Masters International

Philadlephia Boathouse Row

First Vesper Women's Team 1970-1975
1973 Dad Vail Regatta, Philadelphia
In 1973 Dad Vail, a collegiate regatta, included women for the first time. The only event was an eight. Since there were not many colleges, they invited all women's teams, no matter what affiliation
Maureen (cox), Diane, Karin, Pam, Cara, Sue, Lucille, MarieJ, AnnJ
Head of the Charles admits women for the first time in 1972!
Oct 22, 1972    Women's Eight (12 entries)

The first Vesper Women's Team, a novice crew having rowed only 1 and 2 years, wins by 38 seconds over University of Wisconsin, in a time of 18:24. A good performance, considering their lack of rowing experience (especially sweep), their size and the wooden men's equipment used in those days.

Ann Jonik, Marie Jonik, Cara Thorn, Susan Burns, Lucille Leib, Pam Behrens, Karin Constant, Diane Braceland, cox: Maureen Donohue

(coach: Gus Constant)

photos of Vesper Women's Crew  1970-1975
VESPER WOMEN'S CREW - 1970-1975*
In 1969 Gus Constant was coaching Jinx Becker, the only woman at Vesper BC. In August, he recruited Karin at the Bob Fitness Jog-Along, a 9.2 loop around the Schuylkill River, and they married later that year. During the next five years, they recruited many new additons locally and, as there were few high school or college programs from which they could draw for the summer racing season, taught them rowing from scratch. Lucille Leib was lured away from a basketball team and cox Maureen Donohue was found on the ski slopes. Diane Bracelend was seen rowing a 2x with her father and immediately claimed. The Joniks, at that time two lanky super lightweight string beans just finishing high school, were also snapped off the river. Cara Thorn asked a pedestrian for directions to the train station. The pedestrian was Gus and she became a rower. Chris Knecht was sent by her father, Bill, also rowing at Vesper at that time. The Wilcher sisters were brought by their mother. Pam Behrens was talked into rowing by Maureen and Mary Constant (Gus' sister), fellow co-workers at Lankenau Hospital. The Constants also sat on the Vesper front porch and eyed the few female runners/walkers passing by who looked like they might have potential, like Ilse Marton. Emphasis was on good legs!  Later on, Kate Cook, Linda Chew and Mary Clark switched over from PGRC and College BC. Some were brought by husbands and friends: Susan Burns, Jody Phillips, Valeria Campbell, and Alison Hayes. Helen McFie and Beth Alspach were experienced rowers and joined us because they wanted to continue rowing. Hilarie Pleet, still a high school student, was rowing by herself and was happy to accept Karin's invitation to join the group. Many others came and went, staying only a few months before they decided that a daily demanding training schedule in all kinds of weather was not for them. 
Race opportunities for women were practically non-existant so Karin and Jinx raced against each other in the 1x at the 7th American Henley, Philadelphia.  Later that year, Joanne Iverson brought Sharon Pierce and Valerie Helenski, whom she had been coaching. Jinx, Karin, Sharon and Valerie competed at the local Schuylkill Navy Match Races and the 5th National Women's Rowing Association (NWRA) Championships in Oakland, CA, winning and placing in all their races.  The Philadelphia Frostbite Regatta added their first women's event, an 8+, and the Vesper women decided to enter although four of their members (Cara Thorn, Chris Knecht, Angela McCoy, Karen Coultes, cox Maureen Donohue) had only been rowing about four months. They lost the race just before the finish when one of the new crew members caught a crab; they helplessly watched PGRC cross the finish line first.

