The first of four generations of Martin County natives, Toley A. Engebretsen has been a hardworking, civic-minded, good neighbor since he was born here in 1928.
Owner of Toley’s Boatyard in Port Salerno until 1969, having taken it over from his father 10 years prior, the Engebretsens were the go-to guys for boat repair, sportfishing charters and small boat construction at the height of the commercial fishing industry in the famously rough-and-tumble pioneer community.
Today, the 85-year-old Stuart resident spends his time preserving the history of the area through the Stuart Heritage Museum as its president. He’s one of the few who remembers what Stuart was like back when the Manatee Pocket was clean enough to swim, when there were 27 members of his graduating class and when boats were riveted together with copper nails.
“It was a great time growing up. You didn’t have to worry about keeping your doors locked,” he says. “No one would bother you.”
In between chores at his father’s boatyard (Engebretsen was tasked with cleaning up the yard and helping in the small, tight corners of boat construction), he and his friends would enjoy days at the beach. One day, his friend’s boat stalled over near the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, and he was able to take apart the starter, clean and fix it. It was impressive enough to catch the eye of his future wife, Helen.
The couple was married in 1950, as work continued at the boatyard, where the crew built four or five 20-foot-long boats a year and focused on repairs. For four and a half years, Engebretsen was in the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier with the only plane with an atom bomb. Luckily, they never had to use it.
Back home, the couple had a son, Shawn, who is now an oral surgeon in Stuart. His middle name is Torlief, the original name of Engebretsen’s father, who emigrated from Norway and had his name changed by an immigration officer.
In Port Salerno, Engebretsen also was active in the volunteer fire department, as well as a member of the Stuart Sailfish Club, which worked to conserve resources while encouraging more sportfishing by area visitors.
After his father passed away, he and his sister ran the business for another decade before selling it. That’s when Engebretsen went from building boats to building airplanes with Grumman Aircraft Engineering, which is now known as Northrop Grumman. He worked there for 13 years.
Later he moved to Stuart, where Engebretsen and his wife attended Stuart Alliance Church. Upon retirement, he visited the Stuart Heritage Museum, where he offered to volunteer. Today, he serves as the president of the organization that seeks to preserve the stories of Martin County’s yesteryears.
“Stuart has grown a lot in the last 20 years, but it still has that small-town atmosphere,” he says. “At the museum, you get a taste of Stuart back in the old days. There’s so much stuff that needs to be kept alive, and we’re trying to do that.”
Meanwhile, his wife runs Jensen Beach Travel, and the couple has traveled all around the world. And guess what? There’s no place that compares to Martin County – his home.