- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - Residents from all over Elkhart County came to ride on the Elkhart River Queen on its maiden voyage Sunday after receiving $75,000 worth of repairs.

For most, this was not the first time they’ve ridden the historic paddle boat. Being on it once more invoked a lot of nostalgia for the passengers.

Jolinda Zook of Middlebury clearly remembers the summer evening she first saw the boat nearly 60 years ago.

“We were just sitting there (by the water) and saw lights and music,” she said. “All of a sudden it came around a bend and ‘Bam!’ It was just gorgeous.”

She knew she had to get on that Elkhart River Queen after she saw it that day.

“It’s an icon. I’m glad that it’s been rejuvenated,” Zook said.

For the Captain Jeff Zavatski, driving the 32-ton boat is fun. The new captain said he drove the boat for about 30 minutes in 2003 when his family chartered it for his grandparents’ anniversary.

“It’s fun having a historical boat that has a lot of meaning to these people and to the community,” Zavatski. “Everybody knows the River Queen.”

As the boat made its debut on the Upper St. Joseph River Flotilla, Ed Smoker, the previous owner of the boat from 1975 to 1997, said he was happy to see the red and white boat wasn’t just scrapped when it needed repairs. The nonprofit Save the Queen group that now owns the historic vessel was able to raise $75,000 for the repairs.

“It’s really a part of history,” he said.

In fact, the Elkhart River Queen is celebrating its 60th year since its inception, along with the Upper St. Joe Flotilla celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Not only is it a part of history for the people who have ridden on it but it’s a part of Elkhart history, Mayor Tim Neese said.

“It’s one of the many positive faces for the city of Elkhart,” he said.

Dave Dickman helped repair the leaking hull since the boat was lifted from the water in December. Small holes were repaired in the hull to fix the leaking, he said as he rode along the St. Joseph River.

There was even a 3-by-5-foot hole in the boat that needed repair, Dickman said. Besides the fixing the leaks, the boat was repainted, cleaned and had a new floor installed.

“We’re pretty proud,” Dickman said. “Hearing the motors run, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s a labor of love.”

Now that it is up and floating, the boat will make public tours and can be booked for events.

A group of passengers took advantage of the return to celebrate their own special event - a birthday. Nancy Woodford decided to spend her birthday on the Elkhart River Queen because she “loves being on the water.”

Woodford said she felt sentimental when she heard the Elkhart River Queen wasn’t running. As a lifelong resident of Elkhart, she’s taken a few trips on the boat and watched the progress.

When asked about spending her birthday on the paddle boat, Woodford said what many others expressed about the day the Elkhart River Queen hit the water.

“It’s perfect weather. It’s just beautiful,” she said.

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Source: The Elkhart Truth, https://bit.ly/29oa410

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com


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