The Vesper women's crew consisted of  nine rowers (Cara, Sharon, Valerie, Karin, Jinx and newbies Alice Platt, Elisbeth Ehrhorn, Lucille Leib, Diane Braceland) and one cox Maureen. There continued to be few races for women but the Vesper women entered every race they could find, winning most of them. 
*First Annual Women's Eastern Championships, Philadelphia: after winning 1x, 2-, 2x, 4x and 4+, they jumped into an 8+ but had to concede the race to PGRC, an all Philadelphia womens club.
*Schuylkill Navy Match Races:  The Vesper women took firsts in 1x and 8+ but it was an easy 8+ victory won against high schoolers from Baldwin School. (These Philadelphia match races were held twice during the summer and were made up of crews who wanted to race against each other in a category of their choice)
*6th NWRA Championships, Lyme, CT:  the 10 Vesper women were undefeated (1x, light 1x, light 500M 1x, 2x, 2-, 4x, 4+ and 8+) and won the team trophy. They also won the right to represent the USA at the World Championships in Denmark in the six qualifying events but only the 1x and 4x chose to go. They did not do well there simply because they were still novices and all their competitors had been rowing and training for many years.
*Schuylkill Navy Match Races:  Vesper won the only women's events listed: 1x, 4x, mix2x.
In the summer 1971, Ann and Marie Jonik joined the Vesper group. The twins came from a strong rowing family (their parents and four older brothers had raced).  Diane, Karin, Ann and Marie instantly clicked in the 4+ and were undefeated in this combination. Joanne Iverson took Valerie and Sharon back to College BC.
*Frostbite Regatta:  Vesper women won 1x, 4+, 2- and 4x, with Diane and Karin giving the 2- a try as a change from training just in singles.
*68th Schuylkill Navy Cross-Country Run (aka Turkey Trot) is a cross-country race for rowers through Fairmount Park, starting and finishing in front of Vesper. No woman had ever participated before as it was considered an all-men's event!  Gus, who had held a cross-country race for female rowers in a different area of the park the previous years, decided that the women had as much right to race in the Turkey Trot as the men, since they were rowers too.  Diane and Karin were willing to test the waters so he entered both, using only the first initial instead the first full name. When the two showed up at the starting line proudly wearing their race numbers, the Commodore ripped them off and announced the race would not start until the women withdrew. Gus said, OK, no problem, then there will be no Turkey Trot this year. The race went off with the women, albeit without numbers.
In the summer, Gus who came from a running background going back to his grade school days, started the women on a running program. At that time there was no running path along the river as there is now. There were few other female runners and the Vesper women had to endure frequent catcalls from passing male motorists.
In the winter, weightlifting was added to the training program. Karin arranged for the use of Temple University's weight room, another male bastion. When the Vesper women entered for the first time, every man froze immediately in whatever position he was at the moment. You could have heard a pin drop! But after a few minutes it was business as usual and the Vesper women became an accepted part of the weight room every winter.

On March 18th, a promising rowing career was cut short. Without informing anyone, Alice Platt, who had very little experience in a single having rowed mostly in crews, decided to take out a racing shell by herself. There were high winds and whitecaps, and nobody else was on the water at the time. Due to her lack of experience and the conditions, she was unable to keep the boat under control and was swept over the dam which runs diagonal to the boat houses. A passing motorist said that she briefly tried to hold on to the lip of the dam before being swept over to her death.
This year saw an increase in race opportunities since many regattas added women's events for the first time!  This was also the first full racing season for women's collegiate crews, with match races every weekend from April to mid-May. But regattas with women's events were still sparse so colleges and clubs raced together in these regular regattas. GWU. with a fledgling club program, invited the Vesper 4+ to race them. This was  the first women's race ever on the Potomac, won by the Diane/Karin/Ann/Marie combination. Vesper in turn invited GWU to come up to a collegiate regatta held a little later on in Philadelphia.
 *Davenport Cup in Worcester, MA (a new regatta):  the Vesper 8+ (AnnJ, MarieJ, Lucille, Jinx, Cara, Karin, Diane, cox Maureen and Gail Pierson from Cambridge) came from behind to beat Radcliffe, Williams, MIT, Connecticut College, WPI.
*Dad Vail, a big collegiate regatta in Philadelphia, added the first women's events, 4+ and 8+ open to all crews regardless of affiliation. The winning Vesper 8+ consisted of Jinx, Karin, Lucille, MarieJ, AnnJ, Diane, cox Maureen and newbies Pam Behrens and Ilse Marton.
*2nd Eastern Women's Championships, Philadelphia:  Vesper women won the Alice Platt Memorial Trophy by winning 1x,4x, 2x, 2- and novice 1x but lost the 4+ to PGRC and were edged out by Radcliffe's 8+
*7th NWRA Championships, Seattle, WA:  only a small Vesper contingent went, taking first in light 1x and light 2-, second in 4+ and 4x, 3rd in heavy 1x. 
*Independence Day Regatta, Philadelphia:  for the first time women's events were added. Cara, Pam, Ilse, cox Jody and newbie Susan Burns (now Rubini) won the 4+ and Karin the 1x. These races were listed as "girls" not "women's" events, not uncommon in those early days!
*New England Championships, Lowell, MA:  only Diane and Karin opted to go, each winning 2 races; Diane mix2x with Charles Hamilton and 2x with Karin, Karin won the 1x
*Canadian Henley, St.Catharines included women's events for the first time. Vesper won all three: 1x (Karin),  4+ (Susan, Ilse, Pam, Cara, cox Maureen) and 8+ (AnnJ, MarieJ, Lucille, Susan, Cara, Pam, Karin, Diane, cox Maureen) to bring home the coveted gold medals and beautiful Henley plaques.
*Head of the Schuylkill, Philadelphia:  this was the first HOS, changing its name from Graduate Sculls and going to a head race format.  Vesper women won the 8+ and took 1st and 2nd in the singles, exactly half of the total number of women racing in this first time event.  Women's events were again listed as "girls" but the men's events were listed as "men's", not "boys"!
*Head of the Charles, Boston added the first women's 8+ event which the Vesper women won, beating 12 other crews, mostly colleges. 
*4th Philadelphia Frostbite Regatta:  Vesper women won all 3 events - 1x (Karin), 2x (Pam, Karin), 4+ (Cara, Pam, Lucille, AnnJ, cox Maureen)
*Turkey Trot:  only 4 women entered (Vesper's Diane, Cara, Karin, AnnJ)  but they had to start AFTER the men's race.

