Competitive sailing in the Twin Cities dates back well before the turn of the century. Saint Joseph was truly a maritime port. Although Lake Michigan was a source of work and prosperity for the Twin Cities community, the nature of youth usually turns any endeavor to sport.
One native, Louis Upton, fondly known by young people as “Uncle Lou”, fostered the sport among the youth in the community. Summer Sundays at the Upton residence were often a day of sport and recreation. None of this was lost on his sons, and particularly teenage Phil Upton. Philip Quentin Upton was born November 11, 1918 at St. Joseph, Michigan and died April 12, 1939 at Annandale on the Hudson, New York. Phil learned to sail a cape cod dory as a boy scout at summer camp on nearby Lake Madron. It was a passion he learned to master.
Meanwhile, Phil found more enthusiasts at nearby Paw Paw Lake Yacht Club, one of the oldest Yacht Clubs in the Midwest, and in 1932 the St Joe/Paw Paw Lake Star Fleet was chartered, and graduated to sailing Olympic Class Stars. He sailed Snipes at Camp Madron at the age of 13, and sailed Stars the following year. In 1935, at the age of 16, he won the Great Lakes Junior Championship as well as the Great Lakes Star Championship on Lake Erie. The following year he took second place in the Great Lakes Junior Championship and tied for second place in the Great Lakes Star Championship on Lake Erie. In 1938 he won the Michigan Star Championship.
Phil and his father Uncle Lou converted many younger friends to his passion and the joy of sailing, including two present members of the Saint Joseph Junior Foundation Board, John Parrett and Bill Campbell. They made their boats available to all youngsters who showed interest. John and Bill both remain on our Board.
Shorty Osborn, an industrial arts teacher at the local High School was a shipwright and maintenance man who looked after the Upton boats. As an aside, and due to his natural generosity, he taught the kids how to scrape and caulk a hull, how to use tools and how to put on a coat of paint. Legend has it that Lou Upton stopped at the spar house daily on his way home for lunch to see how Phil and the boys were doing. These kids had unwittingly created their own sailing club, here at the site of the Saint Joseph Junior Foundation.
Phil, by age 17, won the Great Lakes Championship Star series, defeating skippers twice his age and many fold his experience. He repeated the feat in 1937, bringing national recognition to his home fleet and harbor.
Tragically, when Phil returned to college in the spring of 1939, taking his new frostbite dinghy, Phil and two friends were lost to the frigid waters of the Hudson.
Instead of resenting the sport that cost their son his life, Phil’s parents converted their grief into a continued interest in sailing as a memorial to him. Gradually, a project began to take shape in their minds. What they wanted to do was establish a program that would perpetually do what Shorty Osborn and Phil Upton did for so many.
Although World War II interrupted progress towards that goal, by 1950 Louis Upton, with his attorney, set down on paper preliminary plans for his envisioned Foundation. Then unexpectedly in 1952 Louis Upton died. But the respect and admiration for Louis and Phil lived on.
When those to whom he had entrusted his dream recovered from the shock of their loss they immediately set about making his dreams a reality. His other son, Bob Upton, incorporated the Saint Joseph Junior Foundation February 20, 1952.
Bill Campbell, a protégé of Phil Upton, was the program’s first Director. A teacher during the school year at the time, Bill has been known to say that the Junior Foundation was Uncle Lou’s idea, and the first directorship was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Bill started with a couple of old boats. They had so many kids that he had to hire another instructor and it just kept growing from there. That was 1954.
In 1955, Gary Sisson, another present Board Member was hired as an instructor. By 1960 Gary had moved up to Director, taking the position formerly held by Bill Campbell. A tradition of “Growing our own instructors” was born. These were years with hundreds of students. Kids spent all summer at the Foundation. During these years Shorty Osborn’s Spar House was torn down and the foundation simply operated out of the corner docks. Gary has been known to comment “We just had a couple of old wooden boats that leaked terribly. We named one of the boats the Sieve. During Gary’s tenure the foundation moved to fiberglass Sprites and Skipjacks. Gary eventually left the directorship for military service. Gary too, still sits on our Board.
As time went on, the Junior Foundation moved to more competitive fiberglass boats, and children of the first staff become more competitive. John Campbell, Peter Skinner and Mike Gast won the Sears Cup Elimination in Chicago and qualified for district and regional competition.
The Junior Foundation has a long history of “Growing our own Instructors”. Interested students tend to hang around after their classes are over and end up helping the instructors with other classes. We call them “Sailing Bum’s’ for lack of a better term. Once these “Bum’s” gain more experience with the children they graduate to Assistant Instructors and then to full term Instructors. Many have gone on to the Director Level. Current Board members Ken Zimmerman, Liz Glendening and Jeff Alisch were Instructors during the late ’60s and early ’70s, and President Mike Kinney was a former Program Director.
Our staff today came through the program. We challenge our Staff to identify those individual sailors who are potential instructors and encourage those children along that path.
While our original By-Laws defined our purpose in general terms and reads as follows:
“The purpose of the Foundation is to receive and administer monies or property, real, personal or mixed, for the physical mental and moral training and development of boys and girls and/or any activity by the Trustees desirable for human betterment, with full power to use and dispose of any such funds and property for the purpose aforesaid.”
Our mission has evolved today to read:
“To provide sailing and water safety instruction to youth and adults at a reasonble price, and to provide a safe, fun environment in which they can learn and appreciate our natural resources, the waters of Saint Joseph, Michigan.”