It has been eight years since attendees to popular nonprofit fundraisers in the Santa Clarita Valley have had the chance to bid on a harbor cruise with Realtor Mike Lebecki.
From 2004 to 2011 Lebecki, a Realtor with RE/MAX of Santa Clarita, frequently donated the use of his 52-foot yacht, Echo, to SCV nonprofits.
“Conservatively, I estimate the yacht brought in more than $400,000 for nonprofits,” he said.
Lebecki will be donating a new “Three-Hour Cruise Aboard the Lovey” to select nonprofits after his recent purchase of a 22-foot electric boat he has christened “Lovey.”
“I thought it was an appropriate name considering the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme of a ‘three-hour tour,’” he said.
Lovey was the name of a character on the 1964-67 sitcom “Gilligan’s Island.”
“I am doing the charity thing again with the boat,” Lebecki said. “It is an opportunity to once again give back to the community.”
Lebecki was born in Venice, California, and is a graduate of Venice High School.
“I’ve always been a seaside guy,” he said. “I loved being around water since I was born.”
The Venice of Lebecki’s youth is not the Venice of today, he said.
“It was a depressed area at that time.” His father built a small dock alongside their home on the Carroll Canal. “It was before they dredged the canals, at that time they were pretty much mud flats,” he said.
Lebecki, a self-described “latch-key kid,” would join children in the neighborhood and spend the days they weren’t at school, floating around Santa Monica Bay.
That changed for Lebecki after he saw the film “Jaws” (1975). The tagline on movie posters promised film-goers, “You’ll never go in the water again.”
“I never went back into the water, but I did go back on top of the water, but never back into the water,” he said.
Lebecki is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles and put himself through college.
A UCLA history major, Lebecki needed to decide on a career path. “There were not a lot of job opportunities as a history major,” he said.
One day, it was suggested to Lebecki that he work in real estate. “I got my real estate license and went to the career placement center on campus,” he said.
Lebecki began searching the cork boards on the walls and discovered a business card that said “Shopping Center Manager Needed. I thought, that sounds real estate-ish,” Lebecki said.
He learned the job was in Canyon Country. “I hadn’t a clue where Canyon Country was,” he said. “This was the mid-80s. I didn’t know much about the San Fernando Valley, much less the Santa Clarita Valley.”
Lebecki’s father, a traveling salesman, had several Thomas Guides and Lebecki borrowed the maps.
Thomas Guides were paperback, spiral-bound atlases featuring detailed street maps and were an icon in Southern California for decades.
Lebecki said his first stop was at the Canyon Country McDonalds.
“Everyone was so nice,” he said. “I was from a tough part of L.A. I didn’t believe it.”
Lebecki made his way down Soledad Canyon Road to Canyon Center which housed Rattler’s, and Howard and Phil’s.
“I visited tenants and introduced myself,” he said. “I was 23.”
The owner of the center was impressed by Lebecki’s initiative, as well as his extensive knowledge of WWII. He hired Lebecki on the spot.
“The owner was a B17 navigator in WWII and I was practically raised by my grandmother who told me all about WWII and the European campaign,” he said.
Lebecki stayed in that job for about nine months.
“I decided to go into residential real estate. I had a $3,500 limit on a Mastercard, it was all I had to my name, and that’s what I used to start my real estate career,” he said.
At his first Chamber of Commerce mixer, Lebecki met Santa Clarita activist and 1975 SCV Woman of the Year Connie Worden-Roberts. “She introduced me to everyone and I was impressed because these people were so genuine and involved, so different from where I grew up,” he said. “It was like a drug to me, this town.”
Lebecki said he learned from community leaders, volunteers and philanthropists like Worden-Roberts and developer Jack Shine, as well as business leaders like Newhall Land and Farming.
“I believed you don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Look and see what others have done and learn from them.”
Lebecki’s first philanthropic activity was for the SCV YMCA and he began a youth and government program with the city.
“I wanted to teach kids about government and teach government about business,” he said. “It was a new city and I thought what a great match, a young city, young kids.”
Lebecki approached Betty Peters of U.S. Borax to fund the program.
“She believed in it and wrote the biggest check,” he said.
Lebecki said he owned his own boat as soon as he made enough money to buy one. The Echo was a “project” he undertook in 2003
“It was a total disaster of a boat. But I could see beyond all that,” he said.
After the boat was refurbished Lebecki offered it to the Boys & Girls Club of SCV as a live auction item at the club’s 2004 Benefit Auction. “It sold for $8,000,” he said.
The boat appeared in numerous benefit auctions including Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation, College of the Canyons Foundation, SCV Child & Family Center, Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer, Soroptimist International of SCV, Zonta Club and the YMCA.
With the recession in full bloom, Lebecki, who had moved from Valencia to living aboard the boat in Marina del Rey, sold the boat in 2011.
Back on the water
Lebecki moved back to Valencia and was “boatless” until about three months ago. “I had to put webbed feet back into the water. I had enough of no boat,” said.
He first purchased a small 16-foot electric boat as a “test run.” But then, he found Lovey, which is moored in Ventura Harbor.
“This is the Cadillac of all Duffy boats, it is the biggest and most luxurious of all electric boats,” he said. “It doesn’t go very fast, about 6 miles an hour, but is very seaworthy. It is like a Tesla on the water, runs for 12 hours straight. I take it off the coast in calm seas and wave at the seals and cruise the harbor.”
Lebecki said the boat is a new opportunity to give back to the community.
He will donate a three-hour cruise with the nonprofit providing “Wine and Cheese on the High Seas.”
“Santa Clarita is a great town because of its support of the nonprofit community. It is a unique community and it is important people appreciate its uniqueness.”