Duluth, Hibbing airports both offer renaming honors

DULUTH -- The Duluth Airport Authority is ready to rename the new Duluth International Airport passenger terminal in honor of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. So are officials at the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing, where construction of a new ...

Rep. Jim Oberstar listens while Judge Gerald Heaney makes a point during a conversation in Duluth in September 2002. Oberstar died in May at age 79. (News Tribune file photo)



DULUTH -- The Duluth Airport Authority is ready to rename the new Duluth International Airport passenger terminal in honor of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.

So are officials at the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing, where construction of a new $10 million terminal begins in September.

So will it be the James L. Oberstar terminal at the Duluth International Airport or at the Range Regional Airport?


That’s up to the Oberstar family, which was informed last week about both offers and is considering them.

“It’s appropriate for the family to think about it,” said Shaun Germolus, Range Regional Airport manager. “It’s their decision, and we just want to respect that.”

One thing is clear, however. Both airport terminals can’t bear his name.

“That would not be possible; that’s way too confusing,” said Michael Lundstrom, president of the Duluth Airport Authority, the board that oversees the airport’s major issues and decisions.

Either way, both Germolus and Lundstrom say such a tribute is fitting for the longtime congressman from northeastern Minnesota, who died May 3 at age 79. Serving from 1975 to 2011, Oberstar was the longest-serving member of Congress in Minnesota history. Throughout his time in office, he championed transportation projects.

“He was a longtime legislator and head of the transportation committee,” Lundstrom said. “He was excellent in taking care of needs of constituents in his home district, including roads, airports and ports.”

Oberstar, as well as his staff, played a key role in securing funding for the new $78 million Duluth terminal that opened last year, henoted.

“One could easily say that that terminal would not have been built without the role that Jim Oberstar played,” Lundstrom said. “He was so fundamental to the whole process of funding that it could not have happened without him.”



Renaming efforts start

In Duluth, it started with a May 12 letter to Lundstrom from state Sens. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, requesting that the Duluth airport terminal be renamed in honor of Oberstar.

“Representative Oberstar’s name has been synonymous for nearly four decades with advancements in transportation, especially in northeastern Minnesota,” the letter said. “The new terminal, which opened in January of 2013, was designed to reflect and showcase our region. Rep. James. L. Oberstar exemplified all of the positivity our region has to offer and was instrumental in securing the federal portion of funding necessary for construction.”

In a reply letter dated May 16, Lundstrom said the airport authority agreed with the senators’ assessment of Oberstar’s lasting legacy. He played critical roles in the growth and development of the airport and in enhancing transportation throughout the region and around the country, the letter said. But they had learned that Range Regional Airport officials were considering a similar memorial tribute to the Chisholm native.

Both airports agreed to work together with the Oberstar family to determine what path to take, the letter said.

The idea to name the new Hibbing passenger terminal after Oberstar was sprung soon after his death. Since nearby Chisholm was his hometown, and Chisholm and Hibbing residents make up the airport’s governing board, it seemed appropriate, Germolus said.

“A couple of board members were talking amongst themselves,” he said. “With the new terminal starting construction this fall, recognizing his contributions to this region’s aviation industry is important.”


Working together, officials with the Duluth and Hibbing airports chose to wait until Oberstar’s family had time to deal with their loss and after memorial services had been held before reaching out to them.


Waiting for an answer

Last week - two months after Oberstar’s death and nearly two weeks since the last of the memorial services - the time had come.

Serving as the messenger, former Oberstar aide Peter Makowski of Virginia sent an email to an Oberstar family member, informing them that both airports were interested in naming their new terminals after Oberstar and asking what they preferred.

“We want to follow what they feel is the best way to honor his legacy,” Lundstrom said. “At this point, it’s in their camp.”

If the Oberstar family chooses the Hibbing airport, the members of its board, the Chisholm/Hibbing Airport Authority, would need to pass a resolution to formally name the terminal after Oberstar.

“I would expect them to approve it,” Germolus said. “I have not heard anything negative toward this proposal. Everybody had great respect and admiration for Congressman Oberstar. He did a lot for this area and for this airport and aviation as a whole.”


If the family chooses the Duluth airport, the matter would go to the Duluth Airport Authority.

“Based on recommendations from staff and the board, I would make a decision accordingly,” Lundstrom said.

The two airports’ move to honor Oberstar by naming their passenger terminals after him follow federal legislative efforts to rename the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Chisholm post office and portions of Interstate 35 and Minnesota Highway 61 after him. In 2011, a Great Lakes freighter was rechristened in Oberstar’s honor, and a tow boat also carries his name.


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