Eight Bells: Suzi Reese

Published on June 29th, 2020

Suzi Reese

Suzi Reese, Commodore for the Inland Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) in 1997-98, passed away on June 27. She had returned this spring from her annual trek to Florida and became ill in April. In less than two months she became gravely ill with heart problems and was found in her home on Long Lake (IL) at nearly 73 years.

Suzi was the ILYA’s first female Commodore, earning her way up the ILYA ladder with sheer love and dedication to the sport. She was a commodore who understood and promoted the benefits of the member as this organization grew and developed.

Additionally, she was integral to the strength we see today in our youth fleets. She was an original member of the ILYA Optimist Committee when this organization decided to give those boats a trial. She confidently hosted the first USODA Nationals in the Midwest at Lake Geneva. Suzi developed the ILYA Youth Development Committee and it was under Suzi’s leadership the youth discount was born.

One of her accomplishments was to serve alongside Fritz Ruf as the two orchestrated the fabulous ILYA Centennial regatta at Oshkosh under the local chairmanship of present Commodore Beth Wyman. It was Suzi who cheer-led the Hodgsons to accept the challenge of our Centennial book. She was the production editor with Castle Pierce while Tom and Michelle Hodgson were the historical editors.

Suzi was a member during her life at Pistakee, Long Lake, and Lake Geneva. She served on the USODA Board and ran for office at US Sailing.

On the water, her participation was as an MC skipper. She and her daughters rarely missed a Western Michigans. She held Michigan in her heart to the very end. The MC Midwinters were a regular stop for Suzi and her two MC daughters, Katie Bandstra and Kelly Hirn. She continued to sail on her home lake of Long Lake, IL and could not wait to return to the water this year.

She was out watching the home lake races on her final morning. She cheered on Andrew Ringa as he took her boat to the racecourse this season. Suzi was also active in race committee work.

She worked over 25 No Tears Junior fleets. She is a recipient of the Ed Malone Trophy. With a sly bit of devilment in her heart, she would hoist every flag in the flagbag at the end of the last race of a No Tears to throw a “party” for the sailors – drove some more stalwart RC officials crazy. All the more fun for Reese.

Jeff Baker followed her as ILYA Commodore and in his inimitable way, he declared his commodoreship as a “restore to order”. Baker said today, “Suzi was so much fun and worked so tirelessly for the ILYA in any capacity. We spent meetings and car rides to Minnesota with nothing but laughs. I am happy to say that I don’t believe that I ever got on her wrong side, and the fear of ending up there was probably good. I was very fortunate to be a part of the Suzi Reese era. It was a special time”.

Dr. Tom Hodgson was equally moved today: “This is so sad, and yet the memories are so warm. As we all have joked, from time to time, each Commodore has their own signature, and despite Jeff’s tongue-in-cheek ‘return to order’ when Suzi became a Past Commodore, Suzi’s signature was the loving way she gave real legitimacy to the kids of the Inland—the X and Opti kids.

“Remember the 30-page Xploits? It took the first woman Commodore, and a true mom, to do this… I don’t think I judged a single regatta during the Suzi Reese era, where I didn’t get a handwritten thank you note. What a good heart. And that laugh. Not sure that even Lou Morgan had that much more fun than Suzi. And she found the strength to be online for our recent critical Board meeting. One of a kind, to be sure. Rest in love and peace, barefoot girl.”

There was never a moment where she was not pushing us all to work to our limits for the Inland Lake Yachting Association. She had endless energy but was inclusive of all the aspects and the classes of the organization.

Jim Smith (ILYA Executive Secretary, 1979-2015) recalcitrantly, but falsely, declared he could not change this much but smiled all the way during her tenure as she worked side by side with the Executive Secretary to take us to new heights of growth. She simply cared deeply for all the ILYA members.

And now to my dear friend — you were the forerunner to my participation in this organization. You dragged me along to teach me the humility that was you, the perseverance to achieve goals, the respect of all aspects of this organization. You taught me to stand alone if it was right for the organization, not to give into personal agendas and to understand that this is WORK! But this is also LOVE!

You sat me at that registration desk and made me meet every member of this organization so I could understand who this organization is. For fifteen years I sat there and met the most wonderful people – thank you.

We traveled to US Sailing One Design Symposia and learned the ways of others. We heard ideas and brought them back. We traveled to collegiate events to watch our children, toured homes in Newport, and marveled at the history of this sport, crossed into Canada while lost three times watching our children in Seattle – until I got out of the car because I refused to follow you any longer – only into Canada.

Otherwise I would follow you anywhere. I recall the day you became Commodore. I gave you a Mickey Mouse pen to remind you not take this too seriously and allow the title of the position go to your head. You certainly never felt yourself worthy of any gratitude expressed by others. You were humble and never took credit for any of your leadership.

There is only one Suzi Reese. I am lucky to call you my best friend and to have shared so much for nearly 40 years. There is a hole in my heart which will not heal but that’s what friends feel at a loss of someone who has been such a part of life for so long.

That hole will fill with more work of some kind and it will hopefully carry on the humility and dedication of a Suzi Reese — and I did tell your daughter of your little car mishap and the need for a new door. Sorry, but I kept secrets up to the end. – Candace Porter, ILYA Scowlines editor

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