There are a dozen good reasons to celebrate the Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame these days, as the exclusive list of honorees has risen to 12 in 2012 with the induction of Tony Mollica, Ken MacStephen and the Antique Boat Museum.
"We're extremely pleased to welcome Tony, Ken and the Antique Boat Museum into the Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame," said Hagerty Classic Marine Insurance founder Louise Hagerty. "So many people have positively impacted the classic wooden boat lifestyle, and a tradition of excellence continues with the Class of 2012."
Past inductees include Bob Speltz, Dick Clarke and the Antique and Classic Boat Society (ACBS) in 2009; Lou Rauh, Jim Shotwell and the father-son duo of Norm and Jim Wangard in 2010; and Chris Smith, Al Shinnerer and Chuck Miklos in 2011.
New honorees will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame at the ACBS International Meeting in Table Rock Lake, Mo., in late September.
When Tony Mollica supported the induction of fellow author Bob Speltz in 2009, he had no idea he would join his late friend in the Hall of Fame just a few years later.
"I'm absolutely delighted," Mollica said. "I have a lot of respect for the people who've already been selected, and I'm honored to be part of that group."
Mollica, 80, has vivid memories of his first boating experience while growing up in Syracuse, N.Y. A friend of his father's bought a 1938 Chris-Craft and invited the family for a ride on nearby Oneida Lake, and Mollica was hooked – at age 6. Seven years later, shortly after the end of World War II in 1945, his family bought a boat of their own.
"We had a Chris-Craft on order, but it was never delivered," Mollica said. "It was right after the war, and there were a lot of delays, so my father bought a 1940 Gar Wood Utility that had been in storage. It was virtually brand new. For me, that kicked off a great deal of interest in Gar Woods."
That interest was fueled when Mollica attended the 1947 New York Boat Show, where Gar Wood exhibited a new line of boats for the last time. "As kids do, I picked up as many brochures as I could, and I started collecting them," Mollica said. "It became a real treasure and also was a big help when I began to write."
Mollica, who is also skilled at model-boat building, taught high school history and was later an adjunct professor of communication at State University of New York. He co-founded the Gar Wood Society in the 1970s and became a clearinghouse of information about the marque, so when a publisher asked him to write a book, he agreed. Histories of Chris-Craft and Dodge boats followed. "And just like that, I was an author."
The most recent of Mollica's 11 books, "Building Chris-Craft: Inside the Factories," was co-authored with fellow Hall of Famer Chris Smith, whose grandfather founded Chris-Craft in the early 1900s. The book, a culmination of three years of work, was published in 2010. While Mollica has no plans for book No. 12, he continues to author a weekly column for the Thousand Islands Sun newspaper, focusing on boats of the St. Lawrence River. For more than 20 years, Mollica has also served as a trustee at the Antique Boat Museum, where his collection of Gar Wood reference material now resides.
"More than anything else, it has been my strong desire to share the information I've found," Mollica said. "Whether it's through books, the museum or face to face, I want to make it available to anyone who can use it."
Mollica and his wife, Elizabeth, have three grown children – Mary, Margaret and Tony, Jr. – who share their dad's love for classic boats.
Ken MacStephen has won practically every award the Antique and Classic Boat Society hands out, from chapter honors to national awards to international merit. So his induction into the Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame wasn't a matter of "if" as much as a matter of "when."
"I've been around a bit," the 71-year-old MacStephen said of his involvement in the classic wooden boat community. "I've been fortunate to meet a lot of people, make a lot of friends and see a lot of beautiful places. Receiving recognition for doing something you enjoy – that's a bonus."
MacStephen grew up on a farm in Canada but gravitated toward the local marina on Lake Ontario's Picton Bay.
"I loved to watch the races," he said. "I didn't own (a boat), but I loved them."
That was the extent of MacStephen's involvement until his brother-in-law, the late Don Thomas, invited him to go to a boat show. MacStephen had so much fun that he threw out a suggestion – phrased in the form of a question – that changed his life: "Why don't we do this in Toronto?"
Before long, MacStephen and friends did just that, forming the ACBS Toronto Chapter in 1980.
"We started in debt, but a member gave us $4,000 and we were off," he said. "We've been successful because we've had good people and no politics. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that this is not a business. It's supposed to be fun, so loosen up a bit and enjoy it."
A year after the Toronto Chapter was formed, MacStephen finally acquired his first boat, a 1911 W.H. Mullins Launch.
"I was 40 at the time and my kids were young, so they grew up on that boat," MacStephen said of his children, Georgianna (now 41) and Jay (now 39). "Still have it. We've used it every year since."
It should come as no surprise then that MacStephen hates to see classic boats become trailer queens. "We always used ours because that's what they were built for," he said.
MacStephen, who is a member of the ACBS Toronto Honour Roll, said he is proud of his efforts with the chapter, which now has 1,400 members. He is a past president and has served on the board of directors, but after 32 years he is slowing down a bit.
"I'm not as involved as I used to be," said MacStephen, who had a career as a retirement counselor before retiring himself. "I've been going to the Clayton (Antique Boat) Show since 1979, and I just got back from that. So I'm still out and about. But this is my swan song."
ANTIQUE BOAT MUSEUM
How do you become North America's premier freshwater nautical museum? One day, one step, one boat at a time – along with a heavy dose of like-minded and equally motivated people. That's the story of the Antique Boat Museum, which in the nearly 50 years since it opened has become a must-see destination for anyone who loves the beauty and history of wooden boats.
Not coincidentally, the museum is now one of the newest members of the Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame.
"We're very proud of what the Antique Boat Museum has become, and we're extremely honored to be part of the Hall of Fame," said Fritz Hager, who had been an ABM board member for 22 years prior to recently being named Executive Director. "The interest in it has been overwhelming. And it couldn't have happened without a lot of great people."
Located on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, N.Y., about 95 miles north of Syracuse, the ABM began with a casual boat show during summer 1964 and evolved into a museum the following year. It grew with the purchase of an abandoned shipyard in the early 1970s, changed its name from the Thousand Islands Shipyard Museum in 1992, and now houses more than 300 historically significant wooden boats in three buildings (the main campus and two storage facilities) that encompass nearly 100,000 square feet and 4½ acres.
Among the wide array of boats, motors and artifacts on display are two iconic vessels built by New York's Hutchinson Boat Works: Pardon Me, the world's largest wooden runabout (48 feet), which was designed by John Hacker in 1948 and has a PT engine that gives it the ability to reach speeds of up to 60 mph; and Wild Goose, a 40-foot mahogany classic that was built in 1915 and enjoyed a glorious life as a water taxi for generations of the famous Dodge family.
Unique to the museum are a half-dozen boats that offer visitors an opportunity to enjoy a ride in a classic vessel. On selected days, visitors can also take a behind-the-scenes tour of the boats in storage. And military families are treated to a day of their own, free of charge.
"We're always trying to come up with ways to make then museum more interactive," Hager said. "We want people to feel like they've really experienced these boats, not just saw them."
Look for more photos and a video about the honorees at www.hagertymarine.com/HOF
To find out more about Hagerty's Classic Boat Insurance, click here.