Remembering Joe Seliga

Dave Osborn

I thought this was worthy of passing on. I received this in a newsletter from Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, MN today.
It's a good time to remember many of our canoe friends and idols that are paddling together in the big pond in the sky........

Regards and Happy Holidays to all!!
Dave Osborn

Piragis Northwoods Company Enews
December 17, 2010

Dear DAvid ,

It is hard to believe, but five years ago, tomorrow, Joe Seliga of Ely, master canoe builder and our good friend passed away. His passing left a void in our everyday lives, because, at least once a day, he would show up here at Piragis Northwoods Company. Sun, rain or snow. We'd talk, have lunch, or just exchange a handshake or hug if it was busy.

On the 6th of December Steve Piragis and Steve Schon went for the last paddle of the year on Burntside Lake in the red Seliga Canoe that you may have seen hanging in our store during the past decade. The next day the lake was frozen over.

Last Paddle of the Year in a Seliga -- We miss ya Joe!
5 years goes fast. I remember going over to Joe's house the day before he passed away. His family was there and there was a lot of activity. The small house was full and I didn't press them to let me see him, just asked them to let him know that I had come. I didn't know that he was at the end of his last paddle. December 18th, 2005 dawned chilly and cold. Joe's lake had frozen over. It was a sad day. Only in part because his hands would craft no more beautiful canoes. Mostly because, as I said, we were used to seeing our friend nearly every day.

Here's a couple of things we wrote back then:

Yesterday, our dear friend, Joe Seliga passed away at the age of 94.
Joe will be greatly missed by friends and family and those of us here at Piragis who got so used to seeing his face in our store. From the summer evenings when he would sit at the front counter and greet people, to the times when he would pop in for lunch or one of the great birthday get-togethers we shared with him, he was an integral and important part of our lives. His smile was contagious, his talent immense and his heart seemed to grow lighter every day.

Last Thanksgiving Night, Joe was here at the store to sign books, and he pulled me aside to tell me again, as he had so often before, You'll never believe how many good people I've met because of this book. I can't tell you how much my life has changed. I'd never thought it would be like this. Joe was a humble man, through and through, and even with his master craftsman reputation, he still just couldn't believe that so many folks could have a deep love and respect for him. To us he will always be simply, Joe. Our friend. There's a void in our lives now, that cannot be filled but can be honored with memories. Tim Stouffer

It's our first work day in Ely without hope of Joe showing at work to keep an eye on the troops. We miss ya Joe. The sun is out in Ely today and Joe is the sun in our hearts. Steve Piragis

I first met Joe about half a dozen years ago when I was teaching a seminar at the Piragis store. I was espousing about navigation when I saw a stranger with a huge smile in the audience. He was just sitting there and smiling, taking