Heart attack while playing hockey claims his life
Senior Captain Dean Hobbs off Lake Michigan Carferry’s SS Badger wasn’t just a ship captain, he was one of the best there was.
Rear Admiral John Tanner, former superintendent of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, said next month would have made 40 years that he knew Hobbs and that there wasn’t a better captain or better person around.
Hobbs, 59, died around 10 p.m. Thursday night after suffering a heart attack during a senior men’s league hockey game, Tanner said.
His family released a statement through Lake Michigan Carferry on Friday.
“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of our dear husband and dad, Captain Dean Hobbs,” the family stated. “He died on Thursday evening, November 21, while enjoying a game of hockey, one of his favorite pastimes.
“Hobbs knew the Great Lakes inside and out and took great pride in his job as a captain on the SS Badger and every ship he helmed. He was an exceptional friend, sailor, father and husband, and he loved his family, especially his three
grandkids, Walker Dean, Lucy and Nora. The Lakes and our lives will not be the same without him and we will miss him forever.”
Hobbs and his wife, Brenda, had two grown children, Courtney and Angela.
“Dean’s considerable knowledge of the Great Lakes and exceptional ship handling skills on the Badger has contributed to the success of the company over the past 17 years,” Bob Manglitz, LMC president/CEO said.
“His presence will be sorely missed on the vessel and on the shore alike.
“On behalf of Lake Michigan Carferry’s staff and crew, we extend our most heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of Captain Dean Hobbs.
He knew the Great Lakes inside and out and took great pride in his job as a captain on the SS Badger and every ship he helmed. He was an exceptional friend, sailor, father and husband, and he loved his family, especially his three grandkids, Walker Dean, Lucy and Nora. The Lakes and our lives will not be the same without him and we will miss him forever.”
A career on the Lakes
Rear Admiral John Tanner said he met Dean Hobbs in 1973 when he was a ship’s officer and visited the GLMA to talk to a student group. In 1974, Tanner joined the faculty and he remained a faculty member through Hobbs’ graduation in 1976. They maintained a relationship over the years as Hobbs advanced his career as a mariner and Tanner advanced to take over one of only six mariners’ academies in the U.S.
Tanner and GLMA Director of Enrollment John Berck said Hobbs was a true mariner in every sense of the word.
From the academy he took a job with Amoco, which had three ships hauling petroleum products around the Great Lakes. He was a manager with the company.
Hobbs joined Lake Michigan Carferry in 1995, the same year that Tanner took over the GLMA.
“It was a perfect marriage,” Tanner said of Hobbs. “He was the right personality type at the right time in his life. Things line up in a person’s life and he enjoyed that immensely.”
Part of the job that Hobbs enjoyed most was telling people about his ship and the history of the Great Lakes. It was not uncommon to see him speaking with passengers on cross-lake trips.
“I can tell you he did that for people in all walks of life,” Tanner said. “Sometimes people will just talk to people who only benefit them. Dean talked to everybody. He talked to people he knew would never, ever help him, which is the definition of a true gift.”
Tanner said the Badger is an important vessel for a number of reasons.
“It has a historic value, it has a mystique about it — the general public loves that vessel — I can speak for people all through Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin. If it’s one of the 1,000-footers, they see that on the lake or maybe in the locks, but the Badger, what makes it so unique, is that the people who love ships can go aboard and touch it and talk to the captain as members of the general public and that’s where Dean was a master.”
Tanner said the GLMA’s school ship happened to be in Marinette when Hobbs was getting ready to deliver a ferry bound for Staten Island, New York.
“Dean treated all the cadets to breakfast,” Tanner said. “Stuff that he did, things he didn’t have to do. Spending time with cadets who he didn’t have to, taking them to breakfast, for those 12 cadets it meant the world to them.”
Tanner said Hobbs never stopped giving back to the academy that taught him his skills.
“He probably helped Great Lakes Maritime Academy more than any other graduate,” Tanner said. “Whatever I would ask, whether as a faculty member or a superintendent, he was there.”
Hobbs served as an adjunct instructor at the GLMA and was very engaged in the history of the industry.
“He paid attention to the history of the Badger and the history of the Great Lakes,” Tanner said. “In fact there’s an organization that goes back to 1886 called the International Shipmaster’s Association — he was grand president of that in 1999 or 2000 .That’s a very prestigious title. Shipmasters from around Lakes elected him president which was a huge thing.”
Hobbs also helped establish the shipmasters’ port, port No. 23, in Traverse City.
“He was just involved in so much. he did so much to help other people,” Tanner said. “He was a good shipmate aboard ship, he was a good captain but I know personally he helped so many mariners who needed a boost in their confidence and give them help in their lives.
“Life’s not fair. Somebody who did that should live a long life and Dean can’t, but Dean was there for people.”
Piloting a 410-foot vessel across Lake Michigan thousands of times is not the easy task that it may seem to observers. Tanner, who was third officer on the first 1,000-foot vessel on the Great Lakes, said people don’t understand the skill involved in bringing the SS Badger back and forth between Ludington and Manitowoc.
“The skills he had were world class,” Tanner said. “I was fortunate enough to be on the first 1,000-footer on the Great Lakes. I know the dynamics of ship handling of a lot of different vessels. When a ship doesn’t have a bow thruster, when they pivot on an anchor (like the Badger does), it’s world-class seamanship. It’s world class. There are very few people in the world who can do that, that’s how impressive it is, the handling of the Badger.”
Tanner said he did some relief captain work on a carferry in the 1970s and can attest to how they handle.
“Keep in mind that the Badger has a lot of exposed hull — it’s really affected by the wind,” Tanner said. “There’s a lot of skill in the handling of that. It’s a very tall ship for its length and they get knocked around.”
Tanner said he had a group of mariners from Washington, D.C., on the Badger and they watched with mouths agape as the vessel was docked by pivoting on the anchor chain.
Hobbs had an unlimited tonnage master’s license and credentials for ocean-going vessels as well.
“He did work for the shipyard in Marinette on some government vessels, some very high-end navy vessels,” Tanner said.
A good captain, a better person
“He was always there whenever we needed help with an academic program or volunteer opportunity,” Berck said. “I’ve known Captain Hobbs, Dean, for so many years. I loved Dean and it’s just such a shock. Our concerns are now with his wife, Brenda, and their children.”
Berck said it was a tradition to bring the new class of cadets down from the GLMA each year and cross the lake on the Badger and Hobbs made it a special experience for them every time.
“Captain Hobbs would go out of his way with all these incoming cadets and give them all kinds of inside knowledge and speak with them,” Berck said. “We’re certainly going to miss him.
Hobbs was someone who cadets or instructors could reach out to with questions or for advice or help.
“He was really somebody who was always there as a liaison with the industry for the school,” Berck said. “He was proud of what happened for him here and the direction it took him in the industry but he was just a very humble fellow — as many successful people are. He was just a wonderful friend and supporter with the school.”
“He liked organizing things,” Tanner said. “He worked and dabbled and did all sorts of things.”
“He was very active in a lot of those things — he loved hockey. In fact, he helped set up a hockey game we held for years at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy between the cadets and the alumni. Dean was a goalie and he just loved that.”
Hobbs also arranged in May of 2003 to have the school’s ship meet the Badger for a salute between the ships outside Ludington’s harbor in 2003. He arranged it so the school ship’s first port of call on a trip around the lake that year was Ludington.
“I was very proud of that and so was Dean Hobbs,” Tanner said.
Berck said Hobbs was extremely knowledgeable and for years he tried to get him to write a book. He said he’ll be missed.
“It’s a close-knit, small industry and you won’t find anyone who doesn’t think he was one of the best captains in the industry but also one of the best people in the industry,” Berck said.
He was always a positive person with lots of energy and a quiet confidence.
“Forget the maritime, forget everything else, he was just a quality person who would do the heavy lifting behind the scenes for people he didn’t even know,” Berck said.
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