The passing of Jerry Stansberry

Jerry Stansberry, a pioneer of competitive water skiing in Virginia, passed away on Saturday, September 10th. Many of us have much appreciation and gratitude for what Jerry accomplished. Roger Hammel provided the following summary regarding Jerry’s contributions toward our sport.Photo from Parsell Funeral Homes website

Virginia Competitive WaterSkiers:

If you are relatively new to VA waterskiing, you may not know Jerry. So this is both a tribute to Jerry and a bit of a history lesson as I remember or know it.

Jerry has been retired from the Virginia and Eastern Region skiing scene for about 5 years, maybe a couple more, electing to become an Emeritus Judge. Before that, Jerry was a very active Senior Judge in our area.

To get a sense of the importance of Jerry to Virginia and Eastern Region waterskiing, you need to go back into the late 50’s and play it forward from there. So lets talk about Jerry and competitive skiing in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and later so everyone gets a sense of who this lady was and her central roles in waterskiing as we know it. It is a wee small history lesson for VA competitive waterskiing, too, focused on Jerry.  Not everyone or every lake is mentioned, as this is a description of Jerry and her roles. You have my apologies for omissions.

Jerry started waterskiing as a member of the Occoquan Waterski Club (now defunct) with operations on Belmont Bay and Occoquan River.  She may have been a founding member in 1956, I am not sure. But I know that in the late 50’s and early 60’s along with her husband Rick, in addition to running their business, Stansberry Plumbing, they were instrumental to tournament skiing. Their role together was hosting and helping with tournaments on public water, such as off Sandy Point Beach on the Occoquan River which used to be leased by the Occoquan Waterski Club, or officiating at other public water sites, such as Aquia Ski Club on Aquia Creek off the Potomac River where the Hancock family hosted tournaments, and at Chicahominy River sites.  Then later at Lake Holly, which significantly changed VA waterskiing.

I have heard stories and tales about other public water sites in Virginia hosting tournaments back in those days prior to 1975, Jerry may well have been an official at them, but it was before my time as a competitive waterskier and I just don’t have sufficient nor the proper information about them.  But I’d bet money that if there were tournaments at a site in Virginia in the 60’s and 70’s, Jerry was there.

In the 1970’s, the success of competitive waterskiing held on dedicated controlled access private lakes started to become more evident, Virginia was part of that movement off of public water with Picture Lake in Petersburg hosting tournaments in late 60’s to early 70’s, and then the 1973 Picture Lake Nationals near Petersburg.  These tournaments were held with Jerry’s help and efforts of officials and skiers from Virginia public waterski sites, plus officials from around the Region.

The private lake controlled access skiing idea began to take root in the waterskiing populace. Rick and Jerry realized that they needed a private lake as the public water on Belmont Bay used by Occoquan club was becoming very crowded. (I can attest to that as after some skiers left Occoquan for better water of private lakes, others of us skiers who started skiing later were still trying to make do with public water’s deteriorating conditions from crowding and later the Occoquan Waterski Club losing its lease on Sandy Point Beach in the late 70’s.)  The private lake hunt was on.

In Virginia, prior to 1973 Picture Lake Nationals, Bill Lohr with Steve and Ann had purchased an old Millpond, called Jiles Millpond, in Sparta, and used it for their private ski site and their home.  They have shared it with many individual skiers over the years, especially juniors. Hosted the first official Jr Development clinic in Virginia.

Then in the 1970’s next came Jennings Pond, which was developed on an old mill pond by John Howell, Milt Nash, Joe Cornett, Jim Laurel and others, including Jerry Stansberry. Jennings has grown and used to be the Va State Championship site.

Later in the mid-late 70’s, after Jennings Pond came the lake we know as Lake Holly, then recently purchased by Rick and was undergoing conversion from a real estate venture to 3-event competitive waterskiing by Rick and Jerry. Jerry withdrew from Jennings Pond about then, Rick and Jerry were assisted by master builder and teacher Bill Mahan and other luminaries in the Eastern Region, who collectively built Lake Holly into the exemplary skiing site it is today and has been for years.

