Andy LaBorde during an open house in 2002 on the Edward L. Ryerson (Photo: Roger LeLievre)

In Memoriam: Andy LaBorde
By Roger LeLievre

Boatwatchers around the Great Lakes were stunned March 12 to learn of the sudden death of one of their own. Andy LaBorde, 53, of Milwaukee, collapsed of probable heart failure just after a meeting of the Marine Historical Society of Detroit on Grosse Ile, Mich., near Detroit.

Andy was a long-time member of the MHSD Advisory Council. Despite the distance, he found time to attend several meetings a year, last season delighting in the arrival of the ferry Lake Express to make the commute shorter. Employed for many years in the printing industry, his advice in publishing the group's annual color calendar and recent picture book was invaluable. He often was able to combine a visit to Detroit with a stop at the mailboat J.W. Westcott II, where he was always willing to help out.

 Actually, helping out was an Andy LaBorde characteristic. He was always happy to lend a hand wherever it was needed and he did so cheerfully. He was a member of most of the marine historical society groups on the Great Lakes and, as an avid photographer, contributed pictures to many of their publications. Two of his photos were selected for the upcoming edition of "Know Your Ships."

One thing's for sure, no vessel could get in or out of Milwaukee harbor without Andy knowing about it. Thanks to his loyal and frequent reports to this site's News Page, he kept everyone else in the know about what was going on as well. He had a passion for the lakeboats, and was elated beyond description whenever he could get a trip on one and document it on video. Hence, the archives of Great Lakes history are more complete, thanks to this legacy detailing every inch of vessels such as the Edward L. Ryerson, Southdown Challenger, Burns Harbor, American Republic, Stewart J. Cort and others. He was also thrilled for the chance to ride harbor tugs and made many a trip on Great Lakes Towing tugs out of Milwaukee and the Selvick tugs from Sturgeon Bay. He made it a point to be helpful to the crews of vessels in Milwaukee harbor by bringing newspapers and other hard-to-obtain goodies down to boats and running crewmembers on errands up the street, earning him many on-board steak dinners and plenty of friends in the shipping industry.

What many boatwatchers didn't know, was that Andy's interests extended beyond ships. He was an avid fan of World War II Jeeps and loved restoring them (and also driving them in Milwaukee's annual Veterans' Day parade). He would happily haunt railroad and toy shows and well as boat swap meets looking for rare or quirky finds.

Speaking of quirky... few will forget Andy's sense of humor. Last May, when the new ferry Lake Express made her first arrival at Milwaukee, Andy wanted to flash a large banner saying "Welcome to Cleveland" to the people onboard. He ended up not doing it (but posed for a photo with the banner later, with a huge grin on his face). He had an appreciation of humor in any form (some may recall the imfamous potato gun incident at one Boatnerd gathering) and didn't mind if he was sometimes the butt of the joke, laughing just as heartily as everyone else. Andy loved attending the gathering during the annual Soo Locks Engineers' Day and, come noon, could usually be found grilling brats for hungry boatnerds at Mission Point.

In the days after his passing was announced on this site, tributes came rolling in.

"He was just a decent and nice man and a very good friend," posted one friend.

"Andy loved veggie pizzas at Mama Demarinis and chicken dinners at Miss Katies. People who first met him were all ears when he talked of his love, the boats and the sailors of the Great Lakes. He was a good friend with a great sense of humor and a wonderful person," wrote a Milwaukee ship fan.

Perhaps Greg Stamatelakys (owner of the historic tug Islay, docked at Milwaukee) said it best: "The ships will carry on. But somehow, on one beautiful day the harbor will be a quieter place. Sail on Andy, sail on."  

Below are just a few of the thousands of pictures Andy contributed to this site
  This "Wanted Poster" was created as a joke after the potato gun incident. Similar ones hung at Mission Point the following year.