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ONCE JUST 'FIRST MATE,' NOW A WOMAN HEADS YACHT CLUB

The pictures are lined up in rows that stretch the length of the room, dozens of black-and-white photos of former commodores of the Youngstown Yacht Club. Each commodore proudly posed wearing the traditional double-breasted commodore's uniform.

That tradition will change slightly next year. For the first time in the yacht club's history, a woman's face will grace Commodore's Row. Melanie Tisdale, a lawyer and devoted sailor, was named commodore this month.

Seldom does a yacht club have a woman commodore, so when Ms. Tisdale took the reins of the club, it was a historic day in the club's rich sailing history.

Ms. Tisdale said she was thrilled to be commodore and also honored that she is the first woman to hold that position. When she and her husband, Gary, first joined the yacht club in 1988, spouses were not allowed to run for positions within the club. It wasn't until 1993 that a member's spouse could serve as an officer of the board.

That year, Ms. Tisdale was appointed to the board of directors and won a seat the following year. For the next four years she served on numerous boards and assisted the club in virtually any way possible. She helped with legal advice and oversaw the operation of the clubhouse -- things more associated with headaches than sailing.

But after years of service and commitment, she finally can call herself commodore.

"I worked very, very hard for it," she said. "Although there may be a little more pressure on me because I am the first woman commodore, I think the coming season is going to be a really great year for the club. I plan to work as hard as I have, and I don't think people will be disappointed."

Neither do the people who made her the commodore.

Vice Commodore Tim Downey said he is more than confident Ms. Tisdale will do a "superlative job."

"She has done every job down there involving the operation of the club. She knows how to handle problems when they arise, and she has a good head on her shoulders," Downey said. "I wish I knew more men who had those qualities."

Yacht clubs -- like country clubs -- were notorious in their day for being "old boy's clubs." When Jack Beatty started sailing Lake Ontario in 1941, women weren't allowed in certain parts of the yacht club.

"I really wonder what some of the old salts would have thought of a woman as commodore," Beatty said. "But I think Melanie is going to do a bang-up job. She's worked really hard for this."

Ms. Tisdale wants to see further club enhancements and to ensure that the junior sailing program, which is open to the public, continues to be a successful operation.

"The board of directors entrusted me to be their commodore, and I will fulfill those obligations and responsibilities to the best my abilities," she said. "And it actually might be fun."

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