Since those days, there have been quite a few private ski lakes developed in Virginia. Some are still in operation, some have grown as waterski lakes: for example Jennings Pond skiers developed Bear Lake adjacent to and perpendicular to Jennings Pond; ex-Garlands Millpond Skiers (1983-1989) formed Timberlake in ‘89 when the Garlands lease was not renewed; Picture Lake changed controlling owners and skiing ceased, then in the mid-late 80’s was resumed for several years, but skiing ultimately also ceased. Other private sites were developed at old millponds (Lake Maracossic, Lee’s Lake) or were lakes built for various speculative purposes that were repurposed for waterskiing.

We all shared knowledge about what worked, be it slalom course buoy and anchor systems, boats and speed control, surveying equipment, to jump ramps, jump meters evolved to video jump measurement systems etc. and we shared a cadre of officials who would travel from site to site in the summer, putting on tournaments. Each ski lake seemed to have developed ski facilities and systems that best worked for them. Jerry officiated at many of these sites. I must say that Jerry, along with Lee Mershon of Virginia, and Bill Baker of Pennsylvania helped me become a better judge and official, and I thank them for it.

A standard for comparison: Some ski lakes evolved as more tournament focused sites, others more recreational-competitive style skiing lakes. But the Virginia lake that has hosted the most Regionals over the years, has hosted the most record capability tournaments, and has served as a sort of “THE” working model of a competitive ski lake that could be used by others has been Rick and Jerry Stansberry’s Lake Holly.  Lake Holly sort of became a “standard” for comparison when it came to competitive waterskiing.  This is because of Rick and Jerry’s vision, many tons of hard work, and especially Jerry’s missionary work as a waterski official.

If you went to a waterski tournament back then in 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and later, Jerry was likely there as an official and judge, often serving as Chief Judge. She was a many times Assigned or Appointed judge at Nationals, and a fixture at Eastern Regionals. She encouraged and mentored many of us young judges back then, helping to build and develop a good cadré of waterski judges in Virginia.

Jerry and other Virginia skiers were helpful on an outreach to North Carolina skiers to get the TarHeels competitive waterskiing scene rebuilt in the 60’s and 70’s.  At the time, there was only one judge and no official drivers in North Carolina. So some of the founders of Jennings Pond mentioned previously, along with Jerry, Jon Thacher and perhaps some others, traveled to North Carolina’s Adams Pond, to assist the Coble family in rebuilding the competition scene there.  (April Coble, a now retired pro skier and head of Coble Ski School, was a toddler at the time.)  Over the years, in a reciprocal action, the Coble family have competed at Jennings Pond, Lake Holly Regionals and other Lake Holly record tournaments, and in both Timberlake Regionals.

Jerry was EVP twice, back in the days before email was widespread. Everything was manual. Communications were snail mail, telephone calls, or in person meetings. When she was EVP, she prepared the newsletters which were mailed to more than 3000 members in the Eastern Region—(this includes one former First Lady who used to waterski)—all very labor intensive.

For a number of years, before and after she was EVP, Jerry produced, sorted and mailed the Eastern Region guidebook.  She did conscript and dragoon area skiers to help her with that task and the Newsletters at the Stansberry Plumbing shop in Annandale.

When I went to my first Winter Meeting of Eastern Region Council in the 80s, I saw the respect that other officials in the Region had for Jerry. And I took note of this.

Photo credit Tonya Maurer

Photo credit Tonya Maurer

Under her leadership in the early 80’s, Lake Holly hosted the first of their continuing annual record capability tournaments.  Skiers came from North Carolina, South Carolina, some from Florida, and of course from around the Eastern Region. One year, a few skiers from Texas came, and introduced multi colored ski ropes for the various line lengths.  These tournaments were always full, and you were lucky if you got your entry in on time and were accepted to ski.  FULL to the max Lake Holly tournaments were the norm. Sometimes overfull.

