The Calvin R. Fremling floating interpretive center and classroom will be a reality in the spring of 2014. “It is named after one of the university’s most treasured and loved faculty members,” said Jim Schmidt, WSU vice president of advancement.
on Cal Fremling
“Calvin was an example of a professor who could have taught anywhere, but as he told me the story, as he got to know the area, he fell in love with it,” Schmidt said. He was so excited that he could teach all day long and then be out on the river fishing or exploring, he added.
“I always ask alumni around the country, "who was your favorite professor," and I keep a mental top 10 and he’s always on that list,” Schmidt said with a smile.
“Cal, as brilliant as he was...you'd ask him a question, his eyes lighted up and he didn’t lecture to you or tell you the answer. You could just feel him want to reach out and get you as excited about it as he was,” Schmidt beamed. “And that’s one of the things that made him an amazing professor, but more importantly, an amazing ambassador for the amazing body of water that surrounds this city,” Schmidt explained.
Dr. Fremling is widely known for saving Lake Winona and running the decades-long mayfly study, Schmidt said. He was the one who came up with the idea to dredge the lake. One of his legacies is the fact that all Winona residents have Lake Winona to enjoy, Schmidt explained. He is probably best known for the mayfly study. "The health of the river — he could measure it based on how large the hatch of mayflies there were that year,” Schmidt added.
“It tells you a lot that the city recognized his contributions. After he passed away they renamed Levee Drive after him: the Calvin R. Fremling Parkway,” Schmidt said. “It will be very fitting to have the floating classroom parked at the levee,” he noted.
Previously Winona State University had a split-level houseboat that was available to all faculty and interdisciplinary education, Schmidt said. All classes that were able to relate the river to a curriculum could use the boat, Schmidt explained. In the summer, Visit Winona would host guest lecturers during three-hour cruises, and tickets were sold to cover the cost, Schmidt said. “Every single one of those was sold out well in advance; we did photography, we did bird watching on the river, and Cal Fremling was one of the honored lecturers on those cruises,” Schmidt noted.
“In 2008-9 when MnDOT shut down the Mississippi River bridge, there were some problems with people giving rides back and forth across the river, and the Coast Guard came in to shut down illegal ferries. While they were there, they saw this big purple boat sitting in the main channel of the Mississippi River,” Schmidt said. The Coast Guard was suspicious, and they believed it should be licensed as a boat for hire, Schmidt explained. WSU didn’t agree, but the Coast Guard won, so WSU sold the boat to contribute to the cost of the new one, Schmidt added.
“We’re building a commercial custom vessel, and in a partnership with Skipper Liner,” Schmidt explained. WSU is very proud to employ people from the area in an industry that really hasn’t done as well in the recession, Schmidt said. “Jeb Griffith, a generous alum, is building the boat at cost for us. That is a significant gift in-kind to the university, and it will save us several hundred thousands of dollars, frankly,” Schmidt explained.
The boat will be 17 feet wide, 60 feet long, and will hold 49 passengers. It will be wheelchair accessible, to accommodate people to whom the river wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. The gang plank will be wide enough for a wheelchair to get easily on and off the boat. The new boat will also be able to go into shallow waters. “A lot of the exciting teaching and instruction and discovery are really in those backwaters,” Schmidt added.
“To date we have raised over $550,000, a large portion of which will go to an endowment to underwrite the operating cost of the boat over the years,” Schmidt explained.
There won’t be one primary class designated for the boat; it will be available to all curricula that can relate to the river, Schmidt said. Previously there were options such as river poetry, river economics, chemistry of the river, geology of the river, history of the river, music of the river and so on, he added.
“People would be amazed to know that we are not aware of any other university along the Mississippi that has a similar kind of boat with a similar kind of mission. It’s really kind of remarkable. It’s going to be a signature program and an asset for Winona State,” Schmidt said.
“We’ve already been in contact with Pat Mutter at Visit Winona and are interested in any ideas the community has for it,” Schmidt said.
For more information, or to make donations, please visit www.winona.edu/foundation/boat.