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A hero on the Duluth docks: Worker honored for risking life to save drowning man

On that cold November morning in 2013, after he'd jumped into Superior Bay to save the life of a 90-year-old man, Zoran Pedisic went home, showered off the brown water from his tall frame and returned to work.

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Capt. Steve Teschendorf, commander of Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie, pins the Silver Lifesaving Medal on Zoran Pedisic during a ceremony Friday afternoon at Clure Public Marine Terminal in Duluth. Pedisic rescued Bill Schowalter in 2013 after Schowalter attempted to commit suicide by jumping into the water at the Clure Terminal. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

On that cold November morning in 2013, after he'd jumped into Superior Bay to save the life of a 90-year-old man, Zoran Pedisic went home, showered off the brown water from his tall frame and returned to work.

"I didn't tell my wife about it until later in the afternoon," said Pedisic, a 57-year-old foreman for the Lake Superior Warehousing Co.

On Friday, Pedisic's instinctive act of heroism was rewarded when he joined the fewer than 2,000 people, including Gen. George Patton, who have been honored with the Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medal.

The medal is unique for including civilian along with military acts of bravery in the face of drowning, shipwrecks or "other peril," said Capt. Steve Teschendorf, commander of Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie.

"It's the only one I've ever given out," Teschendorf said from the warehouse grounds at the Clure Public Marine Terminal, where an intimate ceremony unfolded in front of Pedisic's co-workers, family members and the sons of the now late-Bill Schowalter, who had intentionally jumped from the terminal's gantry crane tracks that fateful day.

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Asked to speak, Pedisic took the podium and fought emotion.

"Thank you everybody," he said, "for coming here."

He then retreated.

A warehouse employee, Jordan Korzenowski, called Pedisic "strict, but caring."

Given the chance to compose himself, Pedisic opened up and explained how the morning of Nov. 1, 2013, unfolded.

He got to work at 8 a.m. and started driving a forklift. Shortly into his shift, he saw Schowalter walking the canopy of a "hot rail" along the dock's edge that provides electric power to the two giant gantry cranes.

Pedisic asked the man if he needed help, but he politely declined.

Pedisic thought it strange and slowly got out of his forklift as the man sat down and pitched himself into the water 10 feet below. Pedisic thought the man would struggle, but instead Schowalter hunched face first, lifeless in the water. In an instant, Pedisic acted.

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Teschendorf explained that during the extensive review process that stretched all the way to Washington, D.C., to determine Pedisic's worthiness for the rare medal, his selflessness kept rising to the surface.

"The frigid water did not stop him," Teschendorf said to the crowd. "The 10-foot drop did not stop him. That he had family at home did not stop him."

Pedisic called out "man overboard!" on his radio, then discarded it before jumping in after the dying man.

"Out of an ordinary day," said Jonathan Lamb, president of Lake Superior Warehousing, "some extraordinary things can happen."

Pedisic reached Schowalter, hooked him with an arm and brought him to the surface before stabilizing against a piling along the pier. Pedisic then swam Schowalter 30 feet to an extraction point, where co-workers and firefighters collected the men from the water.

"I'm from an island off Croatia," said Pedisic, of the Eastern European country along the Adriatic Sea. "If you don't know how to swim by the time you're 3, you're in trouble."

Schowalter's sons, Craig and Scott, and grandchildren applauded along with the others in attendance after the medal was pinned to Pedisic's chest.

The jump into the water had been Schowalter's second attempt to end his own life. Following the rescue, the loneliness and depression that marked his darkest days lifted. He died months later, but not before allowing his sons permission to use his story to educate others about depression in people who are aging and have lost their closest supports, as Schowalter did when he lost his wife of 67 years.

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"We need more whole-person wellness centers," said Craig Schowalter, "not fitness centers."

Surrounded by well-wishers, Pedisic shook hands and smiled and conducted television interviews. He said he still gets sad thinking someone could become as lonely as Schowalter had been.

Then Pedisic did the same thing he did on his most heroic day: He went back to work.

Read more

Read more about Pedisic's heroic actions - and what happened after the rescue - in this article from the News Tribune archives .

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