EAST TAWAS – As a husband, father, grandfather, teacher, coach and harbormaster, East Tawas resident Bill Stoll has worn many hats throughout his life thus far. And for whatever role he may be fulfilling, he seeks to do so with a commitment that exudes his passion for the duties.
This has included his work for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the East Tawas State Harbor, where – for a commendable four decades – he ensured that visitors were taken care of and met with a friendly face.
Starting out at the dock as a teenager and working his way up the ladder, Stoll returned to the job year after year, until his retirement in the 2021 season. Seeking to spend more time with family, he officially stepped down from his DNR Ranger position on Aug. 28.
The path that led him to the harbor began with his love of the community, which is where his father grew up.
“I always wanted to be a teacher up here,” Stoll said. He realized this goal and, in an another impressive run, recently entered his 39th year as a teacher. Along with overseeing a physical education class, he currently teaches math at Tawas Area Middle School.
Stoll grew up in Birmingham and, after high school, he attended Northern Michigan University to pursue a degree in education. “So I was actually working at the dock in the summers at that time, already,” he recalls.
Just 15 years old, his first experience at the harbor entailed being a deckhand for the charter fishing boat, The Holiday. Upon the vessel’s return from its excursions, it was Stoll who cleaned the boat and made sure it was presentable for the anglers who would be joining the next jaunt.
“So that’s where I started; that’s where I met the harbormaster,” he said. Stoll went on to advance from deckhand, to dock attendant, to crew leader and then to a full-time DNR Ranger with the special title of harbormaster.
He credited those who mentored him along the way, especially The Holiday captain Art Frost, who was one of his supervisors. Like Stoll, Frost put in 40 years at the state dock, as well, and also held the title of harbormaster.
“Then I worked under Brad Heal,” Stoll went on, when describing some of the others he learned from while on the job.
This also included the late Bill Doan, who, “went on to become the district supervisor of the DNR in the area,” Stoll said.
“And then my other supervisor was Chuck Allen,” he continued, adding that he worked under Allen for about 15 years.
“Chuck was the supervisor at the park before Micah Jordan, who is the current supervisor out there right now,” Stoll said, referencing the Tawas Point State Park.
He notes that he had initially planned on retiring in early July, but when the DNR brought on a new hire, supervisor Lee Martin, Stoll stuck around a bit longer to help him prepare for his transition into the harbormaster job.
Martin’s position will be year-round, “So he works at the dock and then he also works at the park,” Stoll said. “He’s actually at the academy right now, to get certified as an officer.”
As for Stoll’s day-to-day obligations, among these were facility repairs, maintenance of the harbor and accounting for the transactions which took place, as well as supporting the staff who worked for him, monitoring them and handling the employee scheduling.
Servicing boats is also necessary at the dock. And while Stoll did help in that area, he said this work was carried out most of the time by his staff, for whom – just like his predecessors and supervisors – he had nothing but praises.
Often consisting of college students, Stoll acknowledged these individuals for more than just the drive and energy they had when completing whatever was asked of them. He also said the staff were simply all-around, great people.
While Stoll was responsible for a number of required tasks during his time at the East Tawas State Harbor, it was his efforts that went beyond the standard job description which were of most importance to him. Primarily, this involved his interactions with those who utilized the harbor, as well as others in the community.
He said it was always his hope that, “our boaters felt served and loved by a small-town atmosphere. So I prided our harbor on doing those special, little things.” Whether it was helping someone acquire a part they needed for their boat, or simply providing people with a warm greeting upon their arrival, Stoll always aimed to make those little things count.
He has had a front row seat to some “bigger things” during his tenure, as well, including witnessing the different ways in which the harbor has evolved and expanded over the last 40 years.
Stoll said he began his first season there in 1978. “And at that time, there were only 16 slips at the dock.”
He watched this grow from 16 slips to 75, and then from 75 up to 140. “And it’s now a ‘new’ 140, basically,” he said, of the latest enhancements. “So it’s the same number, but it’s all new.”
He added that, in the last five years, about $7 million has been spent on developing the harbor.
As reported in an August 2018 edition of this publication, a large chunk of that entailed the $5 million for the first two phases of the reconstruction project at the harbor, which was supported with Michigan State Waterways funds and federal grants through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The additions and upgrades not only look great, but, “It’s really a big economic impact in town because the boaters come and spend money,” Stoll pointed out. “So I’ve always had that in the back of my mind, you know, to make sure they’re serviced well so that they want to come back here and that they’re encouraged.”
With the shops and restaurants along Newman Street, as well as other nearby establishments being directly across from the dock, Stoll says that boaters love coming into the harbor and having the ability to walk right downtown.
This was also highlighted by several participants of the ribbon cutting which was held to celebrate the reconstruction project.
For example, “When I look out at these boats that are here and know that there are something like 80 seasonal slips, and then a significant number of transient slips, what it brings to mind is all the individuals that are in those boats that are getting off and walking around the streets of Tawas,” State Representative Sue Allor said at the time. She added that these people are in the stores and restaurants, promoting the community and providing an economic boom to the area.
“What makes this harbor unique is the close ties to the City of East Tawas. And there are symbiotic relationships between the city and the harbor,” said Mary Rising, vice chair of the Michigan State Waterways Commission.
She explained that boaters visit the downtown area and go into the businesses and, in turn, users of the downtown have a beautiful park and harbor area to walk.
