In Feb. 12 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
When Dennis Salazar bought his first boat in 1970, he never had a thought about one day being named Houseboat Magazine's National Houseboater of the Year, but that's what the waters of Lake Cumberland can do for people with a dream.
Salazar, whose houseboat, Quit-N-Time II, is docked year round at Cave Springs Marina in Jabez, will receive the prestigious award on Feb. 21 at the Houseboat Expo Show in Louisville.
Nearly a month ago, Salazar and his wife, Barbara, were watching television on the boat when they were approached by more than a dozen of the Cave Springs community who informed him of the honor. He was nominated for the award by several dock associates at Cave Springs, including Greg and Karen Sudduth, Stacey Crapsey, Dave Cruse and Mike Compton, to name a few.
But, the road from inexperienced camper to nationally recognized houseboater didn't happen overnight.
Dennis, who is originally from Mobile, Ala., met Barbara in Indianapolis in 1955 and were soon married and started a family. Barbara is now a retired accountant and the Salazars also ran a used car dealership, a car rental service and a softball complex in Indianapolis in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
The Salazars said they purchased a runabout boat up in Indiana nearly 40 years ago and the dealer told them to take a trip to Lake Cumberland and to be sure and stay at Alligator I Dock.
"We were novices, we didn't know anything about boating," Salazar said. "We had a tent, a camp stove, a station wagon and a runabout and we loaded up the kids on Friday and came to Lake Cumberland."
The Salazar's have three sons, Dennis, Anthony and Michael, who now are grown and live in Indianapolis.
For the next two summers, the Salazars camped on the banks of the lake and in the summer of 1972, bought their first houseboat, a 40-footer, in Albany under the guidance of Bethel Tarter.
"We paid $5,300 for it," Barbara said.
From that point forward, the Salazars made their lake home at Alligator I.
"We stayed there with Cosby Popplewell and later Irv and Yvonne took it over when their dad gave it up," he said. Then the Popplewells sold the marina to the Ed and Esty Slusser, who they have known for more than 16 years. Even today, the Salazars dogsit the Slusser's English Setter, Taz, who was around a year old when the two families first met.
"Starting at the Alligator boat dock, as people came in to the dock and it started growing bigger and bigger, I would welcome them and make them feel at home just like they done when me when we first came," he said. "I got tagged with the name 'the mayor of Alligator I' by Jerry Jasper, the night man down there."
The Salazars are currently in their third houseboat. Their first houseboat was 12x40 ft., their second was 14x58 ft. and their current houseboat, a Jamestowner, is 16x74 ft.
"It is fully equipped," Salazar said of Quit-N-Time II. "It has five bedrooms and has all the amenities you would have at home, a washer and dryer, air conditioning and a heat pump"
Their latest houseboat was purchased from the late Joe Medaris.
The Salazars began living at Alligator I full-time in 1989.
"The reason that we decided to not search out anywhere else, the people down here are just like us," Barbara said. "Good people here, just good people."
Salazar said the honor could have gone to any one of the houseboaters at Cave Springs, or anywhere else on the lake, for that matter.
"I didn't do any more than anybody else," Salazar said. "Houseboating is about helping your neighbor. It is families that are together, that's why we started."
The Salazars said one of the main reasons for coming to Lake Cumberland in the first place was because of the drug situation in Indianapolis while their sons were growing up. They said they didn't want their children exposed to harsh realities and the lake trips were also an opportunity to keep the family together and more close-knit.
"We've had wonderful memories on Lake Cumberland camping and then houseboating," Salazar said.
Now, their children, now grown, and their families, including nine grandchildren, make annual visits to Cave Springs Marina to enjoy the many lake activities.
Salazar's oldest son, also named Dennis, said he wouldn't have had it any other way as a child. He said the trips to the lake developed a close bond within the family, one that stays true even today.
"I feel quite honored that my dockmates would nominate me for the award," he said. "I feel honored that they think that much of me to call me the houseboater of the year. Personally, I don't think I've done any more than anybody else."