Two receive Mariner of the Year awards at Sault Ste. Marie ceremony

Paul LaMarre Jr. (left), Capt. John Wellington, president of Soo Historic Sites (Valley Camp), and Kevin E. Sprague. Roger LeLievre photo

SAULT STE. MARIE, MI – Two men with strong ties to the Great Lakes maritime industry were honored at a Mariner of the Year awards dinner Friday night in Sault Ste. Marie.

In opening remarks, James H.I. Weakley, president of the sponsoring Lake Carriers Association, said the event was meant to turn “Great Lakes heroes into Great Lakes legends.”

Honored were Kevin E. Sprague and Paul LaMarre Jr. Sprague served as the Soo Area Engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until his recent retirement. He not only oversaw the daily operations of the Soo Locks, he managed a badly-needed asset renewal project and saw the beginning of new lock construction.

Sprague began his federal career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, Soo Area Office in 1992 as a member of the St. Marys River branch, performing navigation channel maintenance. In 2000 he became the Chief of the Lock Operations Branch and eventually Chief of Lock Maintenance and Lock Operations. In 2010, he was selected as Soo Area Engineer. He spent his entire federal career in support of the Great Lakes shipping industry.

As Area Engineer he was responsible for the most important navigation project in the Great Lakes and Soo Locks. He was also responsible for federal hydropower facilities and was the onsite representative for the International Joint Commission’s Lake Superior Board of Control. His effort in support of the economic study for construction of a new lock at the Soo and telling its story was crucial for its subsequent funding. He retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2022, after a 30-year career at the Soo Locks.

Paul LaMarre Jr. comes from a family of Great Lakes sailors. He is a highly talented maritime artist, honored Great Lakes maritime historian and licensed tugboat captain. With more than 45 years of Great Lakes tugboat experience, he works for Detroit-based Gaelic Tugboat Co. and captains the passenger vessel Diamond Jack.

Mr. LaMarre has dedicated his life to the Great Lakes maritime industry past, present, and future. Following in the footsteps of his great uncles Frank and William Hoffman, both masters of Great Lakes freighters in the early 1900s, he has touched every aspect of the Great Lakes maritime trade and is highly regarded as an industry leader and historian.

His career began at the University of Detroit as an understudy to famed Great Lakes marine artist Father Edward J. Dowling where he learned the principles of painting Great Lakes vessels in watercolor. His artistic talents would open the door to many industry friendships, the most important being that of Capt. William A. Hoey, who would introduce him to a career as the corporate treasurer of the Gaelic Tugboat Co. & Diamond Jacks River Tours. Working for Gaelic Tugboat Co. for over 45 years (1978 to present), he has also served as longtime captain of d1e MN Diamond Jack.

He was also a founding board member of Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. of Port Dover, ON which now operates one of the largest fleets on the Great Lakes.

In 2001, LaMarre was named Historian the Year by the Marine Historical Society of Detroit.

In 2013, received the International Shipmasters Detroit Lodge #7, Captain Lewis Ludington Award for his years of virtuous service. In 2015, the National Museum of the Great Lakes named LaMarre one of the Masters of Great Lakes Marine Art of the 20th Century as he has been the “industry’s artist” for over 50 years, completing commissioned works for nearly every Great Lakes fleet.

LaMarre has also inspired the next generation of Great Lakes leadership as his son Paul C. LaMarre III is a prominent industry advocate, port director and tug captain.

Plaques honoring both men will be installed in the Capt. John Wellington Marine Hall of Fame aboard the museum ship Valley Camp. The Great Lakes Hall of Fame is dedicated to the memory of those explorers, inventors, shipbuilders, sailors, and countless others who have made a contribution to the exploration and development of the Great lakes through the eras of sail, steam, and present.

Roger LeLievre for


Watch the video commemorating Paul C. LaMarre Jr.’s induction into the Hall of Fame:

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