Lloyd Ohme was anything but subtle when it came to the sport of rowing.
“His passion was on the verge of obsession,” said his second-born son, Dale. “He could start up a conversation with anybody, and sooner or later, it would get to rowing.”
But it was more than talk. Ohme spent six decades building up the sport in colleges and clubs across the Midwest. He raked in medals during his years of competition and was one of the early founders of the University of Minnesota program, where he also coached. He also helped secure a stable home base for the Minneapolis Rowing Club along the Mississippi River, where he spent years inspiring people young and old to take up rowing.
Ohme, of Minneapolis, died on April 9 of natural causes. He was 88.
Ohme (pronounced OH-mee) discovered rowing in the mid-1940s through a classmate at the University of Minnesota, where he was studying to be a physical therapist.
He was fresh out of the Navy, where he served three years at the end of World War II. The choreography, conditioning and teamwork of the sport hooked him.
At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Ohme didn’t have the tall, lanky body type of many of the sports’ top athletes. But Ohme, also a wrestler, was strong and unflappable. At one point, he was the most highly decorated rower at the club, said his son.
Jim Lincoln, who joined the Minneapolis Rowing Club in 1948, remembers Ohme even then as being “gentle, but persistent.”
“He could give you a lecture and burn your arm off,” Lincoln said.
Ohme was part of a colorful cast of characters with quirky personalities who trained out of a primitive structure at the north end of Lake Calhoun at the time. Lincoln, who was four years younger, said Ohme was a born leader.
“He took us young guys under his wing to show us how to row,” he said.
In 1957, Ohme and a tight band of rowing enthusiasts established the program at the University of Minnesota, and convinced fellow oarsman Ollie Bogan to become the first coach.
The next year, as the postwar building boom forced the Minneapolis Rowing Club out of its base at Lake Calhoun, Ohme set out to find a permanent home. That gentle persistence paid off.
He helped persuade the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to donate land along the Mississippi River, just north of the Lake Street Bridge. The site would launch a generation of rowers onto one of the world’s premier courses, with a long stretch of calm waters sheltered from the wind by high river bluffs.
There was no boat house or dock in the early days, and the rowers operated out of a Quonset hut once used as student housing. Ohme marshaled forces to build a more suitable structure, and put his wife and children to work clearing debris and preparing the site.
“Our whole family was down there pretty much every weekend,” said daughter Patty Ohme Hansen. “I remember taking shingles down there on my sled.”
The Minneapolis Rowing Club opened its distinctive A-frame boat house in 1965, built with mostly salvaged materials. But in September 1997, vandals burned the structure to the ground.
Out of the literal ashes, however, grew a more inspired structure, one that reflected the growth of the sport and the beauty of the site. The current boat house opened in 2002, a $4.5 million architectural beauty whose parabolic roofline “evokes the shape of an oar paddling through water,” according to a history of the Minneapolis Rowing Club.