Port director Ojard to sail toward retirementWith a head of gray hair and a full beard, Adolph Ojard just has the look of an old sea captain.
With a head of gray hair and a full beard, Adolph Ojard just has the look of an old 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 told the Budgeteer. “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.
A strong St. Lawrence Seaway benefits the Twin Ports region and other port cities alike, Ojard said.
“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.”
Duluth Mayor Don Ness called Ojard “one of the strongest voices for shipping on the Great Lakes.” Ness also pointed to Ojard’s recent work to clean up and revitalize the former U.S. Steel/Atlas Cement site in Morgan Park.
“It was his initiative and relationships in the industry that opened the door with U.S. Steel to negotiate for the reuse of this site,” Ness said. “For decades, that land has sat vacant. Now, along with DEDA’s tremendous work at the Atlas site, we are ready to bring new industry and manufacturing back to the St Louis River corridor.”
Ojard’s work on the U.S. Steel site has been through the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, or APEX. He was a founding member of the group, which is composed of local business leaders seeking to advance business opportunities in Duluth.
“What a voice to be able to represent the Great Lakes,” fellow founding member Nancy Noor said of Ojard. Norr is the APEX board secretary and the manager of regional development for Minnesota Power. “He brought knowledge of the industry into this critical asset of our region. Adolph was a
proponent of the region on an international stage. He helped put us on
Brian Hanson, president and CEO of APEX, said Ojard has been successful because of his ability to be friendly and frank at the same time.
“Adolph is a very knowledgeable spokes-person with a passion for our port,” he said. “His port presentation is extremely interesting and really gives folks a serious dose of insight into shipping in our region.”
Steve Sydow, a shipping agent at Daniel’s Shipping Services, said Ojard has done wonders to promote regional transportation, tackle problems and lobby for legislation.
“His steady hand on the till of the Port Authority has made my job easier, simply by knowing his hand was there,” he said. “It will be that his replacement must have large feet.”
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 it’s time for me to move on and do something else.”