I wish had the answer as to why the Willard J. Hanmer Memorial Race, first run on July 4th, 1963, and hitting age 50 in 2013, is just hanging on for dear life.
There are many answers, all of which are really guesses, not answers; so here are excerpts as part of an answer as reported in a "Play-by-Play" column (1967) in the Enterprise, written by our pal and longtime sports editor of the Press-Republican, Bob Goetz:
"The forthcoming fifth edition of the Willard Hanmer boat races will be a big success this year, and if anyone should be singled out for exceptional work above and beyond the call of duty, it would have to be Bill McLaughlin.
ADE June 24, 1964 — McLaughlin photo and caption
"Bill, as the prime means of promotion through the news media, is unsurpassed in serving the publicity needs of the Hanmer Regatta. (Pay attention now) Publicity is a chief factor in the success of anything, whether business or entertainment. Without the proper advertisement, the public is unaware. No one person, not even the competitors themselves, knows the rules, the course and the past history of the race better than Bill." (It was his idea that established the races.)
People made it happen
The Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce was sponsor of the races, and within the chamber was a diverse, aggressive Sports Council. Here are the names of the movers and shakers, as published before the seventh annual Willard Hanmer Memorial in 1969:
"Board of directors: Reginald W. Perras, President; Brian Hanlon, Vice President; Chester L. Beeman, Treasurer; Douglas Baryshaw, Executive Secretary; Joseph Reilly, Past President; and including Al Dreyfuss, William Sweeney, John Munn, Nita Savoca, Dr. George Hodson, Fred Herbert, Clifford McCormick and Joseph Evans.
"Sports Council Members: Reg Perras, Chairman; Dick Gladd, Angus Voudren, Dale Huyck, Jerry Branch, Howard Ellithorpe, Carl Hathaway, Ed Duso, Marty Watson, Frank Houck, Henry Favro, Francis Gladd and Dick Bomyea.
"Special Mention: Philmore P. Hyde, James F. Rogers III, Keela Rogers, Gary LeFebre, Bill Wallace, Edward Betters, Charles DeLancett, Harry E. Duso, Jr., Dick Demerse, Lucien Miron, Ray Willette, Hazelee Durgan, the Saranac Lake Police Department, the New York State Police, the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club, the Women's Civic Chamber, the Saranac Lake Rotary Club, Frank Buck, Jr., Adirondack Awards, Linda Walker and Joan Perras."
Today, try and find 40 or 50 people of the caliber of those mentioned on the chamber rolls back then. Try telling Tom Cantwell (who was a power behind the races) or Marty Watson or Howard Ellithorpe or Dale Huyck or a number of others that something couldn't be done Then you had better get out of the way.
Maybe the big push should be kayaks leading the race because that sport just keeps growing and growing. Maybe not so many people want to put their valuable guideboats in the race. Maybe people like entering the footraces that seem to be everywhere, every weekend, and they don't care about canoes or guideboats. Maybe the history of the Willard is just that history. It'll never be revived by paddling in a circle around Lake Flower.
A huge event
Bob Seidenstein said it all in this space last week: "It was a huge town event, second only to Winter Carnival, and aside from having lots of entries, it had literally thousands of spectators around Lake Flower, on the various bridges and then, of course, at the Fish & Game Club."
Now I must very gently alter a couple of points made by Bob in an ex-parte communication he had with Steve Morgan, who took part in the races back then.
Mickey Luce was my partner in those races in our slick, 18-foot aluminum Starcraft canoe (tin can) sponsored by Moody's Marina. We trained running up and down the St. Pius football field with the canoe on our shoulders and by running around Moody Pond. I'm sure nobody cares about this but me, but too bad.
The races did not start at today's boat launch site on Lake Flower but at Baldwin Park where the tennis courts are located. Steve Morgan with Dick Merkel, not Bernie Kentile as Steve recalls, were the team (in an aluminum canoe) that happened to draw the number to start the race ahead of us. It was a Leman's racing start, at one-minute intervals.
Bob writes, "Steve and Bernie pulled way ahead of Howard and Mickey right from the start." Of course, Steve and Dick did pull way ahead They started a minute ahead of us!!!
I am sure Steve is remembering the race with Bernie Kentile as his partner, and in that race they did break a paddle and lose at the end to someone - but they didn't lose to Luce and Riley.
So again, agreeing with Bob, he writes: "According to Ecclesiastes (no doubt a Paul Smith's College alum), the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong." Steve Morgan was a strong man, and so was Mickey Luce and in that race we did make up the minute head start they had on us. We passed them just before the finish line, and they did not break a paddle in that race. Our big canoe glided over the water with the bow riding high like its nose in the air while Morgan & Merkel were in a short 14-footer riding so low in the water it looked like it was sinking. The big canoe gave us the advantage.
Happy birthday, Jack
Now I saw my good friend Steve Morgan last Sunday at a big birthday bash for Jack Lawless. He was the first in a long line of speakers just roasting and toasting Jack on his 80th, which is not actually until September. Steve was the funniest, telling about the days when he and Jack coached high school basketball. He said they got on the bus in Potsdam one night after a game when Steve first met Jack. He asked Jack a question and never got to say another word. But he said he was never bored and that those were the best years of his coaching career.