ROLLIN' ON THE RIVER: Gonzales Boat Club celebrates 50th anniversary

Peter Silas Pasqua
A Gonzales Boat Club member gazes over the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration Saturday afternoon from a diving boat docked to the club’s pier on the Diversion Canal. The club was chartered in 1959.

HEAD?OF?ISLAND - For the past 50 years, the Gonzales Boat Club has cruised waterways teaching boat safety. Saturday, they stepped onto land to celebrate five decades of success.

“It is unreal,” Admiral Bill Taylor said.

The third oldest continuous charterd boat club in America spared no expense in celebrating its golden anniversary at its hall along the Diversion Canal with food, music and fun provided entirely through sponsorships raised by the non-profit organization.

Phil Smith, chairman of the committee for the celebration, said the event was nearly two years in the making. And it didn’t disappoint.

“I said we need to have a party,” Smith said.

Smith teamed with Nan Riffe, Paula McGregor, Lynne Potter to set up a program to raise funds in title ranging from bateau to yacht.

“This all happened through donations,” McGregor said. “The boat club will receive nothing from this.”

McGregor said any left over funds will go to St. Jude Hospital and the St. Amant Fire Department.

The Gonzales Boat Club’s mission has stayed the same since the dawn of its inception: Boater safety and clean waterways.

Taylor, who lives along the canal, joined four years ago.

“I love the river,” Taylor said. “The camaraderie with the people here is super nice. We have a real good time.”

Recalling unfinished poker runs when he pulled stranded boaters home, Taylor is reminded of the club’s purpose.

“Watch out for other people,” Taylor said.

The club was founded in 1959 with 20 charter members holding its first meeting at Thomas Marine in Gonzales. The group soon began to meet once a month at two camps along the Chinquapin Canal.

“We got together and everybody had boats,” charter member Ira Breaux said. “Sometimes there were 30 boats on a cruise.”

The group cruised the local waterways of the Amite/Blind River Basin weekly.

“We had 15 horsepower moters,” charter member Junior Tallion said. “Every Sunday the men would get together and put in at Rebel Inn. Finally, we let the women come ride with us.”

Another charter member Harold Mire painted “Gonzales Boat Club” on his vessel and the organization had a name. When Buddy Gonzales painted a magpie on the side of his boat and nicknamed it “The Flying Crow” the group’s signature logo of a crow with a cigar in his mouth and steam rising from its bill was born.

Tom Holley remembers joining the club on the spot in 1965 when he met Tallion at Jack and Alma’s.

“I was standing up in there drinking,” Holley said. “He knew me vaguely and asked me if I wanted to join.”

Cruises became more popular than fishing and expanded to trips to Grand Isle and Morgan City.

Shortly after, the club began raising money for a new hall through boat races and a beer booth at the Jambalaya Festival. But they would lose their lease and had to start over.

The club moved to its current location, but they were restricted to keeping their records in a small trailer and holding meetings under the pavilion.

“It was cold and everyone had jackets on and were covering up in blankets,” remembers Billy Raybon shortly after he joined in late 2004.

The following year, Raybon had constructed the current 40x40 facility and meetings were returned inside.

“This is like a mansion from where we came from,” Raybon said.

Smith said the celebration that included appearances from Ascension and Livingston parish presidents Tommy Martinez and Mike Grimmer, sheriffs Jeff Wiley and Willie Graves, Rep. Mert Smiley and jambalaya cooked by the 2008 World Champion Jambalaya cook Jody Elisar was an “120 percent success.”

Taylor said the club has grown to over 200 members since he joined and the outdoor facility which includes the pavilion, a pier and public restrooms is available to any member at anytime for use.

A time capsule is also being buried to be opened for the club’s 60th anniversary in 10 years.

A diamond anniversary is hard for some like Tallion to imagine.

“When we started, it was about having fun on the river,” Tallion said. “Eating vienna sausage and crackers for dinner. We had a good time.”

Children get their face painted at the Gonzales Boat Club’s 50th anniversary Saturday afternoon.