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The Man and the History Behind Columbia’s Chester Kuttner Foundation

CHICAGO – The Binnacle Magazine, September 2013 –  The race to Mackinac Island is the oldest long-distance freshwater sailing event in the world and in 1992 the 85th Chicago to Mackinac Island Yacht Race was one of Chester’s best.

On July 27 1992 Chester Kuttner and his boat Kutty’s Ark crossed the finish line at Mackinac Island, completing his 56th consecutive race in the “Mac” and winning First Place in his division.

Chester was an “Old Goat”, meaning he was a member of the Island Goats Sailing Society, whose membership requires that you have sailed in at least 25 Mac races. The Society celebrated its 54th year last month, still 2 years short of Chester’s record.

A lifelong member of Columbia Yacht Club, Chester died at the age of 79 in November 1993.

When he wasn’t sailing, he was enjoying the hell out of life as an advertising executive and could easily have starred in the AMC series Mad Men. A partner and President of Kuttner & Kuttner Inc., Chester worked on many election campaigns at the city and state levels, and spent many years heavily involved in local politics. An avid community activist and founding member of the Independent Voters of Illinois, he believed that the city’s amenities, including its lakefront, should be enjoyed and accessible to everyone.

Chester’s passion for life and all its ingredients were the driving force for creating Columbia’s Chester Kuttner Foundation.

Established in 1994 by his wife LaVerne and Reese Elledge, a good friend and a past Commodore of Columbia Yacht Club, the Foundation’s mission is just what Chester would have wanted – to introduce young people to sailing and to foster, encourage and support competitive sailing among youth on a local, regional and national level.  To that end, the Foundation focuses on three primary objectives.

The Scholarship Program provides tuition for inner city children from the Chicago Public School system who lack the financial ability to attend the Junior Sailing Program at Columbia Yacht Club. Students are given an opportunity to learn to sail and an introduction to the sport of competitive sailing. These experiences provide a platform that encourages good sportsmanship and respect, all factors in creating self reliant, confident and successful young men and women Since 2002, the Foundation has provided scholarships to over 100 students.

The National and Olympic Campaigns Program provide grants for sailors in competition. Bob Willis’ 2012 Olympic campaign is the most recent example of the Foundation’s support. Racing camps and regattas have also been a part of this program’s funding.

The Sustained Scholarship Support Program furthers the Foundation’s mission by providing continuing support for qualifying scholarship students who have the desire and who would benefit from a long-term competitive sailing program spanning multiple years. Seven scholarship students have continued in Columbia’s Junior Sailing Program for over 4 years.

Michael Ramos, who graduated last month from Muchin College Prep, will complete his 7th year in the Sustained Scholarship Program.  Michael received his first Scholarship in 2007 at the age of 12, starting with the prams and working his was up to Columbia’s Junior Sailing Team.

With the Foundation’s financial support and the stellar coaching and guidance of Columbia’s sail master, Michael Ramos is a skilled sailor with a passion to continue in the sport. “I want to be a part of a sailing team in college too, I want sailing to be a part of my life. And I would never have been able to do this without the Foundation’s support.”

Christopher Cross said it best in his 1980 Hit Song of the Year, Sailing:

“Oh, sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me and soon I will be free.”

If you’d like to help the Foundation grow new sailors, you can contact them at And if you have some little ones of your own that would benefit from this great experience, call our Sailing Master, Kurt Thomsen at the Club.



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