Rollie Schmitt: Sailing Through Life

Rollie Schmitt has been sailing through life—literally—since the age of ten.


Along the way she has been sharing her love of sailing with hundreds of young girls as the leader of the Wilmette Mariners Girl Scout Troop 401.

The Wilmette Mariners program started in the 1930s and is believed to be one of only three active programs of its kind in the U.S. Over the years, Schmitt estimates that the program has taught more than 500 girls how to sail.

“When I was a young girl in Evanston, my parents had a sailing canoe and I fell in love with the Wilmette Harbor and the sport,” says Schmitt, a member of the Sheridan Shore Yacht Club since 1936.

“Sailing has kept me out of mischief,” Schmitt explains. “I just love getting to know all the young people and the chance to give something back.”

This past summer, 16 girls participated in the Mariner program where they learned the basics of sailing and seamanship. The young sailors came from Evanston, Wilmette, Glenview and Highland Park, including a visitor from France. The unique program is open to girls from virtually anywhere.

Making Friendships Along the Way

“Many of the girls have become lasting friends and have told me the Mariners program had a positive impact on their lives,” Schmitt says. “And some have even gone on to become scout leaders for their children.”

For many years Schmitt has been joined by her longtime friend and associate Carol Cleave who first got involved with the Mariners when she was in high school.

Becoming Lifelong Sailors

Schmitt ‘s daughter, Barb Perce, was a Mariner as a child and eventually became an assistant leader. Barb explains that because girls’ sports opportunities have expanded in recent years, interest in the program has slacked some.

“There are more sports programs to complete with than ever before,” Perce says. “But the Mariners program is unique in that the girls become lifelong sailors.”

And where better place to learn than on beautiful Lake Michigan?

This spring the yacht club installed a stairway and railing to assist Schmitt in stepping into the boat. Although she might not be as able to navigate into the boat as she once did, her passion for sailing has not waned one bit.

When asked when she might give up sailing, Schmitt said: “I’ll never quit—but I might ease out some.”