Saturday, July 14, 2007

 

Shipwreck expert was outdoorsman, mentor to many

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Duluth News Tribune
By John Myers
July 14, 2007


In this file photo, Julius Wolff relaxes under
a photo of the Edmund Fitzgerald at the Coney
Island Deluxe restaurant. Wolff wrote a book
about Lake Superior shipwrecks and was an
expert on the Edmund Fitzgerald. He died today
at the age of 89. [1995 FILE/NEWS TRIBUNE]


How people remember Julius Wolff will depend on how they knew him.

Scoutmaster. Shipwreck expert. Marshall School benefactor. Deer hunter and outdoor enthusiast. Conservationist. Political science professor. Youth mentor. Notre Dame fan. The list could go on.

Wolff, 89, died Friday at St. Franciscan Health Center in Duluth of natural causes.

The Duluth native is perhaps best known for his 1979 book “The Shipwrecks of Lake Superior,’’ the go-to encyclopedia on the subject that was updated in 1989. He was a political science professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, retiring in 1986.

Wolff was a prolific author, writing many articles for the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine and for maritime history publications.

He helped introduce dozens of Twin Ports teens to the outdoors, leading canoe trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and duck and deer hunting expeditions.

“Most people knew him as the Lake Superior shipwreck expert, and he was. He was the definitive source to go to for Lake Superior shipwrecks and maritime history for the better part of a half-century,’’ said Thom Holden, director of the Marine Museum in Duluth. “But he also touched so many people’s lives as a teacher and a Scoutmaster and woodsman.’’

Not only did modern-day shipwreck searchers seek out and befriend Wolff, but, Holden said, several of Wolff’s students and Scouts kept in touch with their mentor over the years.

“He was, even late in his years, an avid deer hunter, and I don’t think he missed many deer seasons,’’ Holden said. “And he got help from some of those former Scouts getting into his deer stand. They were close to him even then.’’

Craig Grau, retired chairman of the UMD political science department, said Wolff was a groundbreaking professor, weaving conservation policy into his courses before environmental issues became common in college classrooms.

“He really pioneered putting environmental policy into the political science classroom,’’ Grau said. “He was right in the middle of all the Boundary Waters issue back in the ’60s and ’70s… He always amazed people with his mind, that he had so much information in it — dates and names and people. He was a loved professor.

“He introduced me to the BWCA, too, and a lot of other faculty,’’ Grau said. “He had a story on every lake, even every rock in the lake. I think he named every rock. He knew that area like the back of his hand.’’

Grau said Wolff was pushed by a UMD chancellor to expand his personal interest in Great Lakes shipping and shipwrecks. It started with a single presentation and grew into Wolff’s nationally known expertise.

“It wasn’t his idea at first. But it really took off. After the [Edmund] Fitzgerald went down, the phone rang off the hook … and it never stopped,’’ Grau said. “He was probably the university’s most well-known faculty member in Northeastern Minnesota.’’

Tom Turk of Duluth was one of the teenagers Wolff helped mentor. Always using military terminology but never a harsh disciplinarian, Wolff helped steer kids to the right path, Turk said. “The trips to the Boundary Waters and deer hunting and duck hunting were great. But the real service was the guidance he gave on how to be a responsible young man,’’ Turk said. “He valued toughness, not like wrestling toughness, but being able to get the job done, whether on a canoe trip or whatever.’’

Turk, a longtime family friend who helped care for Wolff in the professor’s later years, said Wolff was the smartest person he’d ever met.

“He was extremely intelligent, to the point of brilliant on some points. But he was also a very humble man, a kid of the Depression era who wanted to help people,” Turk said.

Julius Fredric “Fred” Wolff Jr. spent most of his life in Duluth. He was born here in 1918 and graduated from Duluth Cathedral High School in 1935. He attended Duluth Junior College and graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1940.

He served in World War II in the U.S. Army as a quartermaster on Attu Island in Alaska, leaving active duty as a captain and serving in the U.S. Army Reserve until 1975, retiring as a colonel. After the war he attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, earned his master’s degree in 1947 and a doctorate in public administration in 1949.

He went to work at UMD as a political science professor and taught there for 37 years.

Wolff was a Boy Scout leader for more than 20 years. He never married.

He was a lifelong member of Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. A service is scheduled for Aug. 8. His family asks that memorials go to the Dr. Julius F. Wolff Scholarship at UMD.


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