*Dad Vail, Philadelphia still allowed club crews in their only two women's events, 4+ and 8+. The Vesper entered the 8+ (Diane, Karin, Pam, Cara, Susan, Lucille, AnnJ, MarieJ, cox Maureen) and beat PGRC.
*3rd Annual Eastern Women's Championships, Philadelphia:  Vesper won 4 of the 5 events they entered.  8+ (Diane, Karin, Pam, Cara, Lucille, Beth Alspach, AnnJ, MarieJ, cox Maureen), 4x (Diane, Pam, Lucille, Karin, cox Maureen - yes, quads were still coxed in those days!), 1x (Karin) and heavy novice wherry (Hilarie Pleet). Our two novice high schoolers did very well by placing second in the open 2x (Hilarie, Eileen).
*8th NWRA, Philadelphia (under the leadership of the Constants):  since the winners of the open events would qualify to represent the USA at the World Championships in Moscow, clubs concentrated their training on specific crews. Vesper pointed for the 4x and 4+,  Long Beach for the 4x and 2x, Radcliffe for the 8+. Predictably, Vesper won the 4x (Karin, Diane, Pam, Lucille, cox Maureen) and the 4+ (Cara, Beth, AnnJ, MarieJ, cox Jody). Radcliffe earned the 8+ berth by nipping Vesper (Pam, Karin, Diane, Cara, Beth, Lucille, AnnJ, MarieJ, cox Jody) at the finish. Long Beach was disappointed when they lost the 4x in a close race but they earned the 2x berth by beating Vesper (Pam, Karin). Vesper also won the Jr. 4x, the first time this event was offered at the NWRA:  Wilcher sisters (first Afro-American female rowers), Eileen and a Lake Merritt youth sculler. 
For Moscow, upon the insistence of the USORC, the already qualified crews underwent seat testing which, instead improving the crews, actually resulted in unhapy crews of lesser quality.  Exibition 2- (Val, MarieJ),  4+ (Sharon, AnnJ, Beth, Cara, cox Jody), 4x (Pam, Karin, Diane, Louis, cox Maureen).  The 4x especially suffered since Lucille pulled out and the only replacement available was Louis Trench, a very inferior athlete from PGRC.       
Funding for Moscow from the USORC for the women was minimal (while the men had almost all of their expenses paid). In order to help defray their cost, the women went on a fundraising campaign. Gus, Karin and the Vesper women made up a mailing list of friends and relatives, asking for financial assistance. Donations came in small amounts but added up and Ed Singer, an admirer of the Vesper Women's program, contributed $1000.  In addition, several evenings after rowing practice, the Vesper women stood with tin cups in hand at some of the bigger malls in the area. Gus and Karin put up the balance.
*Men's National Championships, Cooper River, NJ:  Bill Knecht, the regatta director and a champion of women's rowing, added 2 women's events. Vesper won both: 2x (Diane, Karin), 4x (Pam, Lucille, Diane, Karin) and were therefore the first women to race on the Cooper River.
*Canadian Henley, St. Catharines:  unfortunately, a jammed seat cost us the 8+ race (Diane, Lucille, Karin, Sharon Wilcher, Pam, MarieJ, AnnJ, ?, cox Maureen)
*Head of the Schuylkill, Philadelphia:  Vesper won the only 2 women's events. The "girls" 8+ (Lucille, Pam, Ann, Marie, Sharon Wilcher, Diane, Karin, Sally Bromley?, cox Maureen) and the "girls" 1x (Eileen)
*Head of the Charles:  Vesper 8+ (Diane, Karin, Pam, Lucille, Beth, AnnJ, Sharon Wilcher, Sally?, cox Maureen) with a weaker crew still managed a surprising second place
*Philadelphia Frostbite Regatta:  no records of our entries found so far, except the photos of the 2x (Diane, Karin) whose race was cut short by a broken oarlock
*70th Turkey Trot:  9 entries (Diane, Karin, Carol Clay and Eileen from Vesper, 3 from PGRC, and one each from College BC and University BC). The women still had to start AFTER the men!

