The Kanera Girls Of Chris-Craft – Fond Memories Of Working At The Holland Plant

Marilyn Wilson & Marion McSweeny "The Twins" and Ruthie Malus

Last week, fellow Woody Boater Jeff Knudsen (Tin Can – Jeff) met 3 very special women in Holland, Michigan – The Kanera Sisters. All three sisters worked for Chris-Craft in the 1950’s at the Roamer Plant in Holland. Jeff sent me a text with the above photo right from the dinner table with the exciting news, so we asked Jeff to do a short story on the girls while they were all together in Holland. A few days later, Jeff met the girls and filed this story…

I asked Jeff how he met the Kanera Sisters, and here’s what he said…

Texx – One of my best friends, Jack Wilson is Marilyn’s son. My wife Laurie and I were invited to dinner to Jack’s house and his wife Liz. Unaware, the 3 sisters were also invited and I brought the Roamer add up and this story started to unvail and take over the evening. I started to text you when we were all still around the dinner table. The rest IS history. – Jeff

The Holland Michigan Chris-Craft Plant

The Girls of Chris-Craft – By Jeff Knutsen

In 1953, Marion Kanera started with Chris-Craft in the cost department. Her responsibilities were to gather up the GSO (general ship order) and BSO (boat ship order) cards from the previous day and keep track of the man-hours and materials that went into each boat at the Holland Plant. When she started she was the only employee in that department. Her twin sister Marilyn later would follow her when the department grew. When Marilyn left her job at the Holland Evening Sentinel to go to Chris-Craft she instantly doubled her wages from $21 a week to $41 a week. In the 1950’s Chris-Craft was known to be the best employer in Holland Michigan for wages and working conditions.

Marion would stay on to see her cost department grow to six when Chris-Craft decided they needed a supervisor to head the department. As a sign of the times, Marion was asked to train a male hired off the street to head her department. She liked him but after so many years, she felt slighted for being passed up for the position. She would leave Chris-Craft because of this decision but would later return to the Roamer Division in their cost department.

The Upholstery Department at the Holland Chris-Craft Plant

Ruthie Kanera also joined Chris-Craft during this same time period and was the only female working in the production line. Most women at Chris-Craft would either work in the office or in the upholstery department. Her responsibility was in the last stage of production where she would clean all the fixed glass of the freshly completed cruisers before being shipped out.

She would hop between the 9 production lines when a boat was being readied for final inspection. She was known to occasionally take short cuts swinging from ropes attached to the ceiling to get to the various production lines where she was needed. She says that was her favorite job still to this day. She also admits with a grin, how she carved her initials RK on Alli Khan’s toilet seat in his new cruiser. Mr. Khan was husband to actress Rita Hayworth who personally came to the plant to see his boat being constructed.

She would later regret following her sisters to the cost department. She missed being surrounded by the great boats and the skilled craftsmen that made Chris-Craft what it was in its hay day. They all knew they where building something special for special people and they all took great pride in their skills. The girls have vivid memories of the people they worked with and for. They mention Johnny Peterson who was married to Marilyn’s sister in-law at the time. Known for his great skill with wood, he personally carved by hand all the bull noses on the bow of the cruisers.

When Chris-Craft bought Roamer in 1955, they were saddened to see the possibility of Chris-Craft heading away from the traditional skills of these craftsmen.

The Stylish Chris-Craft Roamer 25' Sportsman

A highlight for the girls after the purchase of Roamer was, without any warning or preparation, when the twins Marilyn and Marion were asked to pose for a photo shoot on the first Roamer produced under the Chris Craft name. When they showed up for work, they were asked to be at the local marina where they found the new Roamer, piloted by Chris Smith himself. They mentioned you always dressed for work back in those days in a dress or skirt, never slacks. So it was not much to ready yourself for a photo shoot with little notice. The photo shoot would later be used for magazine ads.

1955 Chris-Craft Roamer 24' Sedan

Another memory of Chris Smith was when he purchased a new Ford retractable hardtop. As the day progressed, everyone got a chance to walk out to the parking lot to get a better few of this dazzling new car.

1959 Chris-Craft - Roamer 42' Royal

It is obvious that these great women loved to work at Chris Craft and still feel it was something special to be a part of but they find it hard to believe that a younger generation would want to hear their story. I clung to every word.

