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Four generations behind the Washington Island Ferry

Posted at 10:05 AM, Feb 09, 2024

DOOR COUNTY (NBC 26) — We're talking with the family behind the Washington Island Ferry for generations and what it means for the community.

  • Video shows the Washington Island Ferry staff that opperates trips from the mainland to the island.
  • Hoyt Purinton's grandfather, Arni, and great grand father, Carl, purchased the ferry line in 1940
  • Many employees at the ferry are multi-generational and enjoy the changing conditions that comes with the job

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

Four generations of a family have helped expand and maintain the Washington Island Ferry Line. I’m your Door County neighborhood reporter Katlyn Holt, and they told me about their family and about the ferry itself.

Hoyt Purinton comes from a long line of men in the ferry business.

"I was fortunate enough to be able to work with my grandfather," said Hoyt.

His grandfather, Arnie Richter, and great grandfather Carl Richter, more than 80 years ago bought an existing ferry line on Washington Island

"Which had two wooden vessels and so that's kind of how things started," said Dick Purinton.

Today, as president, Hoyt and his father, company CEO Dick Purinton, continue to steer their ship into the future.

"The number of trips have increased, the size of the vessels have increased. The newest vessel, Madonna, has a capacity of 28 vehicles and that's well above what we had on the other ferries."

Dick says their crews are often asked if they get bored.

"It's basically the same run from here to the mainland peninsula and back but weather changes, the people change the type of the load changes, and so it, it's seldom that boredom sets in,” said Dick.

Hoyt says the staff understands just how important their jobs are in people's daily lives.

"We're essentially an extension of the highway service," said Hoyt.

He says as long as they keep expanding services and providing for the general public, the work will be rewarding.

"Many of our employees are multi-generational folks who have worked, have made a living on the water that is something that a couple generations ago was common, that is not common anymore," explained Hoyt.

Rich Ellefson, chief engineer, vice president, and a captain for the ferry line has been doing this job for more than 30 years.

"I like the variety that's what's drawn me to do this job," said Ellefson.

He says the reliability he's able to place in his crew members makes working with them, a privilege.

"A lot of these guys I’ve worked with for 20 plus years so the success, really, of the ferry line comes down to the crew members," said Ellefson.

Hoyt told me that the constantly changing conditions are one of the best parts of the job.

"As soon as you make plans mother nature will most definitely throw, you know, throw a wrench in things but that's part of the fun," said Hoyt.

Hoyt says his sons may one day work for the business, but it's ultimately their choice.

"You have to also kind of be gone enough to recognize and appreciate the smell of the lake," said Hoyt.

The Washington Island ferry is open year-round with trip times changing seasonally.