Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Holly Church, director of the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Holly Church, director of the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center


MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center works hard to make sure sailing is accessible for everyone. The center is unique in that you don’t have to have a lot of skills, or a lot of money, to get out in a boat. Holly Church is the director at the center, and she’s this week’s everyday hero.

“Can you figure out how to untie that,” an instructor asks a new student, who’s at the sailing center taking lessons.

Church understands learning something new can be intimidating for anyone.

“They're all scared, in the beginning, because none of them really know what to expect or what's going to happen,” she said of new students.

But every year, kids and adults alike come to the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center to do just that.

“Basically, what we do is we teach people how to sail and then they get free access to our equipment to sail on all summer long,” Church said.

She has been working with the sailing center for the last 25 years, but her love for sailing started long before that.

“I learned how to sail here when I was 18,” she remembers.

Church has been a cheerleader, innovator and advocate for the organization ever since.

“She's very instrumental in coming up with a lot of the different programming down here,” said Don Ellingsen, member and former board president.

Church is proud that the City of Milwaukee had the foresight to keep the lake accessible for everyone.

“Most places privatize the lake,” she said. “And Milwaukee has kept it public and I think that's amazing.”

Ellingsen, who’s been a member since 1981, said Church’s leadership has made a big difference in the quality of the programs they offer.

“She's really reenergized the club, in that she's really brought kind of a new spirit to the club,” he said.

U.S. Sailing agrees. Church was recently named Executive of the Year. She’s humble about the national recognition.

“The sailing center is one of the country's premier sailing facilities,” she said. “And we were lucky. It doesn't just take one person, though.”

But Ellingsen stresses that she helps create an environment that keeps people coming back. And that’s what Church wants—for people to set sail and enjoy all that Lake Michigan has to offer.

“I think it gives people a chance to just get off shore for a little bit. Leave everything on shore, just regroup, especially in these days,” Church said.

Church is also a merchant marine and she has piloted everything from tug boats to cruise ships. Ellingsen calls her a premier instructor that the city is lucky to have. But the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center’s work isn’t only done on the water. It also goes into middle schools around the city to teach a S.T.E.M program using sailing.

“We learn things like angles and weight distribution and how displacement works,” she said.

She calls it an equalizer, and said it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from, anyone can learn.

“Sailing is a leveling platform. It doesn't matter to kids, when you get into a boat, if you've never been in a boat it's a leveling platform,” Church said.

People can learn how to sail in as little as two weeks, or even an accelerated weekend course. For more information, just visit

And, if you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at [email protected]

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