WINONA — As the Cal Fremling, Winona State University's new floating classroom, was driven up the Mississippi River on Friday for its dedication, it made big ripples in the water.
That's what the 60-foot boat is going to do for students — make ripples and waves in their lives, said Kirsti Hendrickson, granddaughter of Fremling, a former WSU biology professor for whom the boat is named.
Without her grandfather, "the ripple effect of the experience the people would have had on this boat would never have happened," she said.
The 60-foot boat, which is a fully functioning floating classroom, was made at Skipperliner in La Crosse, Wis., and driven up to Winona on Friday for a formal dedication and christening.
Fremling was a well-known WSU professor who loved the river. He was an internationally recognized expert on the river and wrote a book on it called "Immortal River: the Upper Mississippi River in Ancient and Modern Times."
He also studied mayflies as a way to learn more about polychlorinated biphenyls, a pollutant in the river and also helped Winona restore Lake Winona, which is an old channel of the river that has been cut off from the main channel.
He taught at the university from 1959 until retiring in 1991. He died in August 2010.
At the dedication, Fremling was praised for his high-quality, personal teaching, his passion and his personality. "He primed the pump in creating the thirst for discovery," said Thom Kieffer, chairman of the WSU Foundation.
Gary Evans, the event's emcee, said there were plans to have more boats accompany the Fremling to port but the Mississippi is quite high and fast. But "it's fitting that the river should rise up," he said. "It's as if the Old Man River his head in salute."
"Very few people cared as much about the river as Cal did," said Winona Mayor Mark Peterson. "It's absolutely right that we are celebrating such a man."
But it was Hendrickson who told the most telling, most intimate stories about the man she called "Pappa." He was both an educator and a lifelong learner, she said.
She told of how he often took her fishing and taught her to correctly put the worm on the hook, then clean the fish.
In the classroom, "he preferred hands-on to lecturing" and even took students camping and out on the river. "He was patient. He was kind -- a sweet, loving grandfather," she said.
She thinks he would have been humbled and thankful for the new floating classroom.
"He was a very classy man," Hendrickson said. "He would handle this (attention) with grace, but he would secretly be very red inside."