When Ken Maurer had a break from the commotion of Water Follies weekend, he would gaze out onto the Columbia from the main barge and admire everything he helped create.
Maurer was influential in bringing hydroplanes to the Tri-Cities and transforming Water Follies weekend into the event it is today. He helped organize boat race weekend for more than three decades and was a well-respected businessman in the community.
Maurer -- whom friends described as a true gentleman -- died Monday in Pasco. He was 89.
"He was always trying to come up with new ideas throughout the years to promote Water Follies and make it better each year," said friend Karen Miller. "I don't know if it would have ever existed if not for his vision."
Maurer, who was born in Spokane, wanted to bring a major event to the Tri-Cities that would show off the area's beautiful weather and take advantage of its proximity to the Columbia. He and four others, armed with measuring tape and clipboards, traveled to races in Lake Tahoe in 1965 to bring back a blueprint for unlimited hydroplanes.
A year later, hydroplanes were dashing across the river and crowds gathered along the shoreline to watch. The rest is history.
"The first year they were just so nervous. They didn't know if they would have anybody there," said Helen Maurer, Ken's wife of 62 years. "And of course, they had lines of people waiting to get into the park."
Through the next few decades, Maurer and his Pasco advertising agency, the Maurer Company, steered the relatively unknown Water Follies into one of the premier hydroplane racing events in the country. He helped wrangle sponsors; get an outdoor stage, portable bleachers and boat docks in place; and promoted the event across the Northwest.
When crowd control issues and riots overshadowed the races in the 1980s, Maurer pushed for turning the weekend into a family friendly event, organizers said.
"He was there to represent us and our community and he did so in an amazing way," said Ron Hue, who worked with Maurer on Water Follies for years. "He was integral in leading us through difficult times."
Even after he retired in 2003, Maurer was a fixture at the boat races, stopping to greet everyone he knew and lending a helping hand whenever he could, Helen said. When his health started to decline two years ago, he still managed to get in a golf cart and take a spin around the pits.
"I refer to him as a founding father," said Kathy Powell, Water Follies event director. "If he and the other gentlemen would not have taken the initiative and gone to Tahoe and rallied to bring those unlimiteds here, we likely would not have unlimited racing in the Tri-Cities."
This year was the first time in more than 40 years that Maurer couldn't attend Water Follies, Helen said.
However, the legacy he will leave on the whole Tri-Cities community could be everlasting.
"Most of all he was proud of the fact it brought entertainment to the Tri-Cities," she said. "He felt there was such wonderful support from all the Water Follies people."
Those who worked with and alongside Maurer agreed.
"I guess you can call him Mr. Hydroplane," Hue said.
-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@ tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson