A Girl Named "Mary #6"

This is what happened AFTER the Fitzgerald bell ringing at Whitefish Point, Michigan.


After attending the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald memorial service at Whitefish Point, I retired to my hotel room to reflect on the evenings events. With so many things to think about, my mind was on "overload". I just had my first "face to face" conversation in 12 years with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society's Museum Director, Tom Farnquist. Our relationship had become strained over the years with various topics dealing with the wreck of the S.S.Edmund Fitzgerald, but not what I would consider completely broken. Needless to say, there was a feeling of tension, but I must say that Tom was very cordial, and respectful in regard to the topics of our private conversation.

As I lay there in my bed, thoughts and memories of the events of the past 32 years of my life surrounding the Fitzgerald came to mind. It's nothing new. This happens to me every year at this time. And I again like so many times before, sat there in the darkness of my hotel room. Asking myself why? Why did MY uncle have to be aboard that ship? Why did my family have to be wound into all of this? Why did the Fitzgerald sink? Why do you feel so passionately about the Fitzgerald? A familiar hateful voice echoed through my head...."You’re JUST a nephew" and "Nothing you do matters!" For a brief moment I contemplated the meaning of "just", then the meaning of "nephew", and moved on to the rest of it... "Nothing you do matters!"

Then I asked myself why did I come here? After all, I wasn't even going to go up to Whitefish Point this year. When asked if I was going to attend, my usual response was "I'm Fitzgeralded out". As you can well imagine, family members of the lost crew sometimes get tired of hearing about the Fitzgerald. I mean... it's all the time! And it doesn't just happen in November! It's ALL YEAR LONG! People want to discuss the many theories as to how the Fitzgerald "really went down". Everyone has a thought or two on the subject. Everybody likes to believe they are an "expert" on the subject. It is tiresome. 

Let me tell you something you may not know about the Fitzgerald. It will suck the life right out of you! If you let it...It will drain your life's energy, it will wear you down, and it will try to break you. And when you take a step back you realize that you are still no closer to the "truth" or "getting answers" than you were the year before! That's when frustration and anger set in.

I did not sleep much that night. I thought of my life growing up in a house where "Edmund Fitzgerald" was a household name. Just like "Kellogg's Frosted Flakes". 

But instead of seeing a picture of Kellogg's happy "Tony the Tiger" I had a picture of a ship and a name that inevitably would bring my mother to tears every time she heard it. 

And of course, then there is Gordon Lightfoot's haunting song (A work of pure musical genius as far as I'm concerned) would also have the effect of stirring emotions in all of us. And this always takes place right before the Holidays. It's difficult to express how much I hated and despised the name..."Edmund Fitzgerald"!

I thought of my mother (Mary Soyring), I thought of my Cousin Debbie Felder (Buck's Daughter), and the many difficulties in her life that took place immediately after the loss of her dad. She was just 17 years old at the time, an only child and now, all alone. I thought of how she (Debbie) dealt with it all. So many things she had to deal with behind the scenes of the Fitzgerald "public life". And I thought of how my mother was there for her in her time of need. 

I thought of how lucky I am to have a mother that is strong. "Right is right, and there's no room for wrong" she would always say. In other words, always do the right thing. I thought of Debbie's dreams of becoming a school teacher, and how those dreams slipped silently away with the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. 

I thought of my visit to the Point for the 30th anniversary. I remembered an elderly woman in a wheelchair waiting outside of the museum in the cold Lake Superior wind. She looked so cold. I offered up my coat to this lady. I covered her, and stood next to her in an attempt at blocking the cold Lake Superior wind from getting to her. And I thought about how it must have been on the lake the night the Fitzgerald went missing.


I thought of my own mortality. And I asked myself what is my purpose in life? What does God have in store for me? Will my death be as tragic?


I thought about Lies, Greed, and Jealousy on many levels, on many topics. And before I knew it, the daylight began peering between the curtains covering my hotel room window.


November 11th, 2007, Paradise, Michigan.

My wife and I checked out of the hotel early, and went to the local "bakery". It’s a small restaurant in town. That is one thing I have to say about the people of Whitefish Township... They are THE friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. A drive through Paradise is like taking a step back in time. It's reminiscent of Andy Griffith's "Mayberry". I fully expected Aunt Bea to come out of the kitchen at any moment!

To honor the memory of my Uncle, and being that it was Veteran's Day, and Buck was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I purchased breakfasts for everyone in the restaurant. It was fitting because that is the kind of guy my uncle Buck was. He would have done the same thing. He had a very generous heart, and was always trying to help out where he could. He always tried to put a smile on the faces of those around him. He liked people, no matter what their background was. 

But, don't ever lie to Buck...don't ever steal from him! He'd give you the shirt off his back if he saw that you needed it, but don't ever try to steal it! He always said... "Two things I can't stand in this world... a liar and a thief". Honor and Integrity that is what Buck was all about! After all, he was a Marine. Not just a Marine...A UNITED STATES MARINE. 

After breakfast I met up with a Man and his young daughter in the gift shop area. He informed me that he was very interested in the Fitzgerald, and admitted that he was a "boat nerd". That he learned allot on the "boat nerd website". The little girl was admiring stuffed animals that were there on display. I took several down for her to examine closer, and after hugging each one, and softly rubbing the fur against her little angelic face... she found the one she liked the best. It was a dog. 

In a split second, my memories raced back in time, to when my uncle Buck brought a puppy home for us. And I felt a need and desire to purchase that dog for the little girl. And I did.

Now I don't know who that little girl was, but I hope wherever she is, that she will remember the dog that she got while visiting the Fitzgerald Memorial at Whitefish Point, and that it was a gift from a Fitzgerald Family member. The Nephew of Oliver J. "Buck" Champeau, the 3rd engineer of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was from the heart, and if she reads this, she will know why I did it.

I was then given a tour of the Whitefish Township School. Go Rockets!!! I learned of a gentleman that has collected pop cans to pay for some of the needs of the athletic department. My hat is off to Mr. John Dreves. What an outstanding display of citizenship, compassion, and care! He has saved $10,000 for the school athletic department so far, and he's not stopping!

The school was / is (and I mean no disrespect to anyone) in need of some "tender loving care". After looking at it closer, It needs to be replaced! 

I toured the kitchen
But when I got to one particular classroom my heart just simply broke in two

And the gymnasium,


For there on the wall was a homework assignment called "Edmund Fitzgerald". The work was completed by a little girl known only to me as "Mary #6". 

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