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Longest-serving Duluth Port Authority director dies

Davis Helberg at his home in Esko in August. Helberg died Wednesday. (file / News Tribune)

It might feel almost serendipitous a day after fierce flooding and heavy winds hammered the Northland, the maritime industry said goodbye to someone who sustained that same kind of ferocity.

"Yesterday, with gale force winds blowing fiercely across Lake Superior, a great force of nature — a Great Lakes legend — the longest serving executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, Davis Helberg, died peacefully in Esko, MN," wrote Adele Yorde, the port authority public relations director.

Living every bit of his 77 years on Earth, Helberg wore many hats throughout his life in northern Minnesota. He served 24 years as the executive director of the port authority and before that as the public relations director for the authority. He reported as an intern and then again at the sports desk at the Duluth News Tribune.

But before he was even an adult, he had entered the shipping world as a deckhand, when he was 17 years old. It was his time working on ships and assisting them into port that some say made him irreplaceable.

"It's not often you get an executive with so much hands-on experience," Yorde said.

Despite Helberg having retired from the port authority in 2003, the imprint he left in Esko and the region, through storytelling and achievement in industry was cemented long before he left. Many who knew him believe it'll carry on long after his death.

Calling him a "giant" and with a "huge personality," Deb DeLuca, the current Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director, said his boldness, passion and leadership will be missed.

"Davis had immense passion for the port," DeLuca said, "the shipping industry and its history and that passion was infectious."

A late-August News Tribune article reflected on Helberg's life, citing the many milestones he accomplished along the way. From cementing a partnership with Lake Superior Warehousing Co. and giving the eulogy for his former editor as well as numerous friends, to his bouts with throat cancer and a heart attack.

"That was close," Helberg was quoted in the article saying. "I have had a full life. I don't have regrets."

Helberg was married his first wife Karen for 45 years until her death. He married Stacey Carlson Helberg in 2012. He is survived by three children, six grandchildren, one great grandson and a great granddaughter who will be born later this month.

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