By Mary-Justine Lanyon
In 1946, George “Mac” McKenzie and his wife, Lucy, founded the McKenzie Water Ski School in Lake Arrowhead. For more than 50 years, they shared their passion for water skiing with the residents of visitors to Lake Arrowhead.
Eventually, the school passed into the hands of the couple’s daughter, Pam, and then, 10 years ago, to Pam’s son Justin Frank and his wife, Holly.
On June 5, Justin and Holly celebrated the school’s 75 years of getting folks up on water skis with past and current instructors, staff, family members and friends. The celebration, which took place at SkyPark at Santa’s Village, was filled with funny stories, reminiscences, music and lots of laughter.
“It means a lot to have the ski school family here tonight to celebrate,” said Justin. He noted that it is a special day when someone gets their “red and whites” – the shorts that indicate they have acquired the necessary skill set to be a ski instructor.
“The boys on the dock called themselves the Lost Boys,” Justin noted. “We were the kids who didn’t want to grow up. We’d ski all day and party all night.” And then, he said, those instructors would return to the dock to share their stories with the new crop of kids on the dock.
Now, Justin said, “we’re seeing second and third generations of instructors, fourth-generation skiers and we have a fourth-generation McKenzie on the dock,” referring to his son, Mac, named for his great-grandfather.
Justin then called up a number of instructors from the past, beginning with Doug Booth, an instructor from the 1950s, to share their stories.
“Mac was an innovator,” Booth said, “a great jumper.” He reminisced about the ski club races and told today’s generation that, back in the 50s, they didn’t have telephones, television, Internet.
“I can’t remember ever being bored up here,” Booth said. “Those were 90 days of bliss.” He added that his best friends in life came from his time on the ski dock. And, he added, “I had a good student who’s been my wife for 48 years.”
SkyPark owner Bill Johnson told the crowd that he was “one of the first guys to teach Justin to water ski.” Like Booth, Johnson said he met his best friends on the dock.
Brian Hopkins’ family is one of the multi-generation dock families. His father worked at the ski dock, as he did. And now his 18-year-old daughter is on the dock.
“Working on the dock built a lot of character in all of us,” Hopkins said. He described Mac as being “the kindest man I ever met. He had a heart of gold, as did Lucy.”
Jesse Mills was recruited to work on the ski dock at Papagayo’s. “I never expected to be given this opportunity,” he said. He trained to be an instructor, thinking, “How hard can this be?” He soon learned that people don’t listen and asked himself, “Why did I sign up for this?”
Acknowledging that he got hazed a lot, Mills nevertheless said he was with his best friends all summer. “We were a dysfunctional family but there was a lot of camaraderie. The dock taught me patience, work ethics and responsibility.”
His most impactful day on the dock, Mills said, was when he had the opportunity to help teach 50 blind children how to water ski. “It was humbling and inspiring to see the joy on their faces,” he said, adding, “I don’t think Mac and Lucy thought they would build a business that would impact so many kids.”
Trevor Wendt shared that he started working on the dock at 8 or 9 as a “dock dork” and skied his first lesson at 12, earning his “red and whites.” Working on the dock, he said, “taught us a lot of life lessons. Growing up on the dock was the best memories. Mac and Lucy would be very proud.”
When Justin opened the mic up to other instructors, one noted that earning his “red and whites” was the best trophy he had ever gotten.
As the speakers ended – and the music of Sixty Grit began – Justin’s brother, Ben, noted that “my brother has brought back what the ski school is all about.”
Present at the celebration were two holders of water ski world records. Dawna Patterson Brice set her record of 111.111 mph on Aug. 21, 1977. That record still stands today. “My world record wouldn’t have happened without the ski dock,” she said.
Craig Wendt set a world record of 128 mph in 1979. He worked at the dock as an instructor. “I was so fortunate to grow up here,” he said. “Everyone loved Mac and Lucy.”
For information on water ski instruction or boat charters, call (909) 337-3814 or visit www.mckenziewaterskischool.com.