Octogenarian Model Boatbuilder Delights Family With ‘Amazing’ Gifts

Nov 29, 2017
Photo by: Pat Johnson Frank Somodi Sr. makes model boats out of wood using a photo and his memory.

Frank Somodi Sr. joined the Coast Guard when he was just 17, then joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary, patrolling Newark and New York waterways. Now at 81 and living in Little Egg Harbor, he spends some of his free time making wooden model boats. His son Frank Jr. said his dad is still “sharp as a tack.”

“He has been building model boats for many years, but what is interesting is that he builds them from memory or a photo of a boat – no directions, no model in a box. He also uses everyday items like toothpicks for ladders; 2-by-4’s and 2-by-6’s for the hull, which he physically hand carves; cloth napkins for the sails. It’s really amazing!”

At his home in Cross Creek, Somodi had a small fleet of large model boats he had built by hand on the dining room table. His wife, Lois, son Gary and grandson Nick, daughter Stephanie and new son-in-law Rob all gathered around to expound on the patriarch’s skills and generosity.

The large white- and gold-painted schooner was Somodi’s latest creation, finished just weeks ago in time for his daughter’s wedding. “It was held at Mallard Island (Yacht Club, in Manahawkin), and the boat was on the banquet table for the cocktail hour,” said Stephanie. Stephanie is a wedding invitation designer for Chris Vernon’s “Weddings of Distinction.”

Somodi started building small rowboat models for his grandsons in 1975. “Then my daughter saw the movie ‘Titanic’ and wanted me to build that. So I built her one of the lifeboats,” said Somodi.

He also built a replica of his father’s fishing boat, a 1930s 30-footer that was built in Ocean City. He built it from memory and gave it to his son Frank Jr.

“Then one day I felt like making a boat, and I saw a picture of a Mississippi paddle boat in a magazine. It took me two years to build that one. That was for my grandson Tyler.”

Nick was given a Chris Craft model boat made by his grandfather. Nick is also clever with his hands and has patience like his grandfather, said Lois. “He’s also a singer,” said his Aunt Stephanie. “He sang ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ at our wedding, and grown men were crying!”

The grandest boat of all is the schooner, now owned by Stephanie and Rob as a permanent, beautiful wedding gift from her father. Somodi designed and made the rigging from cord and 14 gauge copper wire. Windows are real glass, and the portholes are made of crystal “bling” Stephanie uses sometimes on her invitations.

The card on the boat reads “Built from Wood and Love.”

Somodi worked on the schooner in his garage and often left the door open in the mild weather. “Neighbors were stopping in to see how he was progressing,” said Gary.

“He was always a builder. He worked on full-sized boats, too. He showed me how he bent the wood beams for the hull by using steam. He also built a camper when we were young on the back of our pickup truck. He’s a wonderful but modest man. We all felt he deserved some recognition.”

— Pat Johnson


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