by E.A. Dake 2004
In Chicago, during the winter of 1902-03, three White Lakers got together at the home of E.S. Douglas and said “Let’s start a Yacht Club at White Lake.” They were Douglas, John A. Kruse and G. F. Wadsworth.
A club house on Long Point called the Dus-Kew-Rera Club was made available, and during the summer of 1903, dancing parties and other social activities took place there. There were twenty-four members at the time. As attendance increased each week it became clear that this building would not hold all the people and it would be desirable to build a new club house.
Possible locations for the new club included Long Point, Birch Brook, and two sites at Sylvan, this divided the group and George Mason came to the rescue by offering the present site. Starting in October 1905 Fred McGuire spent countless hours organizing the committees to raise funds and decide on the site for the Club. May 28, 1906 saw a lease finally signed with George Mason for 69 years at a $1.00 per year. With an option to purchase for $1000.00 during the first five years. Also the clubhouse had to be started by July 1, 1906 and completed by July 1, 1907, and cost not less than $2500.00 according to the lease.
November 1906 saw a survey of the land started, December found the Club admitted to the Lake Michigan Yachting Association. In March 1906 the Club was incorporated. Fundraising continued and through the efforts of F.J. Lewis the drawings submitted to the committee by Robert Rae would eventually be our club house. He also negotiated the rest of the lease and the liquor clause.
May saw Love construction complete the driving of pilings for the club house. Robert H. Osborn of Montague was the contractor and the lumber was purchased in Whitehall at the Erickson Steefee Mill. By August the building was finished and occupied with 100 members.
For the next ten years the Club flourished and was the meeting place for all White Lakers for sailing and social activities. Starting in 1912 the Yacht Club began to suffer do to golf becoming an attractive sport and not as many people coming to White Lake. Only through the efforts of Henry D. Sturdevant with money from his own pocket was the Club able to stay afloat.
From 1915 to 1926 the Club House fell into a state of decay and was devoid of human activity. The Club had been built on pilings out in the lake so members could drive their boats inside to enter the club and the winter ice had taken its toll on those pilings. Reviving the clubhouse looked to be an insurmountable task.
In the early 1920s Clarence E. Pitkin started to think about reviving the club so the children would have something to do. His best idea was the Mississippi Valley Speedboat Association Gold Cup races of 1925, which helped light a fire to revive the Club. The regatta financed by Al Pack was not a success in itself but it did revive interest in White Lake and the Club. The White Lake Speed Boat Club was formed the summer of the races so they could use the Club house during the power boat races. Many hours of volunteer labor were used to fix up the deteriorated house.
At the end of the summer of 1925 a big costume party was planned and it was tremendous success; it was called the “Pirates Ball.” This helped everybody’s spirits concerning the Club. During the winter many letters were written to the Golf Club Board as they had kept the property as the White Lake Yacht and Golf Club, to ask them for the release of the name and the property.
In June of 1926 plans had been laid for a Sailing School, Swimming School and a Summer Art School for the small children. A Junior organization was also started. Through donations by many including Sturdevent and Lewis, $9000.00 was raised to revive the Club. Business matters such as By-Laws and a Constitution were written. The wood pilings holding up the clubhouse were replaced with concrete piers during the summer of ’26. The Trophy room was repaired, a kitchen was added and new steps to the back of the clubhouse were an addition along with electric lights. Members had always come by boat before that time. The whole clubhouse was then rewired to make it more safe.
The Junior Yacht Club was was officially organized on July 14, 1928. With John Guerin named as Commodore and Harry Pillinger as Vice Commodore.
During the 30s sailboat racing was revived and gaff rigged “C” scows were raced on White Lake. We also had a fleet of Crescents ( a 13 1/2 foot sloop.) Also raced were 28 foot “E” scows and 38 foot “A” scows, with Marconi rigs being the preferred sail plan. The Western Michigan Yachting Association was formed in Muskegon in 1930, with WLYC being a charter member.
Until 1933 the first floor consisted of only the Trophy room and locker rooms. The west section where the anchor room is now was still used as a boat house. Until 1933 the Club House was only used on Saturday nights, but with the addition of the Anchor Room in 1933, more use would be seen. It took the effort of many members to build this room during those depression years.
During 1936-37 through the efforts of Yacht Club members, writing their Congressman etc. the Corps of Engineers rebuilt the piers through the channel into Lake Michigan.
A new dock and steel breakwater in front of the club, were built in the spring of 1941 under the direction of G.E.Dake Sr. then Commodore. It was installed by Love Construction of Muskegon. Dr. Leland E. Holly I and F.J. Lewis helped raise the $10,000 needed to pay for the construction.
The White Lake Yacht Club News, published by Clarence Pitkin from 1927 to 1961, by Wilfred Berman until 1967, and by Courtney Pitkin for its two final years, helped to keep everybody informed about the Club’s activities and maintained the interest in the Club. This publication became very expensive to produce and eventually evolved into the Mainsheet, first edited by Lloyd Colby for two years, and then by Irene Pierson until 1980, when Anne Dake took over until 1988, Stormy Weber edited for one year, and then Karen Getz became our editor.
