The CANCER FUNDRAISER
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Lenny Schelin introduced his two sons to the water when they were only three days and three months old, respectively. Many families point to the age a child walked or learned to read: The Schelin boys, Lenny Jr. and Ryan, water-skied by age 3.
As a boy, Schelin lived on the North Fork of Long Island, New York. A creek ran by his house. He had his own boat. He loved the North Fork so much that he was less than enthusiastic about moving to Florida in 1971.
“For the first seven years I lived here, I would’ve moved back if I could,” he says.
In Fort Pierce, however, Schelin worked on much bigger boats at the Pelican Yacht Club in Fort Pierce. He learned detail work and was hired as a mate in training. At 14, he was hired to keep an eye on a snowbird’s boat during the summer. At 15, he and his buddy would spend the night on the ocean.
“It was a good way to grow up.”
After graduating high school, Schelin returned north to train for the Coast Guard. After weeks of trudging through 6-foot snow banks to swim in icy water, he suffered a knee injury and was discharged, an unscheduled move south that he welcomed.
“I was a Florida boy by then,” Schelin says.”I didn’t like the cold weather.”
Schelin worked as a boat mechanic at Taylor Creek Marina before branching out on his own and then going back to Taylor Creek when it doubled in size. As much as he loved the work, however, he also looked ahead. Attending school at night, he earned a degree in fire science.
After almost 25 years with the St. Lucie County Fire District, Lt. Schelin retired. He especially enjoyed his eight years at Station Four near Treasure Coast International Airport.
“The camaraderie with a good crew is the one thing I miss the most,” he says.
Not that his current crew isn’t exceptional, of course. Schelin is from New York. His wife Tobi — a nurse practitioner and artist with her own captain’s license — is from Washington, D.C. Coincidentally, both had grandfathers who worked in Fort Pierce as bridge tenders. Tobi even met Schelin’s grandfather when she was visiting the area as a little girl.
The couple met briefly for the first time at an art gallery Tobi had downtown with Schelin’s sister, Gail Sheets. But despite the fact that Tobi worked in the emergency room and knew many firefighters, they didn’t see each other again for 15 years.
“Fate puts people together at the right time,” Tobi says. “We got married in 2006.”
Recently, Schelin and Tobi spent six months traveling the East Coast with their rescue dogs, Albert and Bindi, aboard their 50-foot boat, Simply Grand.
“We’re always busy with projects at home,” Tobi says. “The only time I see Lenny relax is when we’re on the boat.”
Projects range from helping woodcarver friend Randy Ard to renovating his kitchen and dock. Since 2018, one special project could not be any nearer and dearer to his heart: fundraising for cancer research.
Schelin’s oldest son, Lenny Jr., was a world-class fisherman, a mate on the Lo Que Sea, when he began suffering from chronic headaches. He frequently stubbed a toe. His hands suddenly contorted. A CT scan revealed an egg-sized tumor. Surgery at the University of Miami was successful but as Schelin explains, “The cancer acts likes seeds, spreading to other parts of the brain.”
Lenny Jr. died July 28, 2018, at the age of 33 of glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer. The Lo Que Sea’s owner, Tony Huerta, wanted to do something to help. The family wanted to promote awareness and find a cure. The perfect way to keep Lenny Jr.’s legacy alive soon took shape.
The Lenny Schelin Jr. Memorial Tournament to Benefit Glioblastoma Research was Huerta’s idea, says Schelin, but many people are involved. Lenny Jr.’s mother, Debbie Johnston, and Donna Qvarnstrom, owner of Cobb’s Landing and Little Jim Bait & Tackle, are also on the tournament foundation’s board.
The first tournament raised $28,000 for the University of Miami. The second benefited Cleveland Clinic’s Florida Research and Innovation Center in Tradition with $40,000.
“It feels good to be part of donating money for research in our area,” Tobi says.
The 3rd Annual Lenny Schelin, Jr. Memorial Tournament will be Jan. 1-10, 2021, with sailfish and meat fish competitions. New this year is a one-day women’s division. Corporate sponsors cover tournament costs; half of the entry fees go to winners, the other half to research. Donations, auctions and raffles also directly fund research. For more information, visit www.lennyschelinmemorialtournament.com.
As a boy of 12, Schelin didn’t want to move to the area, but in the last half-century, he’s left his mark on the Treasure Coast, not only through his work and service, but also by raising sons to love the water, to love family and to make a difference.
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LENNART SCHELIN SR.
Lives in: Fort Pierce, North Hutchinson Island
Occupation: Retired firefighter
Family: Wife, Tobi; son, Ryan; and granddaughter, Serenity
Education: Fort Pierce Central High School, Class of 1977; associate degree in fire science from Indian River State College
Who inspires me: “My grandfather, who was a charter boat captain. He had a lot of life in him and taught me that life is more important than money.”
Something most people don’t know about me: A fan of Drambuie, Schelin wasn’t a fan of the price. He perfected his own recipe, bottled as Simply Grand Signature Liqueur.