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Veterans,Snowmobiling,Jim Duke

Salute to our Veterans: My Mentor, My Hero…My Dad!

It’s difficult to write anything specific about my dad because his life’s achievements could fill more volumes than I could ever recount, several years of which he is reluctant to discuss or even talk about. Those would be mostly times during his years of military service which began in the last months of the Korean conflict and ended shortly after the Viet Nam war. He has said most of his career was spent in the “Silent Service” but he also had stints of other duties that, to this day he refuses to divulge. My Dad is none other than “the real” Jim Duke. He can be stubborn at times and has a stronger willpower than anyone else I know of, so once his mind is made up you can bet it won’t be changed easily. Equally strong is his passion for the sport of snowmobiling, and I’m proud to say that I share that passion.

I was born just one month shy of a year before he chose to retire from the U.S. Navy, in the town of Groton Connecticut while Dad was stationed at a facility on the Submarine Base there. Shortly after he retired, he took a position as a Patrolman with the Groton Long Point Police Department, studied at the University of New Haven and received an associate degree in Criminal Justice, and graduated from the Connecticut State Police Academy. Although he was very happy with his post military employment choice, both he and Mom always had the desire to return to my mom’s home state of Michigan, and I guess that’s where this story really begins.

A close family friend sent a letter in the summer of 1977 saying General Motors was planning to increase their Plant Protection Departments at most of their plants and were looking for qualified applicants. An application was included, and he thought this was just the incentive needed to make the move. Long story short, dad applied and was hired before he could even submit his resignation in Connecticut, but wanting to remain involved in law enforcement, he also became an officer with the Village of Oxford Police Department shortly after becoming a resident of Michigan.

Veterans,Snowmobiling,Jim Duke
My Dad, a petty officer 2nd class, early in his Navy Days.
Veterans,Snowmobiling,Jim Duke
A Chief Petty Officer in the early 1970’s

Having got their first taste of snowmobiling several years earlier, they both enjoyed the winter seasons more so than any of the others, although Dad always said he also enjoyed the Autumn when he could readily get freshly squeezed apple cider and warm cinnamon donuts. It wasn’t long before he purchased his first “used” machine and found several co-workers who shared his passion for “dashing through the snow” on their snowmobiles.

After a few trips to local areas where snowmobiling was permitted, he and his buddies ventured further north to places with abundant trails and the ability for some longer rides. They would usually cross the bridge into the Upper Peninsula and stage out of the little town of Paradise, booking a first and last night at one of the few mom & pop motels that would let them leave their trailers & vehicles between stays. Back then, a full day’s ride would be about a hundred miles, so Dad, being the leader, always planned for destinations of about that length.

During one of their excursions, they met up with a group of riders on a club ride and discovered benefits of being an organized club, rather than just friends sharing an adventure on snowmobiles, so upon return home he  did a bit of research into organized snowmobiling and found no clubs anywhere near our hometown, so he set about organizing one. Prior to this time, he had joined an association called the Michigan Association of Recreational Snowmobilers, or MARS for short, only to learn a short time later that negotiations were underway to merge with two other organizations to create a single state recognized snowmobile association, the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA).

Veterans,Snowmobiling,Jim Duke
His 2nd career was in Law Enforcement, late 1970’s after military retirement.

As he dug deeper into legal requirements for forming a club, one of his first calls was to a knowledgeable  person already involved with similar matters, and who would eventually become as close to our family as blood relatives. With the assistance of this friend, my dad founded the Snomads Snofari Club, still very popular and one of the most active snowmobile clubs in the state. From the beginning with just five members and three spouses, the Snomads has grown in membership, I’m told, to over two hundred members.

Although most of his early rides were pretty much limited to just male members, my dad wanted to get the family involved as well, and always made sure we were included in as many activities as possible and insisted the kids get the safety training and state certified at the earliest age possible. I, personally, took the safety class a couple of years before I would be the minimum age for certification, but on my 12th birthday, Dad presented me with my card and patch, and said I could now legally ride a snowmobile on my own.

My brother and both my sisters enjoyed these same benefits, but I don’t believe they ever had the same passion my dad had instilled in me, except maybe with my sister Judi. Some of the fondest memories of my childhood were when we would all go on a trip snowmobiling, regardless of where it was or for how long. As I grew up  and started a family of my own, dad was always there and was as much an influence to my children as he was to me. He always kept enough snowmobiles available to accommodate the entire family on our many rides.

