OSCODA – If there’s a river, chances are Norm Brown paddled it.
“I rowed everything,” he said. “I have been to Canada. Some lakes too, but not necessarily by choice.
Brown is 92 and no longer paddles, but he did in the 1950s.
“I’m an old fart. I’m just not on the monument because I’m not dead yet!
On the monument, he pointed to name after name he knew.
“This one, this one, this one…”
There were a lot of “that one” that Brown knew coming through. He was here to commemorate his paddling buddies at the Canoer Memorial on Saturday, September 11, on a balmy afternoon. Goodies, a tent and a loudspeaker for the ceremony were installed.
The memorial is set up for people to go through a list of people who have climbed the monument. Each deceased person had their turn to reflect on their life and ask group members to share stories about what they remember about them.
Cloudy and occasional showers did not deter people as they were in their element. Water and woods are the nature of the sport after all.
The requirement to access the Canoer’s Memorial is to paddle and complete the Ausable River Canoe Marathon (ARCM) and have someone notify the Michigan Canoe Racing Association (MCRA) Memorial Canoe Monument Committee ) so that he can vote on the name.
“Some of these guys did it in the 1960s. You have to do some research to confirm,” Rick Gillings said. The records may have been kept differently or lost, so the committee needs to look up the submitted names.
“Once we know for sure, yes, you continue,” Gillings said.
This year, 11 canoeists were honored and three laureates as well.
The winners were people who did not necessarily complete the ARCM, but who were instrumental in making it happen
René Bellemare was a paddler who completed the ARM in 1957. He placed eighth that year.
He has paddled races in Manitoba, Minnesota, Michigan and Quebec. He was the head coach of Quebec at the Centennial Canoe Race across Canada. He has also worked with the Canadian government in the field of canoeing.
Richard Kloss has paddled more than 10 ARCMs, making him an Iron Paddler. He started paddling in 1993 and quit in 2014 with his son Rick at the age of 73.
In 1991, he completed a 42-mile swim across Lake Huron.
David Skillman completed the ARCM in 1958, finishing fifth with Tim Halcro.
His family attended the memorial ceremony. His daughter-in-law, Angela Skillman, said: “It makes me proud to be his daughter-in-law. He was always in his canoe or on his bike.
Skillman has been a dedicated athlete all his life.
Wanye Stockton was a paratrooper with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He rowed the ARCM between 1972 and 1985 and finished the bottom three.
“He was an old-fashioned badass,” said his son, Brett Stockton.
Wayne consumed cigars, but did not smoke them. Instead, he ate them and swallowed the tobacco.
Once, Brett remembers his father falling in the ice while ice fishing.
“He pushed his way out and was so determined to fish that he walked 30 feet, dug a hole and started fishing. They don’t make guys like that anymore.
William Adams served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. In the 1960s through 1970s, Adams finished in the ARCM’s top eight seven times.
In 1964, Adams paddled 500 miles in the Texas Water Safari, earning second place.
Charles Furtaw was an eccentric guy who was friends with Ed Wojahn.
“He went to the movies every night. It didn’t matter if it was the same movie every night, he went to see it. He never owned a car, I should drive him to Bay City,” Wojahn said.
Wojhan and Furtaw were roommates at Bay City Junior College.
“He would tell people ‘he’s my bed mate.’ He got a kick out of it. Before, it embarrassed me.”
Furtaw finished the ARCM in 1961 in fifth place.
Tom Gilderlseeve has paddled the ARCM seven times. He placed first in 1956.
He helped start a ministry called the “Hardy Able Construction Crew”, securing over 5,000 jobs with over 3,000 wheelchair ramps built. He won the Jefferson Prize for the State of Florida for his efforts.
Kenny Wojahn completed the ARCM in 1959. He rode his canoe on his Volkswagen Beetle.
Wojahn was still on the lake, breaking his fingers on the canoe and continuing to paddle.
“Kenny and I have been trapped in the woods together since we were kids,” Ed said.
Ed remembers when they raced from Lake Burt to Mackinac in Northern Michigan. They ended up in the shipping lane and were towed to shore by the Coast Guard.
Ronald Raynak was known for his “questionable hunting tactics”, as his grandson described it.
He fished, hunted, smoked meat and made maple syrup.
He completed ARCM once in 1963 and again in 1967. He was involved with MCRA, helping to build the monument.
Dale Newton helped start a race in the Cass River at Vassar. It lasted 37 years.
Tim Newton, his son, remembers a time when Dale wanted him to go canoeing in February. The river was high and the current so turbulent that they went overboard near the start.
“His hand was already frozen. His other hand was fidgeting in his pocket until he pulled out his keys and said to me, “Go get the truck.”
Dale Newton finished the ARCM in 1984 in third place.
John Hazel was a canoe designer credited with designing the C-4 canoe.
His wife, Sharon Hazel, remembers him trying to convince her to start paddling.
“I’m like, ‘where are you going to the bathroom?’ He says, “We just pee in the boat and splash it,” and I’m like, “no!”
Hazel spent hours designing canoes in an effort to design her own. He would run simulations on his home computer for hours to design the optimal canoe.
He completed the ARCM in 2014, finishing in 56th place.
Jerry Lamotte was a laureate who stood out for his involvement in the MCRA. He participated in the committee, registering paddlers when they came to town and distributing jerseys.
Bruce Myles was a photographer who took a picture of every paddler who completed the ARCM. His photographs covered decades of ARCM history, helping people follow participants over the years.
Helen “Sylvia” Curley Harmon has been described as the “backbone” of the ARCM for many years.
She worked on all aspects of the marathon, making sure everything that needed to be done was done.