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Meet Bill Thomas,
one of the founders of the Yacht Club

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We sat down with Bill Thomas at his home on Skippers Way, just before the 2020 stay-at-home restrictions.

Bill was one of the founding members of the Yacht Club and is still a member today, at age 94.

Before moving to Canyon Lake, Bill and his late wife, Doris, lived in Downey. Bill worked as a civil engineer for the Department of Water and Power and Board of Public Works in Los Angeles.

Bill remembers his first experience with Canyon Lake. It was in 1937 and Bill was 9 years old. His dad found out that Canyon Lake was opening for fishing, and started taking him here to fish. The family lived in Walnut Park and it was a fair drive to the lake, but they were used to it because they would also travel to Big Bear Lake for fishing.

Sometime later, the Corona Land Company opened up Canyon Lake for development.

Bill and Doris bought a lot on Skippers Way for $15,000 when the Corona Land Company was still moving dirt around to create the current community. Bill remembers that he and his wife used to come in on a four-wheel drive vehicle because it was pretty rough driving around here.

They had their first house built on Sloop Drive in 1983 when Bill retired, but they had wanted to live in a waterfront home and they were eventually able to build on Skippers Way. "At the time you couldn't build two-story houses on the water," Bill recounts. "So, we waited and when they lifted that restriction I had already designed our home and right away there were five other homes being built on Skippers Way at the same time. We moved into our new house in 1988."

"No pelicans ever came here when we first moved to the lake. Later on they started showing up. I like them better than the cormorants that always wintered over. The cormorants eat all the bait fish and the anglers here hated them."

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The Corona Land Company had initially padded the POA board with their own people. According to Bill, "At the time, people weren't organized here at all, but the Land Company was going to turn everything over to the POA, except for all the amenities. They would collect a fee for everything we get free now. We were able to vote in people who took over the board from the land company's people and it became a true Property Owners Association."

Bill and a few other fishing friends started the Canyon Lake Anglers Club to help improve and maintain the bass fishery in the lake. Bill was the first treasurer and wrote the bylaws for the Anglers Club. "When the Anglers Club started," he said, "we had beneficial people on the POA Board. There were 15 of us, Jess Haxton was one of the original people and later served as a commodore for the Yacht Club. Jess was a great guy, a devoted fisherman and, in fact, there's a plaque for him at Eastport Park because of his contributions to the community."

"We had a lot of fun and we were really interested in improving the fishery for all Canyon Lake people to enjoy, so we started the kids fishing derby, got Cornell to do a study to improve the fishery and we also got permission to bring in hybrid bass from San Diego. Fishing just kept getting better every year. The fishing derby was really popular. I'd guess at one time we had maybe 200 kids participate."

The Anglers Club was eventually dissolved and became the Bassmasters Club.

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"Here's how the Canyon Lake Yacht Club started. The POA put in rental docks near the lodge. A number of guys had their boats there and one night all the boats got burglarized, stripped. Guys were mad and Lee Norris had a meeting to form a group for people that rented the docks. But, instead of that, we thought, how about getting a group to represent all lake users. That is how it started."

The year was 1990. "Lee Norris and John Scott provided $1,000 to start the club. Marti Norris, Lee's wife, worked at the Friday Flyer as a reporter. I believe Lee was our first commodore. In the club's first month and a half we opened an account at a local bank and the wives were just passing the checkbook around, writing checks and not keeping records."

Bill became the first treasurer and it took him a month to straighten out the bank account. His wife was the librarian for 12 years at the local middle school and she had good organizational skills so she did all the filing for the club.

"Vic Knight was a well-known guy who was always out promoting things at the lake. Vic and Ben Wise wrote the club's first bylaws as kind of a joke, calling it the Canyon Lake Yacht Club. It included some pretty funny stuff. Later we found out we had to have actual, good bylaws, so I wrote those, using the Bylaws I had written for the Angler's Club, so we could become a sanctioned club by the POA."

"There were maybe 15 people that started the club. We met in each other's homes and it was a fun, very social club, with the few members. We had Christmas parties at members' homes and around that time we started having progressive dinners. The Runners and the Robinsons lived beside each other on Gray Fox and hosted a lot of those first get-togethers."

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"Early on, we tried to do things that would improve the lake community. Skippers Island was a real mess in 1992, unusable. There were leaves everywhere and it was like an old abandoned island. There was one bench on the island, but it was in bad shape. Jess Haxton was commodore at that time. Jess got us together and we pulled up to the small ramp on the island as a club work party. We set out to restore the island, cleaning the grounds and adding tables so people could stop and have picnics there. We were happy with how it turned out, and it's been a very popular spot in the lake ever since."

"That same year we also restored and painted the lighthouse, which was falling apart, and strung Christmas lights on it for the Parade of Lights [the parade of festively-decorated boats held every December on Canyon Lake]."

"Doris and I and Bob Clark prepared the numbers for Parade of Lights participant boats to show when going past the judging station. As boats came up we would pull up to the dock at Eastport and take the registration list to the judges at the Weaver's house."

"For the Parade of Lights we would build a bonfire at Happy Camp. At the end of the parade most of the boats would pull up there and we would stand on a table with a bullhorn and announce the winners of prizes. It was special Canyon Lake fun."

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"One of the club members had a fish and bait shop down near Elsinore and he was selling our club hats at his store, but only to club members. It was our first ship's store, but with only one item. Sometimes people would come in, admire the caps and try to buy them, and some of them got pretty mad when the owner explained that they were only for Yacht Club members."

"Steve Volkoff was the commodore that started the flag salute and invocation at our meetings, which we had never done before. He started a number of other things, too. He was really involved and did a good job of leading the club."

 

"We had guest speakers quite often at the beginning. We used to have activities in Blue Bird Hall, including meetings."

 

Bill served as the club treasurer for almost a dozen years.

"There were two things that attracted most people to the club over the years – our main purpose was to maintain a presence before the POA board to keep up the lake and boating; and the second was to get together and have fun with friends."

Bill has been a continuous member of the Yacht Club since 1990. He's happily paid dues for 30 years to be in a great club that promotes two things that he's been passionate about all these years – the lake we love and enjoy, and boating. To Bill, the Yacht Club is one way he can give back to this beautiful lake community that he loves.

When asked what he would tell other people about the club, he said this, "We live on a lake and there's nothing better than to be out on it. I don't just feel like I'm a part of the club. I feel it's a part of me. I've had a lot of fun and made 30 years of friends. It can be part of you, too."

You're a part of us, too, Bill. Thanks for 30 years of being a pioneer of this club, an officer, and a friend. We stand on the shoulders of you and others that paved the way, and we're grateful for all you have done for the Club!

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