by Jim Woodruff
Sherry Schmits has a one-chair barber shop in Delta Mills, located only a couple hundred yards from the Kruger Canoe Base on the Grand River. She says she cut Verlen's hair once in a while. One day she was cutting my hair (she spends more time hunting the hairs than cutting them) and I was talking about my "Following Verlen and Valerie" Email project. Then out-of-the-blue she announced that she owned Verlen's 10th canoe. Well, as you can imagine, that got my attention.
On investigation I learned that she had acquired the canoe from Leon Tillitson, Jenny's next door neighbor, and that there were pictures of it in Phil Peterson's book about Verlen's career, All Things Are Possible. Page 39 is a full page photo of Verlen and Clint Baird paddling a dark colored racing canoe with the number 10 on the bow. On page 285 is a photo of a stack of canoes in Verlen's yard including two #10 canoes, one green and one black. Phil's caption says "Derilect canoes, designed, built and raced by Verlen, still rest at Kruger Base". Sherry's canoe is the black one. I call it "Old #10" for the race number, not the tenth one built by Verlen.
I felt that she had an historic artifact and that it should float again on the Grand River. I volunteered to make it happen and she enthusiastically agreed. She Emailed me photos of the canoe which I showed at the Quiet Water Symposium. Then via Email I pushed the buttons of Dan Smith, Mike Smith, Charlie Parmelee, Mark P (still paddling in Florida) and Stacy Krause.
Shortly I got a response from Mike Smith saying that he had had some "seat time" in that canoe when he and Verlen used it to train on the Grand for the 1991 AuSable Marathon. In short order after a minimum of questions he volunteered to take on the restoration project. You can expect to see "Old #10" at Thompson Field during the Hugh Heward Challenge and the Statue Dedication Ceremony. When you see it on the river depends on Mike's progress (with Scott Smith's help).
According to Stacy Krause, Mike's daughter, Mike and Verlen paddled #10 while training for the AuSable Canoe Marathon. He was pretty animated describing it, "piece of junk training boat." He added, they were both pretty poor and it was all that was available for training at the time, not to mention they didn't even have a racing canoe yet. Training began with #10 in April 1991; not sure at the time whether they would even compete in the AuSable. They took #10 up and down the stretch in front Verlen's house during Mike's lunch breaks while he was employed at GM. They also paddled it in Portland near the Weber Dam practicing wider stretches of river. Mike remembers him and Verlen getting caught in a massive thunder and lightning storm there in May describing it as, "nasty, it was pouring so hard we couldn't see each other, it came up quick and it wasn't pretty." They paddled back to the car in near zero visibility. #10 was the only tandem they practiced in, he doesn't think there was anything printed on the canoe at the time besides Verlen's name and #10, "hard to recall," Mike said. He doesn't know where the #10 canoe came from, and until now had no clue it was still out there. Of course, there was no way to know at the time it would come back into his life, 19 years later and needing a little touch up. They eventually borrowed a racing canoe and competed in the 1991 AuSable Canoe Marathon, finishing in a respectable time thanks to hard work and old #10.