WINONA, Minn. — Cal Fremling’s name will soon return to the Mississippi River he spent a lifetime studying and building a relationship with.
Winona State University announced this week that it has secured enough funding to begin work on the Dr. Calvin R. Fremling Floating Interpretive Center and Classroom, a 49-passenger boat the university will use to provide educational and social opportunities on the Mississippi River.
Fremling was a long-time professor of biology at WSU who died in 2010 at age 80. He was a renowned Mississippi River expert whose name was synonymous with the river.
“I know that Cal would be absolutely overwhelmed,” said his widow, Arlayne. “Because of his love of the river, students and research. He just loved to be a part of student life.”
Jim Schmidt, WSU’s outgoing vice president for advancement, said the university has raised $550,000 for the boat and is creating an endowment to cover operating costs.
“People in the Winona community and our alumni have been extraordinarily generous,” Schmidt said. “A lot of money came from people who wanted to pay tribute to Cal Fremling’s work.”
Fremling was one of the best-loved and remembered professors in WSU’s history, Schmidt said.
“Whenever someone would ask him about the river his eyes would light up and he would go into teaching mode,” Schmidt said. “It was like he reached across and pulled you in to something he loved so much.”
SkipperLiner out of La Crosse is working on the design for the boat, which will be handicapped accessible, Schmidt said. The university also plans to work with Visit Winona and other local groups to create classes and events for the boat.
WSU hopes to have the boat in the water and ready for use by spring 2014.
The boat isn’t WSU’s first attempt at providing education on the river. It acquired a houseboat in the early 2000s for use as a floating classroom.
But when the interstate bridge was closed in 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard came to Winona to inspect the ferries transporting people across the river and discovered the boat was out of code, and WSU sold it.
Since, Schmidt said, the university has been working hard to get a boat back on the river — one that’s Coast Guard approved.
“It was a very successful venture,” he said. “We’ve had a five-year, pent-up demand to buy another boat.”