Becoming aware of issues concerning snowmobiling and his desire to always make things better, he became more involved in the state snowmobile association and DNR administrated programs, working on various committees and eventually becoming Vice President and then President of MSA. He also served early on with the Snowmobile Advisory Committee (SAC) and remained active throughout the many years that followed. When Governor Granholm abolished the SAC and established the Michigan Snowmobile & Trails Advisory Council (MSTAC), my dad was appointed to represent snowmobilers and citizens of the Upper Peninsula. When the “S” was removed and the organization became just the Michigan Trails Advisory Council (MTAC), he continued in that position until his term was completed just over a year ago and Governor Whitmer declined his request for reappointment. He did remain on the Snowmobile Advisory Workgroup (SAW), becoming Chair of that group in February of 2020, retaining that position until he decided to retire and step down in December of 2020.

Veterans,Snowmobiling,Jim Duke
Always enjoys snowmobiling and volunteering at snowmobile events, 2018.
Veterans,Snowmobiling,Jim Duke
My Dad cutting the ribbon to open the new Doty Bridge on trail 8, March 2021.

My Dad’s philosophy has always been “use me or lose me”, saying if he can’t be involved and work at making things better, there’s no place in any organization for him. I can truthfully say that he has always lived by that saying and has, in my opinion, made a difference in every club, association, fraternal organization, and even in the few occupations throughout his life. As for his snowmobiling achievements, there are many, not only for his founding of the Snomads Club in 1982 but also his leadership roles in the Michigan Snowmobile Association back in the mid-1990’s. As President, he was the delegate to the International Snowmobile Council’s Midwest Chapter and once his term with MSA was done, he remained active and became Vice Chair and then Chairman of that Chapter.

As he became more involved he also became much more knowledgeable about snowmobilers concerns, both at the national level and those affecting the sport internationally. He was the state delegate at the 1995 Congress when the national organization was formed and was the one who suggested it be named the American Council of Snowmobile Associations. When his term as the Michigan delegate was completed, he was elected to the position as the ACSA Vice President in 2001-02 and then served as President in 2003 & 04. He remained active with the both the state and national associations, serving on a number of committees including bylaws and the parliamentarian. He has since stepped back from duties in the state association but is a Life Member and keeps up to date on state issues.

My Dad has been a member of many snowmobile clubs, councils, and state associations throughout the years, not only in Michigan but in several other states as well and has assisted in the solution of snowmobiling issues in almost all of them. He is a life member of Snomads and the Seney Snowmobile Association and maintains an active membership in other local clubs and other state’s associations as well as in ACSA. Although getting up in age, he says the passion for snowmobiling still has a strong hold on him and he doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

He has been the recipient of many awards and notable recognitions over the span of his involvement at the local, state, and national levels but he says one of the most humbling was his induction into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. That was in 2013 and since that time, he has attended most of the annual ceremonies to witness the induction of friends and acquaintances and celebrate their accomplishments.    

He attributes his writing ability to his many years in the service and the fact that he was required to generate documentation from time to time, so he tried to make them as unique and interesting as possible. He began writing for the Michigan Snowmobiler magazine almost as early as he became involved in the sport, and it was due to a letter to the editor and directed toward Lyle Shipe that started him in that direction. Shortly after the letter was received, my dad and Mr. Shipe became acquainted, a strong bond formed, and a friendship that lasted a lifetime, and after more than 35 years he is still one of the major contributing writers of the publication.

When I was asked to write something about my dad for the Magazine I thought I could never do it, but it gave me the ambition to dig into some family history and seek more information about his life, past and present. It’s some things he is reluctant to talk about, other than anything having to do with snowmobiling and his love of it. I would like to think I’ve inherited some of that enthusiasm and love for it as well. I’ve volunteered at both the local and state levels and have served on the Board of Directors, and even as an officer in the Michigan Snowmobile and ORV Association.

Traveling with my dad to the many meetings and activities these past several years has only served to whet my appetite to be more like him and more involved. He has been my mentor and always there to help me with any issue or concern I may have. He is now and has always been my mentor, my hero, my dad.


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