Whippoorwill brought to Perry Lake

Matt Abramovitz

Photo by Holly Davis
Matt Abramovitz, along with his brother, Josh, (not pictured) are the new proud owners of the original Whippoorwill paddleboat. Matt stands next to the 65-foot boat that now lives at the Perry Lake Marina.


by Holly Davis
The original Whippoorwill paddleboat that was hit by a tornado in 1978 and sank in Pomona Lake is getting a new life on Perry Lake.
Brothers Matt and Josh Abramovitz, 24 and 26, respectively, Valley Falls, recently purchased the boat that had been restored into a houseboat and dry docked since 2001. They have big plans to get the 65-foot boat back in action as a commercial day cruise and the first paddleboat to set out on Perry Lake.
What is now known as the Whippoorwill disaster, was a tornado that hit Michigan Valley June 17, 1978. The tornado formed at 7 p.m. and was on the ground for 8 miles. Directly in its path was the Whippoorwill paddleboat carrying 58 passengers and crew. The tornado struck the boat causing it to capsize, which resulted in 16 people losing their lives. Just a couple years ago, the Pomona Lake’s 50thAnniversary Committee held a memorial service to remember the tragic event.
Since then, the vessel was purchased by a new owner and restored as a houseboat before getting in the hands of Ragen Backstron, Shawnee, who also did some repairs on the boat.
Matt Abramovitz came across the paddleboat when purchasing another boat online from the former owner, Backstron. Knowing the price to own the paddleboat was much too high, Matt jokingly bet Backstron “a half gallon of his choice” that he’d own it someday.
As time passed, Backstron’s mother-in-law became ill and he moved to Florida to be closer to her, with no choice but to leave the enormous boat behind. He immediately called Matt with an offer he couldn’t resist. Matt called his brother, Josh, who agreed to help out financially. Together, they had won the bet and became the new owners of the original Whippoorwill paddleboat. Backstron sent money for Matt to buy a half gallon of his choice.
“They were just going to send it to the scrapyard to chop it up into pieces. After learning about the history on the boat, I just couldn’t let that happen,” Matt said.
Aside from the interest in the history of the Whippoorwill, Matt and his family grew up taking tours on paddleboats and loved exploring how they worked.
“The whole tour was watching the paddle,” he laughed.
As new owners of the paddleboat, the Abramovitz brothers needed a new home for their recent hefty purchase. After Rock Creek Marina wouldn’t touch the idea, Perry Lake Marina happily obliged.
“The Perry Marina has been super helpful,” Matt said.
As a new home was set in place, the next step was to move the massive boat from Edwardsville, where it sat, to Perry Lake Marina. What other way to move such an oversize load than with a semi and a low-boy trailer.
Although the boat has been restored from its original state, there are still many repairs that need to be made. In fact, after a previous owner had done some rewiring, it burnt holes in the boat’s exterior causing it to sink once again at dock in the early 2000s.
Matt says they now have the challenge of welding up the holes, repainting the body, and adding new boards around the windows. The paddlewheel on the back of the boat is still the original, but beavers have munched away parts of it causing some much needed repairs. There is also a large dent caused by the tornado from 38 years ago.
Repairs to the inside of the boat are minimal to none. Items left inside of the boat have been practically untouched since the last remodel and, in fact, there are still calendars hanging on the wall from 1995.
The brothers have plans to give the boat back its original purpose as a day cruise for tourists. It has the capability to hold up to 100 people which means the Abramovitz brothers will need to purchase 100 life jackets. Along with the safety aspects, the boat must be certified through the Corps of Engineers and Matt must get his captain’s license. The process will take at least a year before it can serve as a commercial tourist boat, but Matt hopes to have repairs made for personal use in three weeks. He hopes to have a “starting voyage” celebration to launch the boat into the water.
“The boat can hold up to 100 people, but I have enough friends and family to fill it up twice,” he said.
Matt says he already has plans to give the paddleboat a pontoon look by building a “front porch” on the bow of the boat where tourists can have a front-row view and where bands will play front-stage.
After the Whippoorwill was restored, it was renamed “Georgia May” by the owner. Matt and Josh plan to rename the boat, but as brothers do, they have argued again and again over what it will be for sure. They do, however, hope to call their future business “Perry Paddlers.”
Josh is a school bus driver for USD 338. Matt is an employee at Meir Ready Mix and has two toddlers, Brantley and Avery. Together, they are eager to get the boat back into the water and although it has tragic history, they hope to bring back some joyful memories which is what the boat was originally built to do.

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Posted by on Sep 7 2016. Filed under Featured, The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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