Special to the EagleHerald/Val Ihde
Sailboats head to the finish line in the 25th annual Joey Shepro Memorial Doubleheader race Saturday on Green Bay. The race is in honor of Joey Shepro, who died of a brain tumor in 1995 at the age of 17. Shepro came from a boating family. This year’s race raised nearly $25,000 for Make-A-Wish.
Special to the EagleHerald/Val Ihde

Sailboats head to the finish line in the 25th annual Joey Shepro Memorial Doubleheader race Saturday on Green Bay. The race is in honor of Joey Shepro, who died of a brain tumor in 1995 at the age of 17. Shepro came from a boating family. This year’s race raised nearly $25,000 for Make-A-Wish.

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MENOMINEE — The 25th annual Joey Shepro Memorial Doublehander race concluded Saturday, with boats participating in the M&M Yacht Club’s competition that takes sailors around Green Island in honor of a young Menominee man with a love for sailing.

Winning the race this year were John Peterson and Deanna Peterson in a Beneteau First 38 by the name of Charrette, who finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 23 seconds. The pair placed third in the race last year.

Second place went to Jesse Peterson and James LeBouton, in a Mystic 290 called Sadie Hawkins. The pair won the race last year, but finished second this year in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 30 seconds.

Coming in at third place were Rick Estebo and Liz Bantes, in a Catalina 310 named Eagle XXX. The pair finished in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 35 seconds. Full results for the race can be found at http://www.mmyc.org. 

The night before the race, a pre-party raised money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation to benefit children who are facing difficult medical problems. A silent auction was held, and items were donated from many local businesses along with yacht club members and residents from around the area. All of the food, labor, and race officials were donated by friends and family. Everything collected, including race fees, is being donated to Make-a-Wish. According to Joe Shepro, race organizer and father of Joey Shepro, the race’s namesake, 44 boats were registered for the race, 38 sailed, and the pre-race party raised more than $24,000. 

“We had an absolutely incredible year,” Joe Shepro said. “We outdid ourselves for the previous years, and we will probably have some more (Make-A-Wish) children to sponsor.” 

From a young age, Shepro’s son Joey Shepro showed an aptitude for sailing, a hobby that his family shared. Shepro’s family were members of the M&M Yacht Club and had a 5.5 meter sailboat, the Chiquita. Shepro admired the boat, and decided to work with his father to earn enough money to purchase one similar to it. Eventually, Shepro bought a sailboat, but it was in disrepair and needed to be restored.

At 16, Shepro’s plans were interrupted by a heartbreaking diagnosis: A malignant tumor growing in his brain. Shepro was given a short time to live, and the sailboat took a backseat to his health. Friends, family and M&M Yacht Club members decided that restoring Shepro’s sailboat was one way they could help the family. Shepro was finally able to take his sailboat, Flash, out on the water for the season. Emblazoned toward the rear of the stern was his motto, “Never ever quit.”

The boat restoration was not the only surprise in store for him. Shepro was a huge admirer of celebrated Buddy Melges, a decorated competitive sailor who was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 2001. A friend arranged for Shepro and his family to meet Melges, tour his boat loft and sail with him. Melges even gifted Shepro with a set of sails for his sailboat.

Shepro passed away on June 29, 1995, almost a year after he was diagnosed. He was 17 years old. In honor of his memory, the M&M Yacht Club renamed Shepro’s favorite race, their yearly doublehanded race, calling it the Joey Shepro Memorial Doublehanded Race. A doublehanded race is when a sailboat normally crewed by seven or eight people is raced by only two sailors. The race is staggered start, based on each boat’s handicap. All proceeds from the race are donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The club also hosts a party the night before the race in honor of Shepro, which is free to the public but accepts donations.

The donations started off small but grew exponentially over the years. Last year, 42 sailboats competed in the race, and donations have grown to the point where the Make-A-Wish Foundation allowed the clubs to adopt a wish. Adopting a wish allows the donors to know who the recipient is and allows the recipient to know where the money for their wish came from. The club receives plaques describing the recipient and their wish, thanking the club for their donation. New this year, one of the recipient children was invited to ride in the club’s yacht-shaped float during the Waterfront Festival. 

“That just means so much,” Joe Shepro said. “We know what this is for. ... We feel very happy about how it all came out, we’re just so pumped about being able to keep that memory of him (Joey) alive. That sailing memory meant so much to us.” 

Shepro thanked the Harbors Retirement Community for its annual donation drive for the cause, Wisconsin Graphics of De Pere for its donation of race t-shirts, and the army of volunteers who helped with the party and race over the weekend.