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Son of Edna G. captain lauded for service to Duluth's port

Adolph Ojard Sr. in the pilot house of the Edna G. Ojard Sr. was the tug's last captain before her retirement. Adolph Ojard Jr. began his career on Lake Superior in his father's fishing boats. (Photo courtesy of the Lake County Historical Society)1 / 2
Adolph Ojard has served as executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority since March 2003. (2003 file photo)2 / 2

With a head of gray hair and a full beard, Adolph Ojard has the look of a sea captain.

It's perhaps a fitting look for the 63-year-old Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director, who is planning to retire later this year. Ojard, a native of Knife River, has been on the Great Lakes in a variety of roles since his youth.

His father, Adolph Ojard Sr., was the last master of the Edna G. tugboat, once the oldest operating tug in the United States, which now serves as a floating museum in Two Harbors.

Ojard grew up working on his dad's commercial fishing boat and the Two Harbors ore docks. He went on to work in the shipping and railroad industries across the Great Lakes before taking over Duluth's top port position 10 years ago.

"It was kind of a natural progression," Ojard said. "It was a nice transition from the private sector to the public sector, and it's nice to be able to end my career here in my home port, in this industry I have been involved in for so many years."

Ojard recently announced that he will be retiring from the Port Authority later this year after a successor is found, likely around September. He plans to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, who live in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

As port director, it has been Ojard's job to promote and advocate for Great Lakes shipping and local economic development. He has testified before Congress about issues related to the Great Lakes, serves as president of the American Great Lakes Ports Association and chairs the U.S. delegation of the American Association of Port Authorities, an organization that represents and lobbies for ports throughout North and South America.

"There's an old adage: 'A rising tide lifts all boats,'" he said. "When I think of a ship entering the Great Lakes, I think of it as one harbor. There are docks in Cleveland and Detroit, and of course Duluth-Superior. Once here, the ship needs to maximize its voyage. The Great Lakes is just one big harbor with a number of docks."

Ojard, a 1971 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth, spent more than 30 years working around the country with U.S. Steel in rail, inland barging and shipping executive positions. He served as president of the Warrior Gulf Navigation Company in Alabama and later became general manager of both the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway and the Great Lakes Fleet in Duluth, a position he held until taking over as port director in April 2003.

As Ojard prepares to retire, civic leaders and those in the shipping industry say his successor will have big shoes to fill. Steve Rauker, president of the Port Authority board and a St. Louis County commissioner, said Ojard has filled the big shoes left by his predecessor, Davis Helberg, who served in the same position for 24 years.

"If there is one thing I would point to that set Adolph apart, it was his work ethic and can-do spirit," said Raukar, who was appointed to the board in 1998. "As is generally the case from a policy vantage, managers are more often than not either workhorses or show horses, and I would classify Adolph as a workhorse who preferred to get things accomplished versus taking the bows."

A national search will take place to find candidates for the position. Ojard said he feels that the Port Authority will be in a good position for his successor.

"The shipping industry is going to be with us for a long time," he said. "Things are in good shape. Now its time for me to move on and do something else."