Husband-wife team pilots ‘Big Pelican’ for excursions ranging from weddings to funerals to educational cruises

This husband-wife team often partner to host tours of Pelican Lake aboard Fair Hills Resort’s “Big Pelican. Sherry Trepp and Nick Valentine also take turns working behind the bar on the boat as well. The couple is active in other aspects of the lake country. Nick has been a volunteer with the annual Pelican Lake Fireworks display. Sherry has been president of the Pelican Lake Property Owners Association.
Co-captains Sherry and husband Nick Valentine.
Fair Hills cruise boat has also accommodated high school students from throughout the area on educational trips, studying aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels. Mainly, the boat is booked for social occasions–ranging from business groups to weddings to funeral memorial services.
Skipper Nick Valentine, dockside with the “Big Pelican” at Fair Hills Resort
At the captain’s wheel of the Big Pelican, Sherry Trepp. Retired from the corporate world, Trepp has “the best retirement job in the world” piloting guests around Pelican Lake. To qualify for the job, she earned her second “masters degree”–a boat masters license.
Educational tours on Pelican Lake have been offered aboard the Big Pelican, such as these members of the Coalition of Lakeshore Associations.

To get hitched on the water–or hold a family reunion, a birthday party, a corporate meeting, or a funeral ceremony–you need a big boat.

And the “Big Pelican” can handle these occasions; plus educate kids about invasive species and water ecosystems.

The big ferry that motors around Pelican Lake has been afloat since about 1990, serving as a seaworthy craft for enumerable occasions. According to Beth Schupp, owner of Fair Hills Resort on Pelican–which has been in her family (Kaldahl) for 91 years, the “Big Pelican” is boarded about 75 times a year by various charter groups.

Nearly every “Gilligan’s Island” or Titanic one-liner has been heard by Beth and other ship captains, including Sherry Trepp and Nick Valentine–a husband-wife pair of mariners.

So far, nobody’s been stranded after a three-hour cruise. And–no icebergs have been struck–thanks to the capable Big Pelican crew.

However, a gang of Lutherans were nearly shipwrecked on the craft, during the low water days of August. It was a “Beer and Hymns” event, and the Cormorant Lutheran Church group were conducting themselves in manner consistent with that of Martin Luther himself. Vespers were shared. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was no doubt among the hymns.

“We were hung up on the sand,” recalled Beth Schupp, with a laugh. “There were lots of jokes. Cormorant Pastor Wade Dutton suggested that he would walk on water.”

It was Sherry Trepp at the captain’s wheel. “We tried rocking it at first,” said Trepp. She recalls that, several church members hopped off the craft to lighten the load–clothes and all –and pushed the “Big Pelican” out of the sand.

Zion Lutheran Church of Franklin Lake has also enjoyed the Pelican cruise.

Lutherans of seafaring Viking blood aren’t the only groups. The big boat has ferried a group from the Catholic Diocese of North Dakota across the waters of Pelican. Many business groups have boarded the craft, said Trepp.

A wedding party, with a groom by the last name of Swann, booked the boat. They created an ornate paper mache Swan to serve as a figurehead on the front of the boat

. As Schupp recalled, the swan was not nearly sturdy enough for the journey–and “died” shortly after the ceremony. A “swan song,” you might say, noted Schupp.

“What better job than on a beautiful lake, with families celebrating significant events,” said Sherry, who vowed to take the job when former pilot Frank Miosek retired.

Fair Hills called Sherry a few years ago and instructed her to acquire her boat masters licenses. Retired from 3M company, where she worked in the marketing department, Sherry encouraged her husband, Nick Valentine, to join in. The test covers engine safety, navigation and even boiler operations.

The couple work an average of two to three trips a week. Around the 4th of July, they’re on board nearly every day. They rotate shifts behind the bar, serving refreshments on the “Big Pelican.”

The craft is inspected annually, and has a legal capacity of 52.

One of the weekly features is a Tuesday dinner cruise, which includes a trip on the lake, followed by dinner and a show–the popular “Fair Hills Hootenanny” variety program.

Working history into the cruises has been a special interest for Sherry, as she tells passengers about the early Native American arrivals to the Pelican Lake area. She weaves the historic timeline to the European trappers, the settlers, the arrival of the railroads and the farmers–and then the seasonal residents and resorts.

“We also talk about the quality of the 4,400 acre lake and the Pelican River watershed,” said Sherry.

They cruise past unique lakeshore properties and homes, “but I don’t point out the names of the owners. But it’s interesting, the passengers get just as excited about seeing old stone cabins as they do the mansions on the lake.”

Music ensembles have performed on the boat. There have been anniversaries. Over the July 4th holiday, a community band from the Mayville, North Dakota area performed for folks along the beaches while cruising the lake.

“A lot of people have a special relationship to the lake, and the Big Pelican is a way for a larger group to celebrate those connections to Pelican Lake,” said Beth Schupp.

For some, Pelican Lake is a final resting spot–as families have spread a few ashes on the waters during celebration of life events.

“There have been memorial services where family members have spoke about the deceased…and I’ve been at the front of the boat–crying.”