Surprised subjects look back fondly on ‘spile diving’
By Jim Bloch
Ken Mareski was shocked to behold the bronze likenesses of himself and four friends captured in mid-dive off the eight foot pilings at the St. Clair Inn into the blue waters of the St. Clair River.
The five statues were unveiled by Inn owner Jeff Katofsky at a charity preview of remodeled and expanded hotel held Oct. 25.
Mareski had no clue that a 40-year old photograph, which he allowed the Inn to use, had become the basis for the sculptures by Dale Evers, an artist based in Paso Robles, California. Mareski figured the photograph would be used as a post card.
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“I can assure you that the (sculpture) was a complete surprise to my wife and I,” Mareski said.
Mareski and his wife Beth were guests of Aimee Lawrence, Katofsky’s assistant, at the event, which raised money for local children and veterans.
The five divers in the sculpture are based upon Mareski and four of his co-workers at the St. Clair Inn in the midst of a spile dive in 1979. The first diver is Tim Faucher, already leaping off the spile in his busboy uniform. The second diver is Randy Fosgard in a pair of shorts, his body leaning toward the river, about to dive. Mareski himself is next, a cigarette in his mouth, in his waiter uniform and a captain’s hat, followed by Shawn Smith and Mac Rolland on the far spiles.
Mareski’s childhood friend John Keyworth took the photograph using the 35 mm Yashica camera belonging to Mareski’s parents. The date was Aug. 18, 1979.
Mareski gave Chrissy Gorzen a flash drive full of the spile diving photos for a St. Clair Historical Museum event in 2014 dedicated to collecting memories of the Inn, a few months after the hotel closed its doors. Gorzen used the photos in a presentation she did on the 90th anniversary of the Inn in 2016, which she later showed Katofsky, who requested the dive photo. Gorzen put Mareski and Katofsky together, and Mareski signed a release allowing the Inn to use the image.
Katofsky also unveiled the sculpture of “Clair,” a woman standing on a piling with her hands on her hips, in front of the Inn, as a sort of feminine balance to the five divers.
Ironically, waitresses typically joined the waiters and busboys in the spile dives, said Mareski. He doesn’t recall why no women appeared in the now iconic shot.
Fosgard doesn’t remember why he was wearing shorts.
The Inn employees, who referred to themselves as Innmates, had an informal club called Flotillas, Inc. The main function of the group was staging weekly float-downs on the St. Clair River from the old Capuchin Retreat House in St. Clair Township to the St. Clair Inn, often followed by dives from the spiles along the hotel’s boardwalk. Prospective Flotillas members had to commit to memory the agate print on Budweiser cans: “We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age.”
Many of the Flotilla members had nicknames. Mareski was Elmo; Smith was Sea Dog;
Spile diving in full St. Clair Inn uniform took place to honor an Innmate heading off to college or a regular job. The dive in the photo was in recognition of Smith heading off to Western Michigan University on Aug. 19.
Mareski, who worked at the Inn from 1976-1992, and retired three years ago from his post as a history teacher at St. Clair High, is in the midst of a writing project about the dive and has asked the participants what they remembered about that day.
“I believe this was the same day that a few of us grabbed Mike LaPorte and threw him in the river. Suit and all,” said Faucher. LaPorte, now the owner of The Voyageur, was the inn’s general manager who hired the boys. “Fortunately, he was a pretty good sport about it. If it didn’t happen that day, it was definitely that summer.”
Eight divers actually participated in the now famous dive, including Jeff Shafran diving first from the north spile, Russ Turecky diving from the south spile and John Tiesworth diving just south of Shafran. When Keyworth took the picture, all of three were in the water — Tiesworth’s splash is visible in the photo.
The other divers were as surprised as Mareski to learn of the sculpture. Faucher, the lead diver, lives out of town and saw a photo of the sculptures on Facebook.
“It was so cool to see it,” said Faucher told Mareski. “Started bringing back memories as soon as I saw the sculptures. I didn’t realize the diver was me. I actually that it was Andy Galante until I saw the actual picture. That’s when I realized that I have been immortalized in St. Clair.”
“I was 17 years old at the time and until 2018 didn’t even know such a photograph existed,” said Fosgard.
“I found out the morning after the ‘reveal’ when Randy Fosgard texted me about it,” said Rolland. “He had no idea it was happening and we are both still in shock that our misspent youth was memorialized in bronze.”
Rolland got married on the deck outside the old River Lounge in 1986. He recalled attending fellow Innmate Tod Taylor’s wedding at the Inn in 1988 and the reception afterward at the old Captain’s House, demolished in the early 2000s.
“The entire wedding party (and a number of guests) recreated a full-uniform Spile Dive in our tuxedos in honor of our time as Innmates,” said Rolland.
How did the divers ascend the eight foot tall pilings?
Some of the divers, like Smith, hoisted themselves monkey-like up onto the spiles.
“I used a ladder,” said Mareski.
The Dive might be cast in bronze today, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about Aug. 18, 1979, according to Rolland.
“The thing that sticks out most about that day is that it wasn’t unique,” Rolland told Mareski. “We would often do a Spile Dive after floating down the river, and when the occasion called for it, in full uniform. I’m pretty sure that Mike LaPorte didn’t like it at first, going so far as threatening to fire us. But the guests loved it — with some thinking it was part of a show that the Inn arranged.”
As of Oct. 25, it’s part of a permanent show arranged by the new St. Clair Inn.
Jim Bloch is an award-winning freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. He writes about the environment, local politics, art, music, history and culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.