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Doug Lewandowski column: Chat with 'car guy' reveals other hobby

Jeff Hofslund of Foreign Affairs enjoys adventures under the water as a volunteer at Great Lakes Aquarium.

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Jeff Hofslund and the day's work ahead. (Photo by Doug Lewandowski)

When we need an oil change, tires rotated or a transmission fixed, it usually has to fit into a busy day. There’s not much time to chat with the person who runs the place; we just want the car to work. But taking time to talk can reveal a whole other dimension in a routine conversation. Jeff Hofslund of Foreign Affairs has been a car guy all his life, but he also knows his way around scuba gear.

A lifelong Duluth resident, Hofslund grew up in Lakeside and graduated from Duluth East in 1968. He continued his education at the University of Minnesota Duluth, majoring in chemistry and biology. He didn’t finish this course of study, but was encouraged by Wayne Ringsrud to continue his education. One summer, he took some college classes in geology and auto repair. He went on to finish a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial education.

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Jeff Hofslund and Mark Wick, old friends and diving partners. (Photo by Doug Lewandowski)

Hofslund has always been interested in how things work. When he was younger, he would spend time repairing chain saws and lawnmowers. For a while, he worked at Bud and Ed’s Gulf Service on Woodland Avenue. As he got older, getting around town was a problem. A bike wasn’t going to cut it. While employed at the Gulf station, he took on the refurbishment of a 1939 Pontiac that was just sitting around outside. He rebuilt the engine and got it working.

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“I learned by doing," he said. "I was always interested in service manuals and what they could tell you. My dad never knew I had a car until one time when he had to be someplace and the family car was not available. I told him I could get him to where he needed to go. I went and got the car, picked him up, and that was that.”

For 10 years, Hofslund worked in the Twin Cities at a BMW dealership as a master mechanic. He was also employed there by a couple other dealerships and learned the business side of the auto repair world. When the dealership he worked at closed, he returned to Duluth in 1990 and, with a partner, formed Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Affairs is an appropriate name for the shop. “I always loved Saabs; the way they drove and felt. I also own a variety of vehicles, including many American-made ones. There is always a challenge in fixing things and coming to an understanding of why cars are designed in a certain way,” he said.

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Jeff Hofslund volunteers as a diver at the Great Lakes Aquarium, feeding fish while guests watch. (Photo by Doug Lewandowski)

In addition to this lifelong interest in cars, Hofslund often takes a break to feed the fish at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

“I had an interest in snorkeling at an early age, going to little lakes and streams. When I expressed an interest in learning how to scuba dive, Dad bought me some used equipment so I could follow my interests, even though he didn’t like the water,” he said.

He started volunteering at the aquarium 20 years ago.

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“I find the whole process interesting. It also helps me keep proficient in the water. I have the skills in place when I want to take expeditions on Lake Superior," he said. "I have learned a lot about the lake and the fish that live in it and feel knowledgeable enough to answer people’s questions.”

Mark Wick, a retired police officer, is Hofslund's partner when they feed the fish. They dive as a pair for safety. Wednesdays are the day the two are on deck for meal time. The process is broken down into three stages. The first stage involves the preparation of the food for the fish, which includes removing exoskeletons from shrimp and cutting up smelt. The divers get themselves ready by taking showers and then getting into their equipment before entering the tank.

“We first feed the trout at the top of the tank," Hofslund said. "They are voracious eaters and need to be taken care of right away. We selectively feed the fish because some of them are disabled. For example, one of the trout has only a single eye. Then we work our way to the bottom of the tank to feed the others. We carry food in bags to the lower part of the tank to feed the Sturgeons and other bottom feeders.”

Around 2:30 p.m., some of the animal husbandry staff give their talks about the fish and their feeding, to aquarium visitors.

“The diving is fun. I look forward to seeing people there and community members I know who have no clue it’s me waving at them from the tank," Hofslund said.

Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at lewandowskidoug@gmail.com.

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Doug Lewandowski

Related Topics: GREAT LAKES AQUARIUM
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