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In the early 1980s, Paul Bosnich Jr. and Todd Brinkman Jr. went to the DePue Jaycees and pitched a crazy idea.
After seeing the PRO National Championship boat races contested in DePue from 1965-74, the two proposed bringing the event back to the recently-drudged Lake DePue and having the Jaycees — which a few years later became the DePue Men’s Club — organize and run the week-long event.
“There were a bunch of guys who didn’t really know what to expect, and some of the guys were really hesitant,” Bosnich Jr. said.
Was this group of late 20-somethings and 30 year olds really ready to play host to the week-long pinnacle of boat racing?
“We were very much afraid,” DePue Men’s Club president Steve Solorio recalls. “We ran a U.S. Title Series race the year before and that was just a two-day race and we thought, ‘Boy, that was a lot of work.’”
Despite their reservations, the group accepted the challenge and in 1984 the PRO National Championship boat races returned to Lake DePue.
Little did they know, it would be the first of a three-decade voyage.
Thirty years after bringing the races back to DePue, the DePue Men’s Club is still behind the event and this weekend the club is celebrating 30 consecutive years of organizing and running the Lake DePue PRO National Championships, which begin Friday and continue through Sunday.
“It’s a neat accomplishment for our men’s club,” said Eric Bryant, the race’s publicity chairman and the DePue village president. “It’s no easy task, but we’ve received a lot of help. It just hasn’t been the men’s club. This is a whole community effort. The men’s club sponsors it, but if it wasn’t for all the people who have pitched in over the years it wouldn’t have happened. It’s a community thing more than it is the men’s club.”
The DePue Men’s Club’s efforts to bring back the nationals added to Lake DePue’s history of racing, which began as far back as the 1930s when the DePue Boat Club ran races from 1932-61, according to DePue Men’s Club Treasure John Widmar Jr.
The PRO Nationals were later held in DePue from 1965-74 before leaving due to unsafe lake conditions.
However, in the early 1980s, the lake was drudged and was deemed safe to race again in 1982.
Two years later, the event returned to Lake DePue with the support of the town, the racers and past organizers.
“(Past organizers) told us, ‘You guys can pull this off. There’s no reason why you can’t,’ and I think that helped us realize that we could do it because I think there was a lot of pessimism in a lot of our minds that we couldn’t pull it off,” Solorio said. “After that first year, however, we all looked at each other like, ‘How in the heck did they ever pull this thing off for so many years?’
“We couldn’t believe it because we were all young and in our 20s and 30s, but we were shot. But year after year we just kept saying, ‘We’ll do it again. We’ll do it again,’ and over the years it seemed to get better and better and easier. The days are long, it’s a long week and we all get tired, but it’s all worth it.” After a few learning years, the races have prospered.
“We were a bunch of young guys back then, and it was just a year-to-year thing,” Bryant said of the early days. “We didn’t know if we were going to have the money. We had to borrow money at the start and that was a scary thing, but it worked out. We had a couple of years where we had bad weather and it was really hot and we didn’t make much money. There were times where we thought, ‘The heck with it. It may not be worth it,’ but we stuck with it and we’re all glad we did.”
The amazing thing is that 30 years later the same core group is still behind the races, but most are now in their late 50s and their 60s.
“We’re really proud of the fact that this is still going on,” Widmar Jr. said. “It’s amazing that the same guys are still doing it, and now, some of the kids who weren’t even born (30 years ago) are starting to inch in and begin to take things over. But to have this thing continue for 30 years, to think back about it all, it’s just unbelievable. Thirty years is a long time — it’s half my life. We just have a great bunch of guys.”
Over the past 30 years, the races have come to help shape the identity of the town and have brought racers from Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada to DePue.
Over the 30 years, the DePue Men’s Club also has given back as it has donated more than $400,000 to DePue and to area causes.
“DePue has become the favorite place for everyone for the type of boat racing that you see here in DePue,” Bryant said. “These people race all over the country, but this is their favorite place to come. There’s great water, rarely is there awful weather and the racers don’t receive a reception or see the number of people come to the races like they do here. DePue is known nationwide and worldwide as a great place to come and race.”
Thanks to 30 years of hard work.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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