The Heber Yachtsman Merit Trophy

Commodore Steve Harris – September, 2012

As fall approaches, we can look back on another successful year at BLYC and, perhaps, reflect on just how truly wonderful it is to have such a fun, friendly place to share our passion for boating with others of the same mindset.  But, as you know, the 100+ year history of the Club would not be possible without the tireless dedication of the countless members who provide not only service to the Club, but also an example for the rest of us of what it truly means to be a “yachtsman.”  At the annual meeting each year, some of these individuals are recognized for their efforts.  Our Club has two trophies awarded annually to such people: The Heber Yachtsman Merit Trophy and the Commodore Gustav Schell Award, “The Gussie.”  While many of us know Gus and his example which recipients of the “Gussie” typify, not too many people know the story behind the Heber Trophy.

One might assume that an award of such significance would be named for a Past Commodore of the Club, perhaps a great leader who carried us through a particularly rough time, a championship sailor, or one who went on from BLYC to serve boating in some national capacity.  Not at all.  Reg Heber was a very active member of the Club in the 1930’s and 40’s and, although he did serve on the Board of Governors, he only served one year (1942-43) and was never Commodore.

Reginald F. Heber was a successful Columbus printer.  A graduate of the Ohio State University, in the late teens and early 1920’s, he gained particular notoriety as the leader of a popular dance orchestra in Columbus.  It was Reg Heber who first envisioned, and subsequently dedicated and presented the Yachtsman Merit Trophy to the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club.  It was, and continues to be, the highest recognition our Club bestows upon one of its members.  However, he only lived to see it presented once – in 1942 – the same day on which Reg Heber was elected to the Board of Governors.  And that, as Paul Harvey would say, brings us to “the rest of the story…”

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 17, 1943 there was a large gathering at BLYC with over 200 in attendance.  As part of the festivities, Commodore Clarence E. Smith (1940-41) was giving rides on the lake in his speedboat.  As later reported by the Newark Advocate, a combination of choppy waters on the lake and water in the bottom of the boat led to a tragic capsize at around 4:15 pm.  Six of the eight persons aboard drowned, only Commodore Smith and one passenger, Miss Imogene Hughes, survived.  Four of the six victims were recovered in short time, yet two remained missing for several days.  Among the missing was Dr. Francis Keck, also a BLYC member and good friend of Reg Heber.  The search effort included Deputies from Fairfield & Licking Counties, State Park Officers, and countless volunteers, including Reg Heber – tirelessly searching for the body of his departed friend.  As a result of countless hours on and in the water in the cool, autumn temperatures, he contracted pneumonia and, within a few short weeks, Heber also lost his life.

Dr. Keck’s body was finally recovered on Sunday, October 24 at 4:15 pm – one week to the hour after the tragic accident – by volunteers from the Firefighters Protective Association and the Franklin County Red Cross.
The Heber Yachtsman Merit Trophy is given annually to a member who best displays the merits of Seamanship, Sportsmanship, and Character.  One cannot question the character of the man for whom this trophy is named.  His example of fidelity and friendship, of self-sacrifice and unselfish effort, if only from this single example, certainly adds to the value of this distinguished award.

As has been done every year since 1942, the Commodore will again present this coveted award at the conclusion of the Club’s Annual Membership Meeting – Sunday, September 16 at 2:00 pm.  See you there!



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