One of America's sailing heroes, James M. "Ding" Schoonmaker, II, 87, passed away peacefully on January 19, 2021, at his home in Naples, Florida, with his wife, Treecie, by his side. Ding was born on June 10, 1933, in Pittsburgh, PA, and is survived by his wife, his stepson Julian Gage of Pensacola, and his sister Mary "Winky" Worley of North Carolina.
He was a long time champion and steward of the sport of sailing. Ding won his first race in 1944 in Rhode Island. He spent his summers in Watch Hill and winters in Florida over his lifetime. After successfully sailing the Finn, Flying Dutchman, and Soling, Ding's passion shined brightest in the Star Class and at the age of 19 he placed second in the Olympic Trials and was named the team's alternate for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He earned that honor again in 1964 at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Over the years he won the North American, South American, Western Hemisphere, European and World Championships in the Star Class, eight Bacardi Cups, and was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 1971.
He played an active role in the leadership of U.S. Sailing and the International Sailing Federation. For his distinguished career, in 1988 he was awarded the Nathanael Greene Herreshoff Award, US Sailing's highest honor, and in 2011 the Beppe Croce Award, World Sailing's highest honor. In 2018 he was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame and the following year he was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the National Maritime Historical Society. Notable among all of his philanthropic work was creation of the U.S. Sailing Center in Miami, Florida in 1987. He was the driving force behind the training facility which provides Olympic sailors access to train and compete on Biscayne Bay, and on which the building bears his name. His efforts also initiated the World Youth Sailing Trust to help aspiring sailors in emerging countries and creating the U.S. Sailing Foundation in 1990.
He has been an important counselor to the leaders of the sport in both the United States and throughout the world. Ding was an active member of the Port Royal Club, Naples Yacht Club and the Hole in the Wall Golf Club, and in the summers as a member of The New York Yacht Club, Watch Hill Yacht Club and the Misquamicut Golf Club.
His lifetime love of dogs prompted support for no-kill shelters in his hometown, and he lovingly adopted rescues of his own throughout the years.
No memorial service is currently planned. In lieu of flowers, the family request that donations be made to The US Sailing Foundation - "Pinnacle Project " (1 Roger Williams University Way, Bristol, RI 02809) or Golden Paws of Naples (3173 Horseshoe Dr. S, Naples, FL 34104). Fuller Funeral Home of Naples, FL is handling arrangements.
Published in The Westerly Sun on Jan. 24, 2021.