Although he couldn’t have possibly known at the time what he was about to do would change the lives of those closest to him, Lou Zimmel ended up passing on to his daughter Deb and her husband Dave Buckman the boating bug when he decided to get into houseboating for the first time.
Deb’s father Lou stayed busy his entire life, but as he approached his late 80s he grew tired of Midwest winters and decided to live part-time in Arizona. While his time out west proved to be exactly what he needed, he wasn’t interested in spending his summers dealing with the desert heat.
He decided to return to the Midwest for the other half of the year, but his vision went beyond just returning home. Although Lou had zero boating experience, he informed his family he had purchased a houseboat and he was going to live on it during the summer.
“He wasn’t a boater, he didn’t even know how to operate it,” says his son-in-law Dave. “But he would just hire a local captain when he wanted to go out.”
Making It His Own
Although advancing in age and hardly able to raise his arm because of a bad rotator cuff, it didn’t stop Lou from wanting to make the 44-foot houseboat his own. He painted the interior white that was previously a dark paneling to brighten it up with a little help from his Deb and her husband Dave. He took pride in living on a houseboat, a dream he had for years despite never showing any interest in boating the majority of his life.
Lou enjoyed his time onboard his 1995 Gibson houseboat before passing away just six weeks shy of his 90th birthday. After his passing the family had a tough decision to make: what to do with Lou’s houseboat. Even though the Buckmans had some boating experience, it was limited to just a 19-foot boat they once owned years ago.
“We had very little boating experience, just a Sea Ray that we had when we lived in Texas many years ago,” says Dave.
Eagle Pointe Harbor
After some careful consideration, Deb and Dave decided to continue on the houseboat dream Lou had started and become new houseboaters themselves. They don’t live on the boat, but they’re regulars in the summer and don’t mind the 90 minute commute over from Chicago.
Lou first discovered Eagle Pointe Harbor when he needed a place for his Gibson so the Buckmans decided to give it a try too after taking ownership of the houseboat. Marina life is what they live for today and the couple just loves the friends they’ve met at Eagle Pointe Harbor.
“The people here are the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” says Dave. “Plus with the other boaters we have electricians, mechanics, engineers and machinists all willing to help if you need something.”
Eagle Pointe Harbor in St Joseph, Mich., includes family-friendly amenities such as a pool, bounce house, playground, etc. Marina Manager Paul Watt, Jr. runs the marina for owner Robert Wise and Mari Watt and Shawn Unruh are part of the management crew. The family-run marina includes over 400 slips with many slip residents dating back over 20 years.
“Dave and Deb were Lou's deck hands and learned everything about the boat with Lou,” says Paul. “Lou hired a captain who provided instructions and helped them learn safety and the operation of the houseboat. Dave was a natural and very quick learner.”
You can reach Lake Michigan in about 20 minutes by boat through the St. Joseph River, which helps make Eagle Pointe Harbor a popular choice for others searching for a place to dock their boat.
Heading into their second summer on the Gibson houseboat, the Buckmans have made a lot of close friends at the marina and have also gained a lot of respect for the marina manager.
“Paul is very helpful and a hard-worker who is always working with a smile on his face,” explains Deb. “We love the service we get here, there is no other place we’d rather keep our boat.”
The Buckmans often wonder if they ever would have discovered houseboating on their own if it wasn’t for Lou.
“Lou buying this boat has changed our life for the good,” says Dave.
The Buckmans have two sons and a daughter who they occasionally see on the weekends at the marina with three grandkids ranging between the ages of ten and two. Although still young, Lou’s great-grandchildren will now grow up on the water as the next generation has been introduced to boating.
Deb and Dave recently celebrated 40 years of marriage and they admit they both chose professions that are favorable to their new houseboating lifestyle.
“I work as a teacher with elementary-aged students, which means summers off, which is the ideal schedule for a houseboater,” says Deb. “And as long as Dave has a good Wi-Fi connections he can still get in a little work from the water if it means getting to the marina a day earlier to beat weekend traffic from Chicago.”
Since 1977, Dave has worked in the mortgage broker business and he currently works for the Naperville Bank & Trust.
The boat is currently named Suzanne after Lou’s wife, but the Buckmans are ready to rename the vessel. Right now they’re leaning towards Lou’s Yourself to keep Lou’s memory alive. Another reminder are some of their favorite photos of Lou, framed and hung throughout the boat including a picture of him in his Chicago Cubs jersey.
“We only wish my dad could have lived long enough to see the Cubs win the World Series last year,” says Deb. “He died just before the start of the season and he knew we had a good team.”
Although seeing the Cubs break a 108 year drought in 2016 would have been good for Lou to witness himself, just knowing he’s responsible for introducing the houseboating lifestyle to his family could be considered even more meaningful.