Corvallis Aqua-Thusiasts Fund

A speeding racer rounds the curve, heading toward the finish line on the Willamette River, where Aqua-Thusiasts held race events.In the early 1950s, an energetic group of water lovers joined forces to create a club especially for boaters. Jim Monroe, Ralph Wheeler, Larry Underwood, and Dick Chase were instrumental in getting the Aqua-Thusiasts together. Other founding members included Howdy Murray, Ken Baney, Ted Stewart, Bob Brownell, Don Wilson, Dick Keeny, Bill Troxel, and Bob Robinson. The purpose of the group, from Section 1 of the organization’s bylaws, was as follows:

…to serve the interest of water enthusiasts, to defend such American sportsmen against discriminatory legislation and burdensome taxation, to prevent the pollution of the country’s water, to stimulate greater interest in boating among all the citizens in the area served by the club. To develop a fraternal spirit among local outdoor enthusiasts, to provide a medium for exchange of boating information, to own or lease property for club uses, to develop adequate boat storage and dock facilities and to do all other things which will stand to serve present owners of boating equipment and to further interest in boating and other water sports…

The family-oriented group attracted people from all walks of life. It sponsored races on the Willamette and traveled to Devils Lake, Triangle Lake, Astoria’s Cullaby Lake, and Ten-Mile Lake near Coos Bay to participate in similar events with clubs from across the state. The boats they raced varied from utility runabouts to the long, sleek “pumpkin seeds,” built solely for speed on the water. Waterskiing was also a favorite club activity. In 1959, to celebrate the state centennial, the club built docks on the Willamette and staged an impressive night parade with decorated boats.

Each year the cities of Albany, Corvallis, and Lebanon arranged an Inter-City Fun Day Race, which drew tremendous crowds along the banks of the river during the hot days of summer. On race days, the club’s boathouse became a concession stand where the racers and spectators could buy breakfast or a hot dog and soft drink. Another annual event was the Commodore’s Ball, at which new officers were installed. Members from sister clubs in neighboring towns would turn out for the fancy affair that filled the fairgrounds building for a midnight potluck and dancing until dawn.

In the early 1970s, the club enjoyed a membership of some 150 active boaters. The group had both social and sporting interests, often organizing overnight cruises down river to Salem, where they met with members of the Salem club. When the Salem club reciprocated the visit, one might see as many as twenty-two big cruisers tied up to the Corvallis docks.

More than once, members of the Aqua-Thusiasts Club saved the life of a swimmer caught in the strong currents of the Willamette. The members lobbied actively for the clean-up of the Willamette River and helped in the effort to remove stumps and gravel bars. The organization also assumed the sponsorship of a Sea Scouts group, which promoted water safety as well as sportsmanship. The Sea Scouts helped the Aqua-Thusiasts, too, serving as the official flag-raisers for the club’s races.

The club’s boathouse, a wooden barge complete with a kitchen and meeting room, was moored for many years along the Willamette River where Michael’s Landing is now located. During a flood in the early 1970s, the boathouse washed downriver and was sunk beyond reclamation. This event eventually led to the demise of the club. Without the center around which to organize activities and gather as friends, club members slowly drifted away.

Meanwhile, the club had purchased some land south of the boat building. When the club disbanded and sold the property in 1978, the remaining officers decided to use the profit to support water-related charitable gifts. After donating eight fully equipped canoes to the Explorer Scouts, others to the Boy Scouts, and a $3,000 dock to the Girl Scouts at Camp Whispering Winds, the members established an Endowed Fund with BCF to benefit Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.