Several women were recruited from Connecticut College during the summer vacation. In order to provide free housing for them and other out-of-town women on the Vesper team, the Constants bought a rowhouse on Poplar Street and outfitted it with bunkbeds.
*Bill Braxton Regatta (then held in March!):  Linda Chew coxed the 4+ of Karin, Diane, MarieJ, AnnJ to first place
*1st NWRA Mid-Atlantic Regionals, Philadelphia:  first places in 2x (Diane, Lucille), light 1x (Karin), intermediate 1x (Liz Hodge), light 2x (Sally Bromley, Eileen), 4+ (Lucille, Debby Kirchmer, Sheila Dugan, Mary Clark, cox Linda?), Jr. 1x (Eileen);  Pam lost the 1x against Gail Pierson and Yale beat our 8+ (no record of the names of the crew members)
*Independence Day Regatta, Philadelphia included only 2 women's events. Vesper won 1x (Karin) and 2x (Pam, Karin)
*9th NWRA Nationals, Oakland:  throughout the 1974 rowing season, Vesper women pointed towards the 8+, wanting to represent the USA at the World Championships in Luzerne.  The 8+ win (Debbie Kirchmer, Cathy Menges, Jane Cashin, Mary Clark, Pam, Liz, Sheila Dugan, Karin, cox Maureen) was duly celebrated by a bottle of champaign and a swim in Lake Merritt. In addition we won gold in light 1x (Karin), light 2x (Sally Bromley, Eileen), Jr 2x (Hilarie, Eileen) and silver in light 500 dash (Karin), Jr. 1x (Hilarie), open 500 dash (Karin). The open 2- (AnnJ, MarieJ) was disqualified because the twins rowed out of their lane. There are photos of a Vesper 4+ but no names and no Vesper crew is listed in the results. 
*World Championships, Luzerne:  our hopes were dashed as soon as we saw our choices of equipment. One of the eights was a heavy men's boat used in open water rowing. In the lighter one, also a men's boat, the footpieces and the ends of the slides were too far apart and could not be adjusted to our shorter legs, so we had to use the heavy boat (which  practically needed 16 people to carry it). To defray our expenses, unlike the US men, we again had to resort to the fund raising mailing and tin cups at the malls.
*Canadian Henley, St. Catharines:  the 8+ was easily won by the Vesper Moscow 8+ but our 4+ (Lucille, Josie Burke, AnnJ, MarieJ, cox Kate Cook) could do no better than 5th.
*Head of the Charles, Boston:  Vesper 8+ (AnnJ, MarieJ, Anita DeFrantz, Pam, Liz, Jane, Diane, Karin, cox Linda) defeated 44 other eights, including Radcliffe who had beaten them the previous year.
*6th Philadelphia Frostbite Regatta:  the 4+, only women's event, was won by Jane, Cathy, Liz, Karin, cox Linda
*71st Turkey Trot:  again only 7 entries. Liz, Karin, Diane, AnnJ from Vesper, Phyllis Hess (who was still at College BC), and 3 PGRC women. 

