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Who Was Rollo Wheeler?

By Betty Gray, 2007 Staff Commodore

The following article appeared in the March 1981 edition of Now Hear This. Reprinting now seems appropriate as we gear up for the 50th running of the Wheeler Regatta, April 15-16, 2023. The original title was “It Happened” and written by Staff Commodore Jim Lucas (1968).

The Berkeley Yacht Club annually sponsors a regatta in memory of one of its most colorful past commodores, Rollo Wheeler. He and his wife, Barbara, were lost at sea while vacationing in Mexico near La Paz in 1974.

It was under Rollo Wheeler's leadership that BYC began the expansion program in 1968. He was one of the commodores that negotiated a lease with the City of Berkeley, which provided the club with a permanent home for at least 50 years.

He was a sailor with a yearning for boats that were unique, the first being a small ketch, “Colleen”, that some may remember. His purism for tradition culminated in the acquiring of the brigantine “Rendezvous”, which was a hermaphrodite square-rigger, having a fore-and-aft main. He crewed on the “Rendezvous” while a teenager in San Francisco, and he always had the desire to someday own it. The large photographs behind the bar are of that magnificent yacht. [Ed. Note: where are these photographs today?]

Although Rollo belonged to other yacht clubs, his devotion and energies were concentrated on Berkeley Yacht Club. The construction of the first addition to the clubhouse, which was the much needed bar and lounge room, was begun during his term as commodore in 1967. The club members actually built this first addition.

There were work parties doing all phases of the construction, and Rollo and Barbara would be there to keep things going. If you look closely at the second ceiling beam from the west wall, you will see Barbara’s handprint on the beam she was painting. She nearly fell off the ladder she was standing on and grabbed the beam to steady herself, leaving a handprint that has never faded away.

Rollo was a product of San Francisco and graduated from U.C. Berkeley in architecture in 1950. His practice was highlighted by many outstanding homes in the Piedmont and Orinda areas. He also practiced in Germany for six years, but returned to Bay Area, boating and the Berkeley Yacht Club.

Sponsoring a regatta in his name keeps him fresh in the memories of those who knew him and helps to pass on to others his enthusiasm for boating and the BYC. His spirit of camaraderie and the common cause of good fellowship was infectious to all.

So take a moment and give your own kind of tribute to one who had given so much to Berkeley Yacht Club and had kindled so much enthusiasm that still remains for us in the joys of sailing.

The original Wheeler Trophy was destroyed in a fire at St. Francis Yacht Club fire. The trophy we use today is from 1977, when Race Chair Bobbi Tosse and the regatta were very successful with 83 boats entered in four divisions. Bobbi passed the Race Chair to the very capable Staff Commodore Mark Bird, who has led the Wheeler Regatta for the last couple of years.

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