I look at Jerry as someone who supported competitive waterskiing and private lake use for competitive skiing in our area. She helped it flourish.  Without a doubt, had I not gone to ski at Lake Holly in 1980, ’81, and ’82 as a guest and also as a competitor, I would likely not have been able to start the Garlands Millpond Waterski club in 1982-83, and when we lost Garlands, the same applies for starting Timberlake in 1989.   Lake Holly was a model that we could point to, and knowledgeable competitive skiers immediately understood what they were about.  Some things different lakes chose to do differently than Holly.  But we skiers had Jerry Stansberry’s Lake Holly as a lasting and proven model, a beacon, of one way to do it successfully.

Some folks might think of Holly also as a “me too” lake, considering that Picture Lake was the first private lake for competitive skiing in Virginia. But I don’t.  Lake Holly has survived for the LONG pull, no interruptions, and will do so further. Lake Holly, led by Rick and Jerry, along with master builder Bill Mahan, showed us all how it can be done with excellence, day after day, weekend after weekend, tournament after tournament, both high end record and local class C, year after year with skiers from many areas competing. Jerry was one of the primary reasons for that success.

Some “factoids” about Jerry –

  • Member, possibly a founding member of Occoquan Waterski Club during an era where the club leased and controlled the Sandy Point Beach bordering Belmont Bay and the Occoquan River.
  • At one time Jerry was an aspiring “Assistant Driver.”  Had she pursued this trajectory, I wonder where it would have led –  let that percolate with you for a while…
  • A missionary to other clubs in helping develop their AWSA certified officials.
  • Jerry was a multi year Appointed or Assigned judge at the US Nationals.
  • Developer and tireless worker, along with Rick, to develop Lake Holly into the fine competitive ski site it is today. Host of many Regionals and other Record capability tournaments including Jr Team Trials.
  • Jerry was the motivator and driving force behind bringing the Junior Team Trials to Lake Holly for a prestigious World Record Class R Tournament.  I remember working the tournament then as a regular judge (there was very little a Reg judge was qualified to do at a World Record class tournament) but getting to meet officials from throughout the US was for me, it was a big eye opener.  For Jerry, it seemed like a walk in the park. She was one of them.
  • Jerry was a tireless energy for competitive waterskiing in Virginia and the Eastern Region.
  • First female Master Plumber in Virginia.

I hope this explains why she was respected by experienced water skiers, and why she will be missed. I will miss her, our bi-monthly telephone calls, and advice on skiing matters and all sorts of other topics from cancer and death to newborn children all in the context of waterskiing.  We even discussed recent politics, where we agreed to disagree….as friends.  She was a very good, strong friend to me, and many others. I have had her grab my ear to get my full attention so she could make her point. Several times. Wish that could still happen. I am better for knowing her, and fortunately for me, I realized that before she left us.

Written with fondness and respect with input from long time competitive skiers Steve Lohr and Jon Thacher, and my wife, who has nailed an imitation of Jerry with love, featuring her drawling North Carolina accent.  Goes sort of like  “Now Roger, what about……”

Tributes on the Parsell Funeral Home website.

One thought on “The passing of Jerry Stansberry

  1. I first met Jerry Stansberry at a 1970 Novice Water Ski Tournament held at Sandy Point in Belmont Bay off of the Occoquan River. She and Rick Stansberry were terrific facilitators and organizers in the early days of AWSA competition. They encouraged me and water skiers everywhere to come have fun in tournament competition. It was a great atmosphere. Jerry’s enthusiasm and love for our sport was truly remarkable and continued for more than 50 years. She praised skiers who exhibited good sportsmanship. But if she thought you misbehaved in pursuit of a trophy, she would give you a piece of her mind. As a official, her decisions protected the integrity of our sport. She was a wonderful ambassador for water skiing. I shall miss her but won’t forget her.

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