According to Rising, the East Tawas State Harbor is the largest of the 19 public recreational harbors under the DNR Waterways program.
“And we’ve grown, too, in our number of what are called seasonal boaters,” Stoll said, of the other changes he has observed throughout the years. He noted that these users pay a fee and then get a slip, which allows them to keep their boats on site for the whole season.
Stoll said that when he first started working at the harbor, there wasn’t any seasonal boating. Once this did begin, the initial limit was 30. “We got the OK to move it to 60 seasonals, and then that worked great, so we moved it to 80 seasonals. And that’s our limit now – and we have a waiting list still, continuously.”
He remarked that the nice thing about having this option, is that these slips are filled all season long, yet there’s still plenty of spaces for the transient boaters.
Stoll is far from the only person in his family to have been employed at this location. He shared that both of his brothers, his dad and his brother-in-law, Kevin O’Loughlin, all worked at the harbor at some point in time. (His brother-in-law also happens to be the son of retired Four-Star General Earl T. O’Loughlin, who graduated from the former East Tawas High School).
“My dad actually has a little plaque at his house with a piece of the dock, and it’s got all of our names, with the years of service,” Stoll continued. He said that this will now require a new engraving, given his recent retirement.
The plaque currently shows Stoll’s starting date and then an ending one, from when he took a few years off after his daughter was born. When a position later reopened, he went back to work at the harbor, which is why the plaque has two start dates for him.
The occupation of teacher also appears to run in the family, as his father taught physical education and his grandfather was a math teacher.
As for how Stoll balanced his work at the harbor with his teaching career, he said the first of May is when he would usually start each season at the dock. Therefore, in that month and during the beginning of June, he would report to his teaching job in the day, and then work at the dock after school and on the weekends.
“Then when school’s out, it’s full-time at the dock; actually, it was almost full-time in May and September,” he explained. “I would teach, and then work anywhere from 30-40 hours a week.”
When a new school year commenced in the fall, he worked both jobs throughout the month of September, as he remained at the harbor until it closed for the season.
When Stoll was initially hired at the state dock, he wasn’t necessarily looking for long-term employment at that time, as his main goal was to find summer work to help pay for school. “I never knew it was going to be quite that long!” he shared with a smile, of his 40-season stretch.
“I always wanted to come and teach here,” he reiterated, “and then this harbor position continued to develop into a career.” These jobs, coupled with his love of the local area, have been a major factor in why he has called East Tawas home for more than 40 years. “I just love the community.”
This is also evident with Stoll’s involvement outside of the classroom and the state harbor. For example, at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tawas City, he has served in such roles as that of an elder, chairman, assistant chairman, treasurer and Sunday school teacher. “We’ve been members there for almost 40 years,” he said, of he and his wife, Karen.
Stoll has also demonstrated a dedication to the Tawas Areas Schools (TAS) students which extends well beyond the final ringing of the bell each afternoon. Along with having coached both boys and girls basketball for approximately 30 seasons, 2021 will mark his 29th year of coaching those who take part in the nationwide MathCounts competition.
While a retirement from TAS is also getting closer now, Stoll says he doesn’t have any concrete plans just yet for when he may step down from teaching.
And, although it has been a couple months since he left his job at the East Tawas State Harbor, it will still be a little while until he can truly realize any downtime. When he retired on Aug. 28, he turned right around and began a new school year on Aug. 30.
But this is clearly manageable for Stoll, who is familiar with juggling more than one job. However, with his loved ones in mind, a slower paced summer is something he is looking forward to.
When asked about the reason behind his departure, “The main thing is just to have more time with my family in the summer – my kids, and now, grandkids,” Stoll answered.
He and his wife, who met in college, have three children – all of whom graduated from TAS – and four grandchildren.
Stoll may no longer be employed at the dock but he still takes in the picturesque views of his former job site on Tawas Bay, which he frequents virtually every day, since part of his regular exercise entails walking the harbor.
As for what he misses about the job since his retirement, “I’ve always been passionate about the harbor,” he began.
Residing just several blocks from where he worked, he would occasionally get phone calls from his staff if something came up. So he would get on his bike, head to the harbor and take care of whatever needed to be done. Stoll said he didn’t mind doing those things and, in fact, it even felt like a calling of sorts.
Since his retirement, he has popped back in from time to time to see the staff, and to also express a farewell to those who were leaving for the season.
Stoll reflected on the fun times he had with his fellow workers, as well, and he said he hopes that they, too, will have good memories of their experiences.
“I’ve had a chance to work with so many great people,” he noted. And, through his job as a teacher, he did a lot of recruiting for the dock and was able to bring on some rather standout students to work there. “A lot of great kids have worked for me that are going to go on to do wonderful things, and are doing wonderful things.”
Along with his passion for the harbor and its staff, Stoll said it is the community which he enjoys most about the area. “And because I’m a school teacher, I know a lot of people in the community. The kids that I’m teaching right now are kids of parents that I had in school.” Additionally, there are about 16 staff members at TAS who were previous students of his.
So, he remarked that something he has always loved is the friendliness of those in the area and the small-town feel. “Which I always tried to convey at the harbor.”
A short video of him during his last day at the harbor was taken with a drone, by Jay Samuels, and features aerial shots of the site. It was then set to music by Stoll’s son, who also added graphics. The video can be viewed at, https://vimeo.com/593064198.