Past commodores from the Upper Keys Sailing Club are honored at a ceremony celebrating the club's 50th anniversary. LUKE BOVILL/Contributed

Perhaps former Upper Keys Sailing Club Commodore Pat McLaughlin said it best: “This place is family, it’s tradition, it’s important.”

On Nov. 18, the Upper Keys Sailing Club capped off a year of 50th anniversary celebrations with a moving tribute to all past commodores. 

Among those honored: 94-year-old Bob Sandifer. Sandifer served as commodore from 1990 to 1991; his late wife, artist Cris Sandifer, held the leadership position from 1994 to 1995. Sandifer attended the ceremony with his son, Steven and grandson, Ted.

“It meant the world for him to be able to tell everybody what an honor it was for him to be a part of this club and how the greatest joy in his life came from being in this club,” Steven Sandifer said.

Islamorada resident and pastor Marlin Simon took the helm of the sailing club back in 1975 as its third commodore. Simon was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the club to become what it is today.

During the ceremony, Simon delighted current club members with colorful stories of the early ­— and sometimes insanely competitive — days on the water.

“We had a best sailor award,” reminisced Simon. “You take any kind of five boats, I don’t care whose they are or what they are and you race them five different times with the crew changing boats each time. And then you would find out who could handle any of the boats.” 

That competitive vibe continues today, with a series of regattas taking place throughout the year.

“I like Marlin’s idea about getting out there and racing different types of boats; at least one of those boats has got to be a Force 5,” added former commodore Tom Trump.

Key Largo resident Alan Hulbert was commodore in 1998. He is most proud of the work he and his board took to throw a lifeline to the club’s youth sailing program.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of is the youth sailing program. It sort of drifted away when I was commodore and I made a strong effort to bring it back,” said Hulbert.

Former commodore Mike Austin acknowledged the pivotal role the youngest members will play in defining the club’s future and longevity.

“I just want to thank all these young people that we see here because they truly are our future if we’re going to continue to do this through 100 years, which many of us won’t see, but they will,” said Austin.

During the event, young UKSC sailors presented a yellow rose to each of the former commodores in attendance and current commodore Dewey Jackson. Family members of deceased past commodores were also presented with yellow roses.  All were awarded a plaque that read, “Thank you for getting us where we are today.”

It was a touching tribute to the many families that have shaped the course of the Upper Keys Sailing Club. 

The club, founded in 1973 with a handful of sailing enthusiasts and their families, now boasts almost 300 members. (Writer’s Note: My father, Tom Butler, was a commodore from 2003-2005. He passed away in 2017. During the ceremony my mother, Kathy, was presented with his plaque.)

“We’re all sailors; we all love the water,” said former commodore Ginette Hughes, who served a total of three years at the helm. “All I can say is thank you and obviously I’m a glutton for punishment if I came back.”

Juan Soriano, commodore in 2006, joked that his time at the club and on the water has not always been smooth sailing.

“I know I’ve had the maximum number of tows to get the boat back to the club,” he said with a laugh.

Like so many, former commodore Betsy Edwards developed a love for the water and sailing at a young age.

“I’ve been sailing since I was 14 or 15. I started out on a sunfish at Key Biscayne Yacht Club and moved up to bigger things when the knees gave out,”  Edwards said.

All of the former commodores acknowledged that running a club with so many moving parts takes a team effort. “The commodores don’t do anything by themselves,” said Sara Kahler. “They only do it with the help of their board. I was lucky to have a very good board both times I was commodore. It’s been so much fun.”  

Current commodore Dewey Jackson closed out the ceremony with a nod to the future generation. “I treasure each and every one here. I want this place to be alive, viable and much like it is, when these kids’ kids are here,” Jackson said.

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Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.