Keeping their floating boating romance alive
EDGEWATER – When Natalie and Bill Witty first met in the United States Power Squadrons over 30 years ago, Bill was a widower and Natalie supported her then husband, George Lynch, who became involved with the Skokie Valley Sail and Power squadron.
They were only friends at first; Natalie helped organize some fundraisers and Bill was working his way through the ranks – he is a past rear commander today.
The passing of Natalie’s husband marked a turn in their lives, however. “By this point, [Bill and I] had known each other for about eight years,” she said. “He encouraged me to get more involved with the group…and I eventually did. He swore me in about 25 years ago. And then we started to date.”
“You make friends and they encourage you to go on with life,” Natalie added regarding her husband’s passing. “Life goes on, that’s the key. Bill’s a very patient man. He asked me out once or twice and I didn’t go. And then, I did.”
Natalie and Bill tied the knot 22 years ago but have been active members of the organization, a non-profit volunteer-based organization whose mission is to promote maritime safety and safe boating through education, ever since.
The volunteering came in addition to full-time jobs for both: Bill, before retiring at age 80 (he’s now 87), worked at a photography business for over 40 years. Natalie, now 69, was part of the wine and spirit industry, serving as an office manager for Terlato Wine Group, based in Lake Bluff, Ill., for 27 years.
“You have energy and time and the desire to want to do something constructive. And [after retiring], we just kept this going. There’s a lot to the Power Squadrons that you get involved in, and that’s what great about it. You can pick and choose what you’re interested in,” Natalie said.
The organization primarily teaches boating courses to the American public. “That’s our first purpose,” Natalie said. Classes offered teach those interested a variety of topics regarding safe travel on the sea, including piloting, navigation, seamanship, and engine maintenance.
In order to become a member of the Power Squadrons, one must first take the basic “America’s boating course.” Natalie said as soon as her first class finished, she started enrolling in more specific classes. She’s made it through the junior navigation course, with a “JN” affixed to her title. Bill has completed all courses, with senior navigation being the final course, and “SN” follows his title.
“There’s more than just those courses, though,” Natalie said. “There’s also weather, sailing, marine electronics, and cruise planning. There are a lot of classes to choose from. It’s good education, especially if you are out on the water. You want to have a good education.”
Though Natalie and Bill both have an extensive boating education, they do not boat as often anymore. The two owned a boat together, but sold it a couple of years ago.
“In this area, you can really only use a boat for four months out of the year. We don’t really go out on the water anymore, but if we’re invited to go, we’ll go,” Natalie said.
Bill and Natalie serve on various committees through the district and national office, while maintaining their membership to the Skokie Valley Sail and Power squadron.
The national organization is broken up into 33 districts, which serve specific portions of the United States. The district that the Wittys belong to, the 20th district, serves as north as Racine, Wisc., as south as Springfield, and serves Rockford, Two Rivers, and Clinton, Iowa.
Bill currently works on the publication support committee, which is part of the organization’s education department, and serves on the communications committee. Natalie is the chairman of the district planning committee, a member of the district nominating committee, and serves on the national vault committee.
In addition, the two travel around the country to attend all the national meetings. In years past, they have added Florida, North Carolina, Reno, Washington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Portland to their list of “places visited.”
“We’ve been able to make some magnificent friends, too. This organization makes for a very good social life,” Natalie said.
Though Edgewater does not host specific boating classes, Natalie said maritime skills are still important for anyone to learn.
“By the time people move out here, they’ve already taken boating classes. We’re trying now to attract new members through advertisements in newspapers and if there’s a recreational show or a boat show. We always have booths with lists of classes available through the entire district,” she added.
One of the main goals the Wittys hope to instill in those interested is the need for education on boating.
“A lot of people who are out on the water have not taken a course about safe boating, and they think they know what they’re doing. What we’re trying to do is to teach people to be responsible. There are ‘rules of the road’ with boating, much like there are for cars,” Natalie said.
In addition, any resident who owns a boat and is looking for a free vessel safety check – a program co-sponsored by the Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard – or is looking to further their maritime education or knows someone in the family who would benefit is encouraged to call the Wittys at 847-841-1345 or visit the Fox Valley Sail and Power Squadron’s website at foxvalley.uspsd20.org
“We’ll steer them in the right direction,” Natalie added, no pun intended.