red and green playing surface. This was accomplished in the spring of 1983 largely through the efforts of John Ashworth and his tennis committee, so that play was inaugurated in early July of that year. This court has served our membership well ever since, and afforded us many hours of extra diversion and fun off of the waters. The natural surroundings and the beauty of its setting on the point surrounded by woods and the waters of Muskellunge Bay makes it one of the most handsome facilities of its kind anywhere. Its completion ranks as one of the most significant contributions to our Club since the organization of the Yacht Club itself.
Throughout our history, the main function of our club has been the promotion of sailboat racing, in particular our annual Regatta. These Regattas have been held each year without exception including the war years. In the beginning and throughout the 1950’s, the competition consisted mainly of “L” Boats and Clubs with a sprinkling of Lightnings and Stars. As interest in sailboat racing increased, these classes were replaced in the 1960’s by new classes of Ensigns, Sunfish and Typhoons. More recently, the competition has resolved into two classes, the Ensigns and Sunfish with more than 30 boats in each class boasting ownership throughout the Les Cheneaux area. Our most spectacular and colorful events have been experienced with these two classes where the competition has evoked the very best of seamanship and tactics, resulting in a host of memorable and exciting racing classics. The introduction in 1986 of colorful balloon spinnakers to the Ensign Fleet has added a very significant Dare to their spectator appeal. Presently, our Ensign Fleet is one of the largest in this country and enjoys official membership in the National Ensign Class Association. As an added inducement to further competitive racing, several permanent trophies have been awarded annually in various categories. The oldest trophy, dating from 1949, is the O.C. Altmaier Cup awarded to the most improved sailor each year. The Donald Neal Cup is awarded to the best Sunfish boat. The Birkmeier Cup is awarded to the Ensign Fleet champion, and the Horsburgh Trophy goes to the winner of the Ensign Fleet race to Mackinac. The Haines Trophy is awarded to the Ensign winner of our annual Regatta.
In 1972, the Portsmouth System of scoring was adopted largely through the efforts of Rex EIy, in order to accommodate the diversity of boats in our sailing Regattas. This has since been abandoned as our competition has narrowed to two distinct classes. Our function as a Yacht Club has most successfully promoted and catalyzed an ever-increasing interest in the grand sport of sailboat racing, and in turn we have received an ever-increasing interest in membership from the many families that constitute our summer establishment. The success of our sailing Regattas has been the result of an enthusiastic and dedicated group of people who served as chairmen of the racing committees. Without their supreme dedication and selfless commitment, our ultimate fine achievement could not have been realized. It is therefore fitting to accord these grand individuals due recognition for their special contributions to our organization. These hallowed names then are to be enshrined in our own Sailing Hall of Fame to wit: Dr. H. V. Steinmetz, Robert Heuck, Rex EIy, Harold Taylor, J. Barr Haines, Donald Horsburgh, Donn Early, Ken Horsburgh, Paul Birkmeier, and presently Bob Cox. A most appreciative salute to each and all of them!
Throughout the years, numerous improvements have been made in the interior of our clubhouse. In the early 1950’s various walls were removed from the main structure to accommodate a larger meeting and dining area. These walls had originally served as partitions for several bedrooms on the second Door of the boathouse. Extensive remodeling of the kitchen area took place during the seventies and eighties to accommodate the ever-increasing attendance at our annual dinner meetings and other social events. -Up until 1976 we were dependent on a propane gas stove and refrigerator for our food service, but in that year these were replaced by larger electric generated units. The ultimate improvement in our kitchen facility was completed in 1987 with the addition of a double sink and splash board top, and new cantilevered serving deck. In 1980, the dining area was again enlarged and refurbished with the addition of new picnic tables and chairs. At the present time, further improvements in the dining hall are under way, so that the entire common meeting room will expand to all four walls with the elimination of the game room to the rear, and carpeting of the entire floor area is programmed to suppress the decibels generated by the exuberance of our gatherings.
These improvements and continuing embellishments to our physical plant were of course necessitated by the increased use of our club as a social gathering place for an increasing and enthusiastic membership. Our social functions and house maintenance were promoted largely through the efforts of a tireless and innovative group of ladies who orchestrated a delightful and varied mix of events to entertain our members. These events were anchored by our weekly Sunday night socials and enhanced by such notable occasions as our annual bratwurst parties, weekly-catered dinners, Labor Day bloody mary brunches, arts and craft shows, and young peoples’ night at the movies. Among those who so nobly and expertly gave of their time to promulgate these happy activities are the following lovely ladies: Florence Heuck, Doris Abnee, Ann Parsons, Ruth Steinfeldt, Mary Louise Hawley, Helen Shoberg, Margaret Schleuter, Doris Larson, Chris Tuckett and Sheila Murray. A hearty thanks to all of them for their labors of love!
Although our Constitution and By Laws were originally adopted in 1940, many amendments and revisions were made over the years. The first formal revision was accomplished in 1947. In 1969 the Constitution was repealed and a Code of Regulations was adopted to conform with Michigan law. The By Laws were retained, however, and the life of our organization was extended for another thirty years, also to conform with Michigan law. In 1981, the By Laws were again amended to make mandatory the ownership of at least one share of stock as a requisite of membership. This had been discussed and considered for many years, but had taken some 40 years for ultimate resolution. At the present time we are to submit another revision of the Code and By Laws concerning the tenure of the officers and their rotation in the administration of our club.
Up until 1973, our activities had been directed by an Executive Board of seven officers elected annually. At that time this was altered to accommodate a Board of nine directors elected for three-year terms. In 1982, this was again modified so that one third of the nine directors were elected annually to three-year terms, and this is the prevailing arrangement today.
No history of this organization would be complete without an acknowledgement of the many fine contributions made to the maintenance of our facilities by a highly motivated and industrious group of individuals who chaired the Docks, Buildings, and Grounds Committees. Throughout the years, our docks, clubhouse, and grounds have been kept in excellent repair in low water and high. Many improvements have been made both inside an out, and the docks have been repaired and rebuilt as occasion demanded. Roofs have been repaired or replaced and the buildings painted as needed, so that today we experience good function in all our structures. This has been achieved in spite of fifty years of use and wear, and the ever-changing extremes in our weather conditions. These notable individuals who have contributed so selflessly and enthusiastically merit the plaudits of the entire membership and are hereby recognized: H.J. Kauffman, Grant Hesser, Walter Cordes, Conrad Shoberg, Sam Benedict, Donald Neal, Aldren Taylor, Joe Langner, Richard Taylor, and John Walker.
Although we have had many caretakers throughout our history, and endured many years without such valuable help, two names stand out for their major contributions to our well being. Stuart Bohn who served from 1967 to 1975, and Jim Martin who served from 1975 to 1982, gave invaluable assistance and managerial skill to the operation of our Club. They and their fine families were wonderful assets and were highly regarded by all of us.
Our Yacht Club boasts an ever-increasing membership and constantly aspiring applicants. This happy state is the result not only of sound organization and direction, but also of active participation on the part of all of our members. Our many fine volunteers have been a dedicated and industrious group who have given unstintingly of their time, energies, and talents, and from this we have all profited. As a focal point, our club has provided us with a grand opportunity for creating new friendships and renewing old ones throughout the Les Cheneaux area. The comradery and good fellowship generated by our activities has been a special factor in promoting the enjoyment of our summer experience. As a vital and successful organization, we have traveled far, and with continued interest and enthusiasm can look forward to a future of enhanced achievement and high adventure.