James Martinus "Ding" Schoonmaker

June 10, 1933 - January 19, 2021

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

At the 1975 Star World Championship, President Gerald Ford was invited by Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, to welcome the 73 crews and guests to the Windy City. The reigning champion, 34-year-old Tom Blackaller, sat in the audience next to two sailors from Florida. President Ford made a point to recognize Blackaller’s rivals, “One skipper and crew in particular has caught my eye, and I would like them to stand up and take a bow —the skipper of Star number 5607, Ding Schoonmaker, and his very talented and capable crew — Jerry Ford.” Everyone got a good laugh, and Schoonmaker and (the sailor) Jerry Ford must have been inspired because over the next week they went on to win the Star World Championship (Blackaller finished second). Two years later Ding Schoonmaker returned to the Star Worlds with a new crew who wanted to get acquainted with the class and learn from the master. The 48-year-old crew was Buddy Melges, who must have learned a lot from Ding because he went on to win the Star Worlds in 1978 and 1979.

Every time one hears about Schoonmaker, it is usually because he is helping some sailor or sailing project. His first race in 1944 at the age of 11 was off Watch Hill, Rhode Island. He has spent his summers in Watch Hill and winters in Florida over the past 85 years. At the age of 19, he placed second in the Olympic trials in the Star class and was named the team’s alternate in Helsinki. He earned that honor again in 1964 at the Games in Tokyo. Along the way, Schoonmaker won North American, South American, Western Hemisphere and European Championships.

In 1968, he was asked to join a committee working on class measurement and development issues for the International Yacht Racing Union (IRYU). Ding learned the value of service and how it translated into improving his beloved sport. He was a board member of the US Yacht Racing Union (now US Sailing) and would serve on several international committees. He was elected to serve on the Board of IRYU (now World Sailing) for 14 years (1986-1994 and 1998-2004). For his distinguished career, he was awarded the Nathanael Greene Herreshoff Award, US Sailing’s highest honor, in 1988 and the Beppe Croce Award, World Sailing’s highest honor, in 2011. Among his philanthropic work were creating the US Sailing Center in Miami and establishing the World Youth Sailing Trust to help aspiring sailors in emerging countries and the US Sailing Foundation in 1990. To this day, he is an important counselor to the leaders of the sport both in the United States and throughout the world.

— Gary Jobson

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