The Shepler’s Story
You may have ridden on our boats going to the Island, but do you know the whole story of how the company was founded and how we have survived throughout the years?
“Undefeated provides an engaging and thorough picture of how a family-owned business developed, overcame challenges and interacted with the rich context of the northern Michigan tourism industry. It is a very rare story of a three-generation family-owned and family-operated business that has had to fight for survival for 70 years. Fierce competition from other ferry lines, treacherous weather conditions, costly maintenance on passenger and freight vessels, changing governmental regulations and depressed economic conditions in the State of Michigan are but a few of the challenges the Sheplers have faced over the years.”
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The vessels currently used by Shepler’s are named after vessels that sailed the Straits area in the late 17th century, with the exception of the Capt. Shepler and Miss Margy.
Built in 1969
Built in 1972
Built in 1975
Built in 1979
Built in 1986
Built in 2015
First Class Service.
Every Guest. Every Day.
The Shepler’s motto is specific and meaningful – give the best possible service with a smile, use modern equipment and employ a well-trained staff. From the early charter boat days to today, Shepler’s approach to transporting people to Mackinac Island has been one of class and value. Traditionally, half the fun of a Mackinac Island experience is a ride with Shepler’s.
In the spring of 1945, Captain William H. Shepler returned to his birthplace, Mackinaw. He was struck by the potential of the area, specifically transporting people to and from the Island. He started small, opening a snack bar for passengers waiting for the ferry and soon discovered a need for better ferry service to Mackinac Island. Capt. Shepler wanted to offer distinctive service and class, as well as, share the beauty of the area. He dreamed of fast, efficient and modern ferry service that would add to and enhance the Mackinac Island experience.
As the Capt.’s charter service flourished he had the opportunity to buy out a competitor, adding another boat with his son Bill Jr. as pilot. These two high-class speedboats were named “Miss Penny” after Capt.’s daughter, and “The Fiji,” after Bill Jr.’s fraternity.
Building a Dream
The end of World War II in 1945 saw an increase in passenger traffic to the Island. It soon became evident that Capt. Shepler needed a larger boat with an enclosed cabin for inclement weather. In the winter of 1950, he built a 30-foot cabin cruiser with twin gas engines for speed and safety. This small yacht carried 24 passengers and represented a huge step for the Shepler family. The vessel was christened the “Miss Margy” after the Capt.’s wife, Margaret.
The Mackinac Bridge
Construction of the Mackinac Bridge began in early 1954, sparking the idea to take tourists on a sightseeing cruise to the bridge construction site. This necessitated the construction of a second high-speed cruiser, which was christened the “Billy Dick” after Capt.’s son. The Mighty Mac was completed in November 1957, with the formal opening in June 1958. The opening of the bridge had a tremendous impact on the Shepler business. Bridge cruise business dropped off as tourists could either drive or take a bus across the bridge. Still, the Shepler family forged on with their mission to provide high-class, efficient ferry service.
Shepler’s purchased a piece of beach frontage on the Island a few years later. A dock was soon constructed. Additionally, Shepler’s felt the need to add a larger vessel to provide all-weather service plus more seating. In 1966, “Mein Kapitan” arrived at the Shepler dock, ready to carry 120 passengers to the Island. While impressive, the vessel’s design, weight and horsepower would not allow it the same speed as the rest of the fleet.
The Modern Ferry Boats
In 1969, “The Welcome” was built meeting this desire for both capacity and speed. Shepler’s still uses this vessel daily. She was the start of a new concept in high-speed, modern passenger transportation not only for the Straits area, but also for the entire Great Lakes.
Throughout the years, Shepler’s has undergone several major renovations of the docks and facilities in Mackinaw City, St. Ignace and on Mackinac Island. A successful freight service was added, all the while adhering to the high standards of quality service that have become known throughout the industry worldwide.
Capt. William H. Shepler died in May 1988. His wife Margaret followed him in death in October 2004. His son, William R., took the helm and still serves as the CEO of Shepler’s. In 2014, Bill’s three children, Chris, Patty and Billy assumed roles as leaders of the company.
Shepler’s move into the third generation of ownership looks promising. Shepler’s built onto the dream of First Class Service again in 2015 by adding the brand new vessel “Miss Margy”, the second boat to be named after Margaret Shepler, co-founder of the company. “Miss Margy” was proudly built in Northern Michigan, and is now consider the crown jewel of the fleet.