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Remembering Congressman Jim Oberstar

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Remembering Congressman Jim Oberstar

The University of Minnesota Duluth lost a dear friend over the weekend. Congressman Jim Oberstar will be remembered for his phenomenal work for transportation and his unwavering support for education. Oberstar is remembered for his encyclopedic command of policy details, his devotion to the people of northern Minnesota and — to those who knew him best — as a mentor and friend.

Oberstar received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, the University of Minnesota’s highest honor, at UMD’s 2000 commencement ceremony. He was instrumental in establishing the Sea Grant Program and the UMD Center for Freshwater Research and Policy. He helped secure federal funding for a number of programs at the UMD Natural Resources Research Institute, and has assisted the university to acquire the Coleraine Minerals Research Laboratory from U.S. Steel.

Oberstar supported alternative transportation methods and helped make Northeastern Minnesota more bicycle-friendly. He was at UMD last spring to dedicate the very first electric vehicle charging station on campus. (Picture in header shows Oberstar at the dedication of UMD’s first-ever electric vehicle charging station.)

He died in his sleep Saturday, May 3rd, at age 79. Here’s a link to a Duluth News Tribune story about Oberstar’s legacy.

oberstar 1974
Jim Oberstar mans the phones in October 1974 during his first — and successful — run for Congress. (News Tribune file photo)

From Chisholm to the National Stage

Jim Oberstar was born on September 10, 1934, the son of a miner in Chisholm, and worked the mines himself as a youth. After graduating from Chisholm High School in 1952, he attended the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, graduating with majors in French and political science. He went on to the College of Europe in Belgium, where he earned a master’s degree in European studies.

Beginning in 1959, Oberstar spent four years in Haiti teaching French and Creole to U.S. military personnel and English to Haitian officials.

“He was one of the few people in the United States who knew the Haitian dialect,” said Craig Grau, a retired political science professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Although best known for his work on transportation, Oberstar maintained the expertise he developed on foreign olicy as a young man, Grau said.

Oberstar went to work for Rep. John Blatnik in 1963, initially serving as a clerk on a subcommittee of the Transportation Committee. When Blatnik announced his retirement in 1974, Oberstar won the DFL primary for the seat and went on to easily win a three-way race in the general election.

Ten years later, he sought the DFL nomination for the Senate, but lost the endorsement battle to Secretary of State Joan Growe. It was his only try for an office representing the entire state. He became chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation in 1989 and chairman of the full Transportation Committee in 2007.

Congressman Oberstar
Oberstar was honored with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at UMD’s 2000 commencement ceremony.

Walter Mondale and Jim Oberstar
Walter Mondale (left) and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar have a laugh at the start of Mondale’s U.S. Senate campaign appearance in a “town hall” format at UMD in November 2002. (News Tribune file photo)

Other Articles in the Duluth News Tribune

‘Timeline of Jim Oberstar’s Life’. See it here.

‘Coffee and potica in Chisholm: Oberstar brought together passions for policy and the Iron Range’. Read the article.