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Recapping the races

DePue’s biggest event deemed a success

Nicholas Rebolz, 2, of Ladd rides the merry-go-round with grandmother Margaret Bernardi of Ladd, at the carnival during the 30th annual Pro National Championship Boat Races held in DePue last weekend.
Nicholas Rebolz, 2, of Ladd rides the merry-go-round with grandmother Margaret Bernardi of Ladd, at the carnival during the 30th annual Pro National Championship Boat Races held in DePue last weekend.

DEPUE — The activities of DePue’s biggest weekend have come to an end, but the memories created at the 30th annual Pro National Championship Boat Races will last forever.

This year’s event has been deemed a success, despite the heavy winds brought on over the weekend, which caused three-hour delays and shortened races.

DePue Men’s Club President Steve Solorio believes this year’s event made the Top 5 successful years, financially speaking,

“We did good. We made money on the event. We’re not hanging our heads on this one,” he said. “We stuck to what we wanted to do, and thank God everything worked out.”

Even with delays and cooler weather, the crowds stuck around, knowing the races would go on. Solorio said he was just thankful there was no rain and thunderstorms because that’s when an event loses its crowds.

Looking back on the amount of people who crowded into the small town, Solorio guessed there were anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 people throughout the course of the weekend.

“That’s pretty good when you really think about it,” he said. “The shoreline was packed, and the cars were bumper-to-bumper on the streets.”

The annual event brings racers from all over the country — from areas of Texas to New York, California, Wisconsin and Connecticut. This year’s event drew about 100 races, and Solorio said there had to be around 250 boats lining the shore.

One thing that helped alleviate stress on the event was the higher lake water levels.

Solorio said the water was measuring about 11 inches over what’s needed to race. While the levels remained good throughout the weekend, village officials made the call to place a temporary dam at the mouth of where the Illinois River and Lake DePue meet as a precaution before the races began.

Next year, village officials are hopeful a new permanent dam will be placed in that location to prevent any further boat races from being threatened, like two years ago due to low water levels.

In talking about the importance of the boat races and what it means for DePue, Solorio explained the biggest reason why they began hosting the races 30 years ago was to get recognition from politicians and to show them what this lake really met to the town and how many tourists and large crowds an event like could be drawn to DePue.

“We continue to battle with the Superfund site. With CBS and Exxon Mobil. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the cleanup going. I probably won’t see it happen in my lifetime,” he said. “I don’t know how much much longer we can wait on the politicians. The biggest importance of the event is showing how big of a resource this lake is to the community. If we don’t get the lake cleaned up soon, it’s going to die off; and we’re going to lose the races; and then there will be nothing.”

On a final note, Solorio pointed how thankful he was of all the volunteers who came together to make the event possible.

“I didn’t really realize how big of event we were putting on here until like my 10th year doing it,” he said. “When you look around, it’s just small town guys putting on this huge event for people who come across the country to race and the people who come from out of state to watch them race. It’s just incredible.”

Solorio said people don’t realize how many volunteers it takes to put on the event — from the beer garden to food stands and admission — there’s a lot of manpower involved.

“I want to thank all the great people who helped us throughout the whole week. We couldn’t do it alone. The Men’s Club is just a sponsor of the event, but it takes more force and bodies out there helping put this on.”

Also, members of the DePue Men’s Club are asking for prayers for Texas native racer Sean McKeen. He is currently under hospital care for a foot injury sustained in one of the races over the weekend.

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