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Dec. 8, 2019
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University Yacht Club elects first female commodore

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
As the first female commodore of University Yacht Club in its 69-year history, Lisa Herndon Wilson takes her leadership position in stride. From the time she was a child spending summers on Lake Murray, South Carolina, and on that state’s coast, she has made boating a major part of her life.
 
“Growing up with two brothers, I was on the water from the beginning,” said Wilson, who also holds a U.S. Coast Guard “Six Pack” Captain’s License. “My dad built his first boat when I was three and made sure I was comfortable and proficient around boats. He instilled my love of the water from an early age.” 
 
Today, she and her husband Jimmy Wilson, continue to make boating the focus of their lives. Married since 2015, they have known each other since they were pre-teens growing up in Columbia. “My aunt was his second mom and he was best friends with my first cousins,” she said. “And, he was my first kiss when I was 13 years old. We dated off and on, but he married someone else and so did I. It wasn’t until much later and through many life events that we reconnected.”
 
A graduate of Furman University with a degree in business, she earned a Master of Business Administration from Kennesaw State University. For 31 years, she worked in telecommunications, including as director of International Projects for BellSouth Mobile Data; director of Market Research for Cingular; and Direction of National Real Estate Administration for AT&T Wireless. Jimmy recently retired from 30-plus years in field sales.
 
Her work with AT&T and the Bell Companies brought her to Atlanta, where she and her late husband David Herndon joined University Yacht Club and the Atlanta Sail and Power Squadron. 
 
Leading roles on Lanier
They began boating on Lake Lanier and each of them served in leadership roles in both organizations. Herndon, who had served as a commander with America’s Boating Club Atlanta and a Governor at UYC, passed away in 2011, but Lisa continued with boating and service to both organizations. 
 
“My parents were members of the Lake Murray Power Squadron,” she said. “I always saw what a great organization it was, so when Dave and I were looking for a hobby and a place to find great friends in Atlanta, it was a no-brainer and we joined in 2002.”
 
She served in the leadership of America’s Boating Club for nearly a decade, culminating in commander in 2011 and she remains active with the group on both a local and national level. Wilson holds the highest educational level of Senior Navigator with America’s Boating Club. 
 
In 2013, she decided to pursue the rigorous US Coast Guard Captain’s License. “It was something I always wanted to do,” Wilson said. She traveled to Charleston for the preparatory classes and testing. “In a class of about 20, I remember only one other female. It was like a crash course, but all my classes and education with the Power Squadron, now America’s Boating Club Atlanta, truly prepared me well.”
 
Wilson is a champion for boating education. “It is especially important for women to be confident on the helm and to understand the workings of the boat and how to be safe on the water,” she said. “Many times, the man drives the boat, but women should be equally knowledgeable. What if something happens to the captain? Women need to be prepared as well. Boating doesn’t depend on physical strength. The key is to use your smarts, be calm behind the wheel and have the ability to make sound and safe decisions.” 
 
Helping create virtual trainer 
Several years ago, Wilson was national project manager for America’s Boating Club, developing the Boating Skills Virtual Trainer, a simulator that recreates opportunities for testing and honing on-the-water abilities. The organization displays a unit  at the Atlanta Boat Show annually. Nationally, there are more than 30 units available across the country.
 
“Over six years, the US Coast Guard has invested more than $1 million in the development of the trainer program through America’s Boating Club,” she said. “A year in development, it’s now in its sixth software version and our seventh grant cycle. It has been invaluable in training and education. This has been an amazing partnership with a number of groups and agencies.”
 
At University Yacht Club, Wilson served on the Board of Governors for two years and then was selected by the Nominating Committee and elected by the membership to join the bridge, which included a year each as Treasurer, Secretary, Rear Commodore and Vice Commodore before being installed as Commodore. “Currently we have two female governors and six male governors, but I’ve come to realize that whether you’re male or female, everyone at University Yacht Club is very supportive of leadership. It truly takes a village, and everyone works together to accomplish so much.”
 
She reflected on her coming year as Commodore. “UYC has so many wonderful programs, from the Junior Sailing and Sunset Series to a year-round calendar of social and boating events,” she said. “I love seeing that the club is multi-generational. Early members are now grandparents of members, and their young children are growing up here and learning to love the water.” 
 
Music a part of life, too
She has four stepchildren and four grandchildren whom she and Jimmy visit often. In their spare time, the couple enjoys boating, dancing and traveling. Lisa’s love of music keeps her busy playing French Horn in the Atlanta Wind Symphony, playing piano in the UYC chapel and singing. She is also an avid photographer.
 
“Our grandchildren and children light up our lives,” she said. “And Jimmy and I certainly consider our boating friendships our greatest treasures. Life takes many turns, and I am blessed to embark on this next stage of my life.”
 
University Yacht Club was founded in 1951, several years after ground was broken on Buford Dam. Today it has more than 250 members and their spouses. It presents annual Independence day fireworks on July 3 over Lake Lanier, as well as a full calendar of events for members and guests.
 
In addition to Wilson, the officers for 2020 are Tom Shirey, vice commodore; Mark McQuaid, rear commodore; Bret Benninghoff; Steve Simpson, treasurer. Board of Governors who began serving in 2019 are Mike Bruce, David Leaycraft, Dale Owens and Marvin Willis. The 2020 Governors are Mike Lee, Joanne Mocny, Jeff Sample and Rochelle Starkey. The 2020 appointed officers are Craig Wolf, fleet captain power; Kent Rogers, fleet captain sail; Donna Mathis, fleet surgeon; the Rev. Bruce Shortell, fleet chaplain; and the Rev. J. Caleb Clarke III, assistant fleet chaplain.
 
For more information about the club visit universityyachtclub.net or call 770 967-2814.

Posted onlien 11.25.19
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