During the late 50s and early 60s our racing fleets were “E” scows, “C” scows, “Y-Flyers” (designed by Past Commodore Alvin Youngquist) and Nippers. The National “E” scow regatta was held on White Lake in 1960 with 58 boats attending from all over the country. White Lake had a fleet of 21 “E’s” at this time, with several participating in that regatta.
In 1963, Fred Fischl suggested we build a pool for our young people as White Lake was becoming polluted. In 1965 with engineering and planning by Ned Dake and fund raising by Lee Holly II we built a pool by borrowing again from our membership with bonds. The swimming school program now had a weed free home. Stocky Holly was the director and she hired Jim “Red” Heeris as swim instructor. Jim continued as head instructor for over 30 years and was a real asset to our program.
In the late 60s Nippers gave way after much debate to Butterfly’s and the Club had a fleet for several years in the early 70s of near 50 boats with as many as 40 racing every Saturday. We have hosted four National Butterfly regattas to date. The “E” fleet was dwindling and the “C” fleet growing and it wasn’t long before we raced only 2 fleets, the Butterfly and the “C”.
1964 saw a very low water time for White Lake, you could stand on the bow of a “C” scow and your eyes were at the level of the main dock.
Lee Holly, Lloyd Colby and Bob Christie, along with several others purchased the house across the street so that we could have more land on the water and have a backup building in case anything happened to our building. The sale of this property on top of the hill allowed us to pay off many debts in 1988.
Earlier, Saturday Night Activities were dances, but in the 1970s attendance was dwindling, so dinner dances were begun. They were a popular addition to the social side of the club which included Ladies Bridge, the Commodore’s Ball and the continuation of the Pirates Ball.
In 1970 with our docks almost 40 years old Ned Dake took on the engineering and oversaw the construction of our present main dock, much as his father had done in 1940. In 1980 we built the Youngquist Sailing Dock. Allan Dake following in family tradition,supervised the construction and organized the Juniors to do the deck part of the construction.
With water levels coming up and the Club House slipping on its old footings Jack Orr and Harry Pillinger leveled up the house and poured new footings twice the size of the old ones to stabilize the structure.
A great deal of money had been spent to replace the docks and maintain the Club house. The membership expressed interest in purchasing our facility from the Golf Club, from which up to this time we had been leasing the Club for a dollar a year. Negotiations took place for several seasons and we purchased the property and Club House from the Golf Club in 1981 for $60,000.
The Dock renovation was completed in 1983 with the rebuilding of the outside “T” dock. Many volunteers put in countless hours on the construction, thereby saving the club many dollars.
The racing fleets began to change again. In 1978 Lasers were added to the fleets and in 1984 with the “C” scow becoming increasingly expensive and requiring a permanent crew the “MC” scow was adopted as our new fleet. In 1989 the “MC” fleet numbers 23 boats. We continued to race Butterflies, mostly for our junior members.
1986 found the Club House was in trouble with very high water and predictions of yet higher levels. The waves of White Lake regularly washed over the main dock and steel sea wall. During 1987, Commodore Jim Lindrup organize efforts to save the Club House from being washed away by overseeing the building of our new concrete sea wall, walkways and continuing the drainage system started by Harry Pillinger from the springs behind the club.
Through a major fund drive under Commodore Gerald Gill and the gifts of many members, we were able in 1988 to retire all debts relating to properties purchased, docks built, and the seawall project.
Our restrooms which were in poor shape for many years, finally were completely removed, redesigned and reconstructed in 1989 by Vice-Commodore Jim Duncan and Commodore Allan Dake.
During the early 90s the club experienced periods of high water and by 1999 found the water levels had receded close to the record low levels of 1964. The kitchen has been updated to commercial equipment with an ansel fire system. Our septic system was rebuilt in 1999 under Vice Commodore Jon Penn.
Our Yacht Club News was revived but proved too costly to continue so we have reverted back to the Mainsheet Format at this time.
In 2002 we had our first woman Commodore in Pamela Kerr.
2003 was our 100th aniversary of the founding of the club and was celebrated by many activities during one week at the club. The Muskegon County Museum also had a year long showing of photographs and historical artifacts at the museum.
We remodeled the anchor room food prep and storage area during the winter of ’03 and ’04 to better serrve our members. We dredged the outer basin to 7 feet deep to accomodate the larger slips and we installated a floating dock system in the inner basin for our members with power boats on lifts.
Today in addition to the racing schedule, the Club Activities continue to include active Swim School and Sailing School programs, Junior Yacht Club, Ladies Bridge, Sailor’s Lunch and Saturday Night dinner dances & parties. We are a diverse Club with 300 member families who all help to make our Club what it is – a grand place to enjoy summers at White Lake.
Many White Lake Yacht Club members over the years have given countless hours of their time to make the Club what it is today. It would have been impossible to mention everyone who has contributed, but we tried to give a flavor of major happenings in the Club’s history and the people who organized a particular project. This history was summarized from a “History of WLYC” c.1975 by Courtney Pitkin our Club Historian at the time.
For a more complete view of our history you may want to purchase the book “Looking Aft” published for our 100th aniversary in 2003 by Dan Yakes. This 400 page, hardback book contains over 100 photographs and is available in several stores in Whitehall and Montague, or from Dan himself.