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Timeline: Jim Oberstar, 1934-2014

Jim Oberstar gestures while giving a speech during the 8th District DFL Convention at Spirit Mountain in Duluth in May 2012. (Clint Austin /
  • Sept. 10, 1934: Jim Oberstar born in Chisholm.
  • 1952: Graduates from Chisholm High School
  • 1956: Graduates from College of St. Thomas in St. Paul with majors in French and political science.
  • 1957: Receives master’s degree in European Studies form the College of Europe in Belgium.
  • 1959: Begins four years of work in Haiti teaching French and Creole to U.S. military personnel and English to Haitian officials.
  • 1963: Begins working for U.S. Rep. John Blatnik, D-Minn., on the Transportation Committee, first serving as clerk for the Subcommittee on Rivers and Harbors.
  • Oct. 10, 1963: Marries Jo Garlick. The couple raise four children.
  • 1974: Blatnik, who had held his seat since 1947, announces his retirement and Oberstar announces he will run for Congress.
  • September 1974: Defeats Hibbing state lawmaker Tony Perpich and Sturgeon Lake polka king and state Sen. Florian Chmielewski to win the DFL primary for the seat.
  • November 1974: Easily tops Republican Jerry Arnold and Economic Justice Candidate William Ojala to win his first term as 8th District congressman.
  • Jan. 3, 1975: Assumes office.
  • November 1976: Wins his second election unopposed.
  • June 1984: Loses a bitter endorsement battle to Secretary of State Joan Growe to become the DFL candidate for U.S. Senate with the convention divided between pro-life Oberstar supporters and pro-choice Growe supporters. Growe later loses the election to Republican Rudy Boschwitz, who is supported by many pro-life DFLers. Oberstar never sought statewide office again.
  • November 1984: Back in the race for the 8th District, Oberstar beats Independent Republican Dave Rued 67-32 percent.
  • January 1989: Becomes chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation, holding the post until 1995, and becomes a national expert on airlines, safety and the aviation industry.
  • November 1990: Captures 73 percent of the vote running against Republican logger Jerry Shuster of Gheen.
  • 1991: Helps broker a deal to keep troubled Northwest Airlines out of bankruptcy thanks to a huge state loan. In exchange, Northwest builds an aircraft maintenance base in Duluth and opens a reservation center in Chisholm.
  • 1991: Is a chief architect of the ISTEA transportation funding bill, as he was with the major highway funding bills in 1997, 2005 and 2009.
  • July 1991: Wife Jo dies of breast cancer, leaving Oberstar visibly distraught for months after 28 years of marriage.
  • October 1991: Leads passage of the Aging Airline Safety Act, which added safety check regulations for airplanes being used by airlines past 15 years of service.
  • November 1993: Marries Jean Kurth, a widow who also lost her spouse to cancer.
  • 1994: Cirrus Aircraft Co. moves to Duluth from Baraboo, Wis., with company officials saying Oberstar was a key factor in luring the firm to the Northland where it continues to build high-tech light aircraft.
  • June 1996: Sponsors the Railroad Safety Reform act after a string of fatal rail accidents across the U.S.
  • July 2000: Helps secure $110 million to replace the World War II-era Lake Superior/Lake Michigan icebreaker Mackinaw with a new ship of the same name. The new ship is launched in 2005.
  • 2003: Helps broker a deal to rescue troubled Eveleth Taconite, which reopens as United Taconite and thrives thanks to a sale of taconite to China, rescuing 400 jobs.
  • 2005: Is chief sponsor of the Safe Routes to School Program that passed as part of the massive $295 billion highway safety and construction legislation. The effort offered federal grants to pay for safe bikeways and walkways for children to get to local schools. The bill also includes authorization to upgrade U.S. Highway 53 to four lanes north of Virginia.
  • November 2006: Defeats former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams 64-34 percent to win re-election, including winning every county in the district.
  • Aug. 1, 2007: Interstate 35 bridge over Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapses, killing 13 people and injuring dozens of others. Within days, Oberstar introduces legislation that quickly passes Congress and is signed into law to immediately give the Minnesota Department of Transportation $250 million to build a replacement bridge.
  • 2007: Begins effort to secure $40 million for a new terminal at Duluth International Airport. The terminal opened in early 2013.
  • April 21, 2010: Reintroduces America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act, legislation that would restore federal Clean Water Act protection to waters upstream of so-called navigable lakes and rivers, such as wetlands. Those protections were nixed by two 2001 Supreme Court decisions.
  • Nov. 2, 2010: Loses bid for 19th term in Congress to a political newcomer, Republican Chip Cravaack of Lindstrom.
  • May 2011: Attends ceremony in Duluth rechristening a Great Lakes freighter as the Hon. James L. Oberstar. The St. Louis County Board proclaims the day “James L. Oberstar Day” across the county.
  • 2013: Early in the year is mentioned as a possible candidate for federal transportation secretary, to replace Ray LaHood. The position went to Charlotte (N.C.) Mayor Anthony Foxx.
  • May 3, 2014: Dies in his sleep at his home in Maryland at age 79.
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