As is tradition each autumn, the leadership of University Yacht Club changes. The current commodore literally passes the gavel to the next in line.
The process is a multi-weekend string of activities, including an on-the-water tribute to the outgoing commodore, the club’s annual membership meeting, and an official swearing in of the new people in charge.
September 30’s Fleet Pass in Review and dinner saw several dozen members’ boats – from decorated houseboats and cruisers to runabouts and sailboats – parade past outgoing Commodore Bret Benninghoff and his partner Gail Raper. With boat horns and cannon blasts penetrating the air, it began an afternoon of celebrations.
“The Pass in Review was a day I will never forget,” said Benninghoff. “Gail and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It was all worth it just to experience that moment at the end of the swim dock. The powers above granted us perfect weather and beautiful warm sunshine.”
Benninghoff reflected on his time as commodore:
“University Yacht Club has meant more to me than you will ever know,” he said.” I absolutely loved my journey serving our organization. Although there were heartaches and hurdles to clear at times, the successes always outweighed those moments.
“Someone asked me to name my three most proud moments as commodore. There are not one or two or three,” Benninghoff said. “Just being able to call you friends, being able to participate, experience the journey, and making sound decisions in leadership for our success; these are the things I’m most proud of.”
On October 7, club members participated in the annual meeting.
After the meeting and dinner, new officers took their oaths.
New Commodore Steve Simpson took the reins of the 73-year-old club. The son of a US Air Force father, he spent his youth at various bases domestically and abroad. He graduated with a degree in management science from Georgia Institute of Technology, then served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War.
His first career at Touche-Ross, later Deloitte, was in Atlanta, where he met UYC member Rick Smith. Smith eventually recruited him for membership in UYC. He and his wife Diane joined in 2013.
“From the very start, we have both loved this club and the people here,” Simpson said. “Diane and I have been very active from the beginning and she will be my right hand during my time as commodore.”
Simpson became a member of the Board of Governors in 2017 and quickly moved up the ranks, becoming treasurer in 2019. It’s the first step on the leadership track to commodore.
A musician, he spearheaded the annual musical/stage shows which are some of the most popular club-wide events. “There are wonderfully talented people in the club and it’s so much fun and so rewarding to put together a major production for the enjoyment of all our members,” he said. “Some are professional musicians; others share their gifts as well to make these shows memorable each year.”
A partner at Deloitte for 25 years building large-scale IT systems for clients, until he retired in 2001, Simpson also built a high-end global racing business in Buford, Historic Sportscar Racing – HSR, now owned by NASCAR. Additionally, he built his own shop in Buford to maintain cars for clients and his own collection of historic race cars. Now known as Simpson Racing and Classic Car Restorations, it serves the automotive and marine business.
“My love of racing started in the 1970s when I was a member of the Atlanta Jaguar Club,” he said. “I encouraged a bunch of our members to put together an event at Road Atlanta in 1977. It just really grew from there.”
Over the years, he’s taken clients around the world to race their historic vehicles, continuing to build a global reputation for Simpson Racing with the cars that the company campaigns.
Simpson retired from actively racing in 2015, and he continues to serve the motorsports community.
“I even have about 40-50 marine customers who come to me for service or parts,” he says with a smile.
Simpson and his wife Diane have two married daughters, Brittany, who graduated from Georgia Tech, and Taylor, a graduate of Lehigh University, and seven grandchildren.
Simpson’s goals for his year as commodore are straightforward.
“I hope to build a robust social calendar with attractive events for members,” he said. “I want to lead the board and bridge to further improve the club’s financial strength, and to ensure that the people who come up behind me will carry on the traditions of the club for years to come.
“University Yacht Club has a rich history of traditions that bring us all together.”