Bill the Builder
Bill Schenck has spent the last 40 years building the resume that made him an easy choice as a 2019 inductee into the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame.
The 62-year-old St. Catharines native has a multitude of accomplishments that earned him induction as a builder in the sport of rowing, but it is the 1999 world championships in St. Catharines that stand out as his career highlight to date.
In 1994, the former Denis Morris, St. Catharines Rowing Club and University of Guelph rower was a director with St. Catharines World Rowing. The group’s mandate was to bring the Henley course up to FISA Class A standards and apply to host the 1999 world rowing championships as a catalyst to help with course improvements. For the next five years, Schenck was the group’s representative for course restructuring, dredging and other related construction projects.
“It was quite the experience working with the various levels of government and the ministries and how that all came together on a capital project that brought the rowing course back to Class A standards,” he said, adding he also worked closely with Mike Sweeney and Sveltla Otzetova to make sure the Henley course was ready.
“That has to be one of my highlights and following that was the first race coming down for the world championships where we saw the Canadians, who don’t have many chances to compete on home soil, actually win a medal in front of the hometown crowd.
“That was pretty emotional and pretty exciting for me.”
It was so enthralling the 1999 world rowing regatta chairman and the other volunteers will be doing it all over again. Schenck is the co-chair of the bid committee that landed the 2024 world championships for junior, under-23 and senior rowers in non-Olympic events.
“People ask why we bid for these events and it’s an opportunity outside of the normal operations down here to make the venue better and keep it up to the standards we have,” Schenck said. “You can go along year to year but we want to be on the cutting and leading edge where we are still attracting people.”
The main events in St. Catharines are the Henley and Schoolboy regattas.
“As dollars become more and more difficult for some of these clubs to travel to regattas, they are looking for the best events,” he said. “If we can’t keep these facilities up to world-class standards, then we are not going to keep attracting the number of people that we do.
“That works in the favour of local rowers because they are training and rowing on a world-class facility.”
Also on Schenck’s rowing administration resume are: 1980-87 with St. Catharines Rowing Club Alumni Association, involved in many duties including president; in charge of social events in 1982 for the 100th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta; director of the St. Catharines Rowing Club in 1988; director of the Canadian Henley Rowing Corporation from 1989 to 1994, including serving as president from 1990-1994; founding director of St. Catharines Recreational Rowing League; sports and venue manager in St. Catharines for the 1993 World University Games; preparing data for the Toronto Olympic bid in 2000 and the Hamilton Commonwealth Games bid in 2010; serving as the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta commissioner since 2000; acting as a director for the 2010 World Masters Games; and, working on the Golden Horseshoe’s bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games and co-chairing the rowing event in St. Catharines.
The former Schoolboy medalist and Henley champion became involved in rowing as a way to pay it forward.
“When I first started rowing, there were a lot of coaches and a lot of people behind the scenes that made it possible for me to row,” he said. “When I finished my career, it was an opportunity to give back to the sport which had given so much to me and has molded me into the individual I have turned into today.”
It didn’t take him long to find his niche.
“I started out with the alumni organization and I found out I loved organizing events and one event led to another,” Schenck said. “I enjoy the start to finish of putting an event together, all the little things that go on behind the scenes and all the committees it takes to put things on and the way all the volunteers seem to work together.”
It’s a volunteer base like no other.
“We are pretty unique in this area with the volunteers, especially how they come back year after year,” he said. “The reason people do it is so the kids can get back on the water.
“Whether they finish their rowing careers in high school, university or at the world championships, it’s all the memories that they carry with them the rest of their lives. If I can play some small part in that, I am very happy to be able to do that.”
Schenck wouldn’t be able to do all he does without support. His wife Kathleen helps out at events, his three daughters (Jennifer, Colleen and Amanda) help him with the reports he compiles, and his brothers (Lou and Bob), allow him to take time off from Schenck Farms and Greenhouses.
“As you know, I have taken a lot of time away from work to be able to do the things I’ve done,” he said. “It takes a lot of cooperation from a lot of people because I have my dream and it might not be the dream of others.”
His work is all part of the Schenck brothers being good corporate citizens.
“We as a corporation have always tried to give back in whatever way we can through different organizations, events and fundraising,” Bill said. “This is one of the parts we play as a corporation giving back to the community.”
Also being inducted into the hall are Tonya Verbeek, Wanita Dykstra-May, Ron (Swede) Burak and Ellard (Obie) O’Brien.
The 2019 Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and following the induction ceremony, there will be a reception which will include hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.
“I am humbled and surprised and the closer it gets to the date, the more excited I get about it. I think it is a reflection of all the volunteers I had been able to work with over the years,” Schenck said. “They have been able to stay involved in the sport and that keeps me coming back.”
On Wednesday, Schenck will enjoy his moment in the spotlight and then return to a more familiar position.
“The way Schenck Farms is and they way I am is we like to be in the background on most things,” he said. “It’s about putting other people forward and staying in the background.”
BPSN’s coverage of the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame is brought to you by Peter Partridge of Partridge Wealth Management of RBC Dominion Securities (www.peterpartridge.com).