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MARILYN HAGERTY: Dakota Queen Captain moves on from Red River to Gulf

For 11 years -- between 1985 and 1996 -- the double deck Dakota Queen carried passengers on cruises south along the Red River from its dock downtown in Grand Forks.

For 11 years -- between 1985 and 1996 -- the double deck Dakota Queen carried passengers on cruises south along the Red River from its dock downtown in Grand Forks.

We talked about that when we went on a cruise with the former Dakota Queen Captain Paul Lester and his wife, Renae, in Florida on Leap Year's Day.

These days, the Lesters are retired. They divide their time between their home in Grand Forks and Bonita Springs, Fla. Their present boat is a 32-foot Tiara they call "Magic Carpet."

Their welcome aboard included safety instructions. We proceeded through mangrove channels of shallow clear water to New Pass. There we entered the blue and green Gulf of Mexico. Winds were light and the seas were calm. The temperature was 82 degrees.

We went south at 23 knots. Lester turned the pilot's wheel over to Charles "Chuck" Kupchella, former president of UND, who was along with his wife, Adele. Also aboard was a Florida friend, John Ladd.


Our destination for lunch was The Boathouse on the bay at Naples. Then we sailed past multi-million dollar homes and yachts around Port Royal.

Along the way, Paul Lester talked about the years between 1969 and 1985 when he was with WDAZ-TV. Renae worked at Metropolitan Savings and Loan. They are both 1972 graduates of UND. And he adds, "Proud of it."

The Dakota Queen was built in LaCrosse, Wis., and went into service on the Red River in Grand Forks on July 4, 1985. That, Lester said, was after the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Grand Forks turned their great tourist idea over to him.

During its years on the river here, the double-deck riverboat carried 220,000 passengers. There were sightseeing, dinner and wedding cruises as well as high school proms.

Then in 1996 when the Dakota Queen had run its course here, it was refurbished and renamed for other waters. It now cruises the Great Lakes.

During their years on the Red River, the Lesters continued their family apartment rental business in Grand Forks. Their son, John, recently purchased Lester Apartments. Their daughter, Becky, is an RN in San Francisco.

When they tie up the "Magic Carpet" in the summer time, the Lesters head for Grand Forks. He runs the fireworks show on the Fourth of July here. He also is a member of Grand Forks Sertoma Club and is active as a KEM Shriner.

Kupchellas stay busy in retirement


During a daylong cruise, there is time to talk about the tides, the beautiful homes, boats and even spot a bald eagle. The Kupchellas say they savor memories of their years in Grand Forks. They retired to Ebensburg, Pa., where they are surrounded by family memories. But they found the winters can be cold and recently bought a condo in Naples.

They do not lack for visitors including members of their large families and friends with UND connections.

In retirement, Adele continues her love for entertaining and friends. She is on the board of Mount Aloysius College in Pennsylvania. Chuck Kupchella has finished two books in between teaching stints in biology, anatomy and physiology at St. Francis University and the local Penn State campus.

He is working on a third book in the category of historical fiction. It's based on information about his Lithuanian background. And it was gathered when he and his son, Rick, visited there a few years ago.

Kupchella said he enjoys research and writing so much he doesn't care if any of it ever makes it onto the New York Times best seller list.

He said his years in Grand Forks were the best with the obvious exception of a few tragic experiences -- such as the Dru Sjodin murder.

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or at (701) 772-1055.


Paul Lester

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