*Braxton Regatta (still in March):  Vesper won all 3 women's events. 8+ (Karin, Phyllis Hess (now Soller), AnnJ, MarieJ, Anita, Cathy, Liz, Pam, cox Maureen), 2x (Liz, Karin) and 4+ (no record of names)
*2nd Mid-Atlantic Women's Regionals:  all Vesper women's crews won. 4x (Phyllis, Helen McFie, Susan, Eileen), light 1x (Karin), light 500M dash (Karin), light 2x (Eileen, Susan Newcomb), 8+ (Pam, Liz, Anita, AnnJ, MarieJ, Karin, Cathy, Sheila, cox Maureen), 2- (AnnJ, MarieJ), Intermediate 1x (Phyllis), 4+ (no record of names)
10th NWRA Nationals, Princeton:  Vesper placed in every event they entered and won the team trophy but lost the right to challenge the camp 8+. Gold in 4+ (Alison Hayes, Cathy, Anita, Pam, cox Valerie Campbell), light 1x (Karin), 2- (AnnJ, MarieJ), light 4x (Phylis, Eileen, cox Maureen, non-Vesper women MaryFitzSimmons and Jody Gormley); silver in light 2x (Phyllis, Eileen)?, 4x (no record of names), 8+ (Alison, Cathy, Anita, Pam, AnnJ, MarieJ, Karin, Liz, cox Maureen);  bronze in 1x (Diane)
*Independence Day Regatta, Philadelphia:  women's events still billed as "girls".  Gold in 2x (Phyllis, Karin) and 1x (Karin) but 4+ was disqualified.
*Head of the Schuylkill, Philadelphia:  2x (Pam, Karin) and 1x (Karin) won but 8+ (AnnJ, MarieJ, Doris Gonzales(from PGRC), Liz, Anita, Pam, Cathy, Diane, cox Maureen) lost to College BC (Jane and Sheila having defected to them)
*Head of the Charles, Boston:  Vesper 8+ (AnnJ, MarieJ, Phyllis, Anita, Pam, Karin, Cathy, Diane, cox Maureen) got their revenge and beat College BC (Val, Sheila, M.McLean, Jane, Nancy Storrs, Sue Morgan (now Hooten), Laura Staines, Wicki Royden, cox Holly Hatton).  Karin was pleased with 3rd in the single, behind Wicki Royden and Anne Warner.
*Philadelphia Frostbite Regatta:  Diane and Karin won the 2x;  Karin placed 2nd to Liz Miles in the 1x
*72nd Turkey Trot:  again only 7 entries. Diane, Eileen, Karin, Sarah Lohwater from Vesper, Sue Morgan (now Hooten) from College BC, and 2 women from PGRC. Again, the women had to start by themselves after the men. (In 1976, they started 5 minutes before the men. Karin almost won overall but got caught just before the finish by Jack St. Clair.  After that, and ever since, the men and women start at the same time!)
1975 was the last year the Constants sponsored and coached the Vesper Women's crew. During these years they paid for entries, shirts, rental boats and boat transports, and the annual Vesper dues for each crew member. They bought the lockers, George Braceland the shower. They also provided the coaching launch and motor and paid for their own gasoline. They provided several of the singles and one of the eights and paid for the maintenance and repairs of these boats. (Fred Emerson from Blood Street Sculls donated a 4-/4x and the rest of the boats were club boats, usually the ones the men no longer wanted).  Now there was no longer a need for a Vesper women's team since the good women from clubs and colleges would no longer stay at their clubs during the racing season; instead they would be going to the National Training Camp to try to qualify for one of the crews going to the World Championships and Olympics.  The Vesper women had petitioned the US Olympic Women's Rowing Committee (USOWRC) for the right to challenge the camp 8+, the winner to represent the USA at international competitions. We won the petition to challenge provided we won the Championship 8+ at the Nationals in Princeton. This hope was dashed when Wisconsin won the 8+. Since five of his Vesper women reported to the camp, the US Olympic Committee nominated Gus to the coaching staff of the women's crews who competed at the 1975 World Championships in Nottignham, England. And thus ended an era!

The 1970 to 1974 years were not peaceful at Vesper Boat Club. At every Vesper meeting, Dietrich Rose's men's team (with Mike Vespoli as ring leader) wanted the women voted out of the club. Reasons?  "They will take over the club, they will take over our boats, they will get all the recognition!"  Each year they were voted down until Jack Kelly finally put an end to it all by announcing: "The women are here to stay!"  As major money donor, his decision was final. In the meantime the women endured many hassles, including finding the door to their tiny locker room nailed shut, foot pieces spirited out of the boats before races, and even had a gun pointed at them once just as they were getting ready to push the eight off the dock.
(*These regatta results were taken from my scrapbooks, which unfortunately are not complete for those years. If you have additions and/or corrections, please send them to me!!!)
Jan 4, 2012
Gus Constant passed peacefully away in the morning of Dec 25 after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease. He competed at many FISA Masters in the older mens categories and then later came to several regattas to help Karin with her Masters International women's group. In 2006, he was able to watch our crews at the Princeton FISA Masters for only one day because the disease was already affecting his balance and physical strength.         To see his obit: