Winona State University’s newest purchase floats

Allison Mueller

Jordan Gerard/ Winonan

Students do not need to change their major to science for a ride on the Cal Fremling. Just about anyone can take a cruise on the new boat.

The Cal Fremling Interpretative Center and Classroom, purchased this year by Winona State University, was originally thought exclusive to science classes, but James Reynolds, former professor and 2004 retiree, assures the boat is available for Winona State University, Winona and Southeast Minnesota.

“The boat is certainly an unusual and distinct resource for Winona State and the community to use,” Reynolds said. “Anyone can reserve the boat for social or business gatherings while learning about the river and its history at the same time.”

The boat was named for professor emeritus Calvin “Cal” Fremling, who Reynolds said was a “wonderful faculty member,” and he “loved being on the river and doing biology in his classes, not just reading about it.”

Fremling spent 32 years teaching in the biology department and passed away in 2010. He authored the book, “Immortal River: The Mississippi River in Ancient and Modern Times.” His book explains the history, geography and anthropology of the Mississippi River.

“If you asked him anything about the river, he could tell you, and he would do a running commentary about the river,” Reynolds said.

The two-level boat is docked at Levee Park. Inside the cabin is enough space for 49 students, one captain and two student crewmembers. The second level deck gives a 360-degree view of the river.

The boat is registered by the U.S. Coast Guard to cruise from Wabasha, Minn. to La Crosse, Wis. Captains Rudy Beshensky, Aaron Repinsky and Jon Borreson pilot the boat along with two student crewmembers.

The Cal Fremling’s maiden voyage was June 6, when it sailed from La Crosse, Wis. to Levee Park in Winona and was met with a crowd of nearly 700 people.

One crewmember, Cal Johnson, said he enjoys working on the boat. Johnson is a senior in the movement science program at Winona State University.

Skipper Liner, Inc. in La Crosse, Wis. custom built the boat for approximately $1.4 million, which was paid for with funds from the WSU Foundation, community members and other donors.

The Cal Fremling has all the amenities of a campus classroom including WiFi, electricity, restrooms and a TV screen to connect with students on campus. The boat uses high-efficiency diesel fuel and burns less than five hours of gas with three engines running, Beshensky said.

Winona State previously owned the River Explorer, which was similar to the Cal Fremling, but it was much smaller and less equipped. The River Explorer was sold in 2009.

“The River Explorer catered to 15 different academic departments including biology, geoscience, mass communications, theater, English and science education,” Reynolds said. “Every event was centered on educating people about the river with the research that Cal did. The boat was never intended to be a party boat.”

Reynolds said the hope for the Cal Fremling is to educate all majors about the river and incorporate it into their departments.

The Cal Fremling is unique to Winona State because it is the only university in Minnesota to have a boat for classes and gatherings, Reynolds said.

The University of Minnesota in Duluth has a research vessel on Lake Superior, but it is only used for research, not for cruises.

The summer season for the Cal Fremling started late because of high waters that lasted until July. Beshensky said the schedule was sporadic for July and August, but it has begun to get busier now because classes have started. The boat can be reserved from 7 a.m. to dusk, he said.