Jeff Knutsen

Thanks Jeff for that great story about the Kanera Girls from Chris-Craft, that was certainly an unexpected dinner date with your friends. I’m sure they have a lot of wonderful memories from those early days working at the Holland Plant.

The 1959 25' Chris-Craft Roamer Sportsman

The Roamer Boat Company was founded in Holland, Michigan, by Robert R. Linn, just after World War II. Linn came to Holland from Grand Rapids as a young man, and apprenticed with Ken Campbell of the Campbell Boat Company for two years. Linn built his first Roamer cruiser, a steel-hulled 32-foot express cruiser in 1946. Roamer built many additional yacht designs including express cruisers, deckhouse cruisers, and double cabin cruisers ranging from 33 to 48 feet in length. In addition to pleasure craft, the Roamer Boat Company built commercial craft as well.

The Roamer Boat Company was sold to Chris-Craft in 1955 and was operated as a Division of the Chris-Craft Corporation named the Roamer Steel Boat Division. Roamer production was shifted to Chris-Crafts plant & corporate offices in Pompano Beach, Florida in 1975 and ceased production in 1979.

Chris-Craft Water Tower - Holland, Michigan

Vintage images of the Holland, MI Plant and Chris-Craft brochure images for this story are courtesy of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club archive. You can click here to check out their web site, popular Boat Buzz Forum and also find information on membership to this fabulous organization.


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14 Responses to “The Kanera Girls Of Chris-Craft – Fond Memories Of Working At The Holland Plant”

  1. Frank Miklos says:

    Loved when factory people put their initials on boats. Have found initials and partial names on both Chris Craft boats and Century Boats… Seen them carved, stamped with hull number stamps, written in pencil, and in contact cement, (upholstery)…

    • Texx says:

      By the way Frank – Happy Birthday on Thursday! Take the day off and go for a classic boat ride in a V8 Century…

    • Paul H says:

      We never did find out who or why the name “Smitty” was written under the bridge deck of our 25′ Sportsman. It must have been a production line worker, though I doubt we will ever know for sure. Seems like the practice of leaving a little personalized mark was perhaps commonplace?

      • Frank Miklos says:

        Thanks Tex… I was out on the water this past

        Just about every original Century Coronado Hard-top was signed by the upholster… The padding between the canvas layer and the outer layer was glued on with contact cement.. I have seen 3 different names on these tops… I actually met one of the guys… He worked for Fortier then later he did upholstery installations for A&A marine…
        A man named Hugo stamped his name in the stem of Dick Werner’s 1942 Century triple cockpit Sea Maid 193… Often times the employee who stamped hull numbers in Century boats would stamp a letter on the opposite side of the transom… These were usually single letters… I was told that different people used different letters (sort-of a code).

  2. Al Benton says:

    What a fun story! What are the odds of meeting 3 sisters, 2 of which are twins, that all worked for Chris-Craft that long ago? Thanks, Jeff, for sharing it with us. Thanks also to the sisters for allowing Jeff to meet you quite by surprise. That was great!

  3. matt says:

    I have got to get me one of those roamer hats!

  4. Jeff says:

    I will not disclose their ages but I could not help but be impressed how full of life these girls
    were. They were vacationing together in the area while Ruthie was visiting from out of town and they were on the go. I had to make an oppointment for the interview. No bingo for these girls.

  5. Alex says:

    Jeff, or should I say “Tin Can – Jeff.” (Ya know, a name like that conjures up a Mississippi Delta Blues singer.) Wonderful story!

  6. DonD says:


    I’ll bet Matt would love it if you could get your local CC girls to show us their “Chris-Craft Wave”?

  7. Nola says:

    my Grandfather was Jerry Veldheer, He passed away a few years ago and he had retired from Roamer in Holland. I have to go thru all his pictures.. so cool the boats from back then

    • Texx says:

      Thanks for commenting Nola.

      I can only imagine that it must have been a wonderful time back then working for Chris-Craft in Holland. If you find any old photos of him working at the Chris-Craft plant from that period, we would love to see them and share them with our viewers.

  8. Doug Powles says:

    If Nola does have pictures of the early Roamers, perhaps you could get them on woodyboater.
    By the way, I own the pictured 25′ Roamer, which you called the “stylish CC Roamer Sportsman”
    I am led to believe that it is the only one of 15 existing.
    I am in the process of putting her back together after stripping and painting, varnishing all her surfaces. She is in remarkable condition some of her chrome is in the same condition as when she left Holland MI for Minnesota.

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