Donald Aronow

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Donald Aronow
Born (1927-03-03)March 3, 1927
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died February 3, 1987(1987-02-03) (aged 59)
Miami, Florida, USA
Nationality United States
Ethnicity Jewish
Occupation Boat designer, builder and racer
Spouse(s) Shirley Goldin (divorced)
Lillian Crawford
Children 5

Donald Joel Aronow (March 3, 1927 – February 3, 1987) was an American designer, builder and racer of the famous Magnum Marine, Cigarette, Donzi, and Formula speedboats. He built speedboats for the Shah of Iran, Charles Keating, Robert Vesco, Malcolm Forbes, and George H. W. Bush. Retired President Lyndon Johnson owned several 16 ft. Donzi speedboats on his Texas ranch with which he would race his Secret Service agents.

Early life and education[edit]

Aronow was born in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn,[1] the youngest son of Russian Jewish immigrants[2] Herman and Ruth Aronow.[1] He had two elder sisters, Sylvia and Lillian.[1] His father owned a gas station and then a taxi company which collapsed during the Great Depression.[1] He graduated a top athlete from James Madison High School in 1944,[1] worked as a life guard at Coney Island, and enrolled at Brooklyn College.[1] In 1945, he left school before completion and joined the merchant marine working overseas during the end of World War II.[2] In 1947, he returned to the USA and completed his studies graduating from Brooklyn College in 1950 with a physical education degree[1] earning letters in football, wrestling, and track.[1]

Career[edit]

After school, he worked as a physical education teacher for a time until he accepted a job at his with his father-in-law's southern New Jersey construction business which was booming thanks to demand from returning World War II veterans.[1] In 1953, he established his own construction company, the Aronow Corporation which quickly became one of the largest construction companies in the state.[1][2] In 1959, at age of 32, the now-millionaire Aronow moved to Miami with his family, where he began racing boats as a hobby.[2]

The hobby evolved into a business and by the end of 1962, he had formed the Formula Marine boat company, which he then sold, and in 1964 he started Donzi Marine. In 1966, he founded Magnum Marine with Elton Cary and, in 1970, after campaigning his boat "The Cigarette" around the world and winning the World Championship, he started Cigarette Racing Team using his own designs. Having sold Cigarette for the last time (after having sold it and purchasing it back in the late 1970s), he formed USA Racing Team and built the Blue Thunders, 39-foot catamarans used by the United States Customs Service to patrol U.S. waters and run down illegal offshore activities, especially drug smuggling. Aronow's close friend at the time, Vice President George Bush, was a former Cigarette owner and was involved in testing out the 39-foot cats prior to government approval.

Aronow's boats won over 350 offshore races and he was a two-time world champion and three-time U.S. champion. He has been elected to every powerboating Hall of Fame in existence and he and Gar Wood were the only two Americans to have ever received the UIM Gold Medal of Honor.

Murder[edit]

The great speed of Cigarette boats also made them a popular choice among cocaine runners. On February 3, 1987, Aronow was murdered in his car at the end of 188th Street in Miami (the famous Thunderboat Row) where his boat companies operated. Aronow had just left from a meeting with Bob Saccenti, part owner of Apache Power Boats together with partner Ben Kramer. Witnesses said that a powder blue Lincoln pulled next to Mr. Aronow's car from the opposite direction, and when Aronow rolled down its window the driver opened fire. Another witness tried to follow the Lincoln as it fled but could not catch the killer(s). The Lincoln drove over the grass to get away.

Nearly a decade later, two men pled no contest to charges related to Aronow's killing.[3] In 1995, career criminal Bobby Young admitted to shooting Aronow and pled no contest to second degree murder, eventually providing a full confession in 2009 shortly before his death.[3] Ben Kramer, winner of the 1986 American Power Boat Association Offshore Championship, pled no contest to manslaughter in 1996.[3][4][5] Kramer had a business dispute with Aronow after buying the latter's USA Racing Team but was forced to sell it back to Aronow after the Customs Service refused to do business with him.[3] Kramer was already in prison on a life sentence with no possibility of parole following 1988 and 1989 convictions for drug smuggling and gun charges, as well as receiving a 1990 conviction for a failed escape attempt by helicopter from a federal prison near Miami.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Aronow married twice.

  • In 1948, he married Shirley Goldin.[1][6] They had three children:[1]
    • Michael who was a star athlete at the University of Florida until he was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident in 1970.[2]
    • David[7]
    • Claudia is a New York artist[8] and ex-wife of real estate developer Martin Kimmel. Their son is menswear designer Adam Kimmel[9] who is also the husband of actress Leelee Sobieski.[10]
  • His second wife was former Wilhelmina model, Lillian Crawford, 24 years his junior. They had two sons.[2][11]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]