Work under way to get concert boat shipshape

PAHOKEE — Cosmetic renovations are under way on the historic floating arts center docked at the Pahokee Marina, in preparation for the envisioned instruction of young musical instrumentalists aboard it that is the Point Counterpoint II’s main purpose in being here.

American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO) conductor Robert Boudreau, owner of the vessel built for America’s Bicentennial, also visited the area for several days during late September, engaging in meetings with University of South Florida music professors in Tampa who formerly were students in his program in Pennsylvania, school district officials in Palm Beach County and a marine industry labor union executive in Fort Lauderdale who has signed on to assist in readying the vessel for its intended functions.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
The Point Counterpoint II, docked in Pahokee, will get a new apparatus to make boarding safer as part of the renovation work. Organizers hope that someday soon, the boat will be hosting concerts by an orchestra of young musicians from area schools.

Mr. Boudreau is working closely with the Pahokee Chamber of Commerce director, Regina Bohlen; a committee they’ve put together to handle fundraising; Palm Beach County School District officials including District 6 School Board member Marcia Andrews and a wide range of other people in Florida to establish a program he calls “Winds Over the Glades.”

It would provide individualized tutoring and mentoring for young musicians to help them achieve the proficiency that could win them lucrative college scholarships and rewarding careers. This wind-instrument training organization would be modeled on the “Winds on the Mon” program he established with school districts along the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania 20-plus years ago that produced some of the college educators he met with in Tampa.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Robert Boudreau

Traveling to the coast with Pahokee Chamber Director Regina Bohlen, he met with executives including Deputy Superintendent/Chief of Schools Keith Oswald at the Palm Beach County School District to talk about what assistance it might be able to provide. “It went well,” said Mr. Boudreau, adding: “But, sometimes the impact has to come from the families.”

Then the pair drove to Broward County, where they had a “wonderful meeting with Kris Hopkins. He’s the assistant vice president of the Gold Coast Seafarers International Union of North America in Fort Lauderdale. They’re doing the painting and all that kind of stuff on the boat,” said Maestro Robert, who’s 91 and insists on being called just by his first name.

He complimented the volunteer laborers the union leader has brought on board, saying “they’ve been working on it right along” since getting involved.
“We just volunteered to assist them in trying to get the barge back in order,” said Mr. Hopkins. “We have been out there a few times already. He was there with his wife and several other tradesmen on Saturday, Oct. 6, working aboard the PCII. Other groups that have been involved are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 728, some members of VFW Post 64 in Okeechobee, as well as helpers from the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans. “A lot of people are into it,” he said.

“Right now, the volunteering is being done through the Greater South Florida Maritime Trades Port Council, and … the affiliates that belong to that organization have all gotten together to assist … so that they can begin to use it for its purpose,” Mr. Hopkins explained. It will take them several months of work to get the PCII toward the desired state of “shipshape,” where “they can start teaching on board.” he said. Some engine and drive work will also be required, as Robert has acknowledged. “That’s an expensive endeavor,” Mr. Hopkins said.

One more thing they’re doing, he added, is trying to put in place a better way to board the ship. “We’re working now to get a safe, suitable set of steps built, and that’s going to be done … so that you don’t have that ladder propped up alongside.”

But it’s actually convenient that weeks’ worth of physical work still remain, because Maestro Robert, who’s back on another visit now, and Ms. Bohlen still would like to get more financial backers involved, and eventually if not sooner include participants from other school districts around Lake Okeechobee — something he believes that might happen from the ground up with those who would participate.

“The families have to raise their hands and say, ‘We want this to happen.’ They have a big impact,” Robert explained.

He said he hopes to meet with musically inclined children and their families who might be interested in committing to carry on into the field that Robert has found so rewarding since he first picked up a trumpet as a young boy, 80-some years ago, when he thought he was destined to be a poultry farmer. It’s a story he loves to tell that he hopes to update for 21st-century families in the Lake Okeechobee region.

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