During the heydays of the annual Powerboat magazine Performance Trials, there always was a least one weeklong stop in either Sarasota or Sanibel Island, Fla. Go-fast boatbuilders from the Midwest to the East Coast brought their latest and greatest models for the Powerboat test team to evaluate in advance of the magazine’s Awards For Product Excellence program. While the entire endeavor was not without flaws, it was the best of its kind. And I was privileged to be part of it.
But though I recall most of the 1,000-plus boats I was part of testing during my 15-plus years with the magazine, I remember all of the people I met along the way. And among them were Eugene and Anita Schaldenbrand, the parents of Sunsation Boats founder Wayne Schaldenbrand. That’s because the couple used to accompany their sons Wayne and Joe from Sunsation’s home in Algonac, Mich., to one of the Florida legs of the Performance Trials.
For Gene and Anita Schaldenbrand, it became an annual family vacation of sorts. And like the rest of the Powerboat magazine crew, I always looked forward to seeing their smiling faces in Florida each September. Just happy to be there, they were joyful and clearly proud of the boat company their sons created.
“I would imagine they came with us to the Powerboat tests for 10 or 12 years, and it always was a fantastic vacation for them,” said Wayne Schaldenbrand, who established Sunsation in 1982. “They didn’t have a lot of money and never would have done it on their own, so it opened up an entire new world for them. For my dad and mom, they were reaping the rewards of having a successful family.”
Gene Schaldenbrand died last weekend. He was 91 years old. In addition to Wayne, Joe and John Schaldenbrand, he left behind daughters Ann and Cindy and a small village of grandchildren.
Gene Schaldenbrand and his father, Roy, who worked for Chris-Craft for many years, introduced Wayne Schaldenbrand to boats. They built wooden Chris-Craft “kit boats” together, but when Wayne brought home a small fiberglass boat to restore neither his father and grandfather wanted anything to do with it.
“They said boats shouldn’t be built out of fiberglass,” Wayne said, then laughed. “I was on my own.”
True, Gene Schaldenbrand, who for many years worked as a production department manager for Chrysler and eventually moved on to delivering boats and transporting lamination materials for Sunsation, had nothing to offer when it came to the specifics of building fiberglass powerboats,
But he had a tremendous impact on how his sons approached the process.
“I learned a lot from him,” said Wayne. “The most important thing? Always do it the right way. It may be the long way, but there are no shortcuts. He was right about that.”
Joe Schaldenbrand, the company’s sales manager, learned much of the same from his father.
“He taught us, ‘Always do your best—that’s the best you can do,’” he said. “The difference between success and failure is being able to get up one more time.”
Never was their father’s lesson of resiliency more important to Wayne and Joe Schaldenbrand than after the recession of 2008, when they began transforming their V-bottom sportboat company into a performance-oriented center console company. That transition culminated three years ago with Sunsation scuttling its sportboat line to meet the booming demand for its CCX—Center Console Xtreme—series of models from 29 to 40 feet.
“Hard as it was to believe, he really liked the center consoles,” said Wayne Schaldenbrand, who chuckled again. “My mom liked them, too, because they aren’t as loud with the outboards. Every time we’d start up a stern-drive, big-block sportboat she’d look at me and it was like, ‘Really? That’s too loud.’
“Dad had a great, full life he—he really did,” he continued. “We had one sad day this weekend, but I think that’s behind us. Now we are going to celebrate him.”