Stew Sill Jr. as I remember it… part V by Bill VanGee

Stew wasn’t just about boats and the marina. He in fact, had a soft spot for animals. While I never saw it, he used to reminisce about how he as a boy had a horse on the family farm that he rode and cared for. The farm was located on the shore of Sodus Bay and consequently included several small rental cabins for summer visitors and he was the riding stable. While I’m not sure how long his career in the stable business lasted, he always talked fondly about his years of caring for his horse.STEW SILL

When I first came on the scene at Sill’s Marina, a big part of the crew was the family golden retriever, Rusty or RD as everyone called him. He was the typical retriever, always nearby and ready to meet and greet everyone that came through the door. Part of his job was to help keep the marina’s duck population in line. You see, at some point, Stew took on the task of feeding many of Sodus Bay’s mallard duck population. This was probably an offshoot of dock customers throwing pieces of bread to the ducks for amusement. One thing led to another, and before long, Stew was purchasing cracked corn by the 100 lb bag. Every morning and afternoon, Stew or one of the employees, would dip into the supply of corn and feed the flock outside the shop door. Initially there was probably a flock of 10 or 12 birds, but as the word got out, the flock increased to around a 100 birds. And in between their scheduled feeding, they would wander into the shop, the office and even the ship’s store looking for an additional handout. Dawn and RD had to keep on their toes to keep the invasion at bay. In the fall after haul out was completed and before duck hunting season began, Stew always installed a fenced in area at the east corner of the basin complete with an ice bubbler to keep the water ice free during the winter months. We then began a roundup of as many of the local non-migrating birds that we could corral. Nets in hand, we chased ducks for a few days while Stew clipped the end of one wing tip so as to prevent them from flying into harm’s way. It was really quite the operation with all hands on the chase, both on land and by boat, and we soon were able to capture 30-40 birds that we were pretty sure wouldn’t end up on some hunter’s dinner table. Stew went through this operation for several years until we had an epidemic one winter and many of the birds died. Conferring with a DEC biologist, it was suggested that keeping so many birds in such close corners, probably allowed a sick duck to infect the others. Fearing that he might be causing more harm than good, he gave up his attempt to protect the flock from the hunters.

The real loves in his life were yet to come and he didn’t even know it. Sometime in the late 1970s, RD succumbed to old age and illness and this left a tremendous void…Rusty was family. Somewhere down the road Stew and Dawn decided that they needed to replace their old side kick and found an out-of-state dog breeder that had a new litter of AKC certified golden retriever puppies for sale. Stew made the trip to check them over and was given his choice from the litter. This new pup was a full motion yellow fluff ball and Stew named him Rocky. As with most puppies, Rocky had a lot of energy and was badly in need of direction, so Stew decided to join a newly formed dog obedience class. As luck (and breeding) would have it, Rocky was a natural at learning all of the different commands and moves needed to succeed in the obedience class, so Stew decided they would enter a regional AKC sanctioned obedience trial and they did really well. Before long, with hard work and practice, they were coming home with blue ribbons and became regulars on the north eastern dog show circuit and were at a new show nearly every weekend. They were naturals and worked very well together. With each show placement, they acquired OTCH points towards an ultimate championship title. The Obedience Trial Championship (OTCH) title is often referred to as the “PhD” for dogs and is the highest obedience honor a dog can receive. To obtain an OTCH title, a dog and handler team must receive 100 points by placing first, second, third or fourth in the Open B or Utility B classes and a first place in Utility B and/or Open B three times. Each level required mastering new and progressively harder skill sets for both the dog and the handler. I’m not sure how long it took, but in fairly short order, Rocky was at the top of the league and a Champion. The only problem with being a champion was that you could no longer show in that class so Stew had to retire Rocky from the show circuit. Stew wasn’t done, though. He found another breeder in another state and obtained another puppy to train and show, then another and then another. In all, I think there were six goldens that were at the pinnacle of their sport or well on the way. I don’t even remember all of their names. After Rocky came Brandy (a specialist in jumping from the docks to retrieve tennis balls. You couldn’t wear her out), then Dusty, and Sailor and Kimber. Like everything else Stew took on, he excelled at dog obedience training and showing. Each dog was special unto itself and each dog was a big part of the marina family. Neither Stew nor Dawn went anywhere without a full complement of golden retrievers riding shotgun. They were all on duty daily at the marina to meet and greet, and if for some reason a potential customer didn’t like dogs, they were directed in the direction of a no pets allowed marina further down the bay. Like I said, they were family.

Bill VanGee

P.S. Pets didn’t end with the retrievers. Perhaps in another installment I’ll reminisce about Oscar, the marina cat or the Christmas goats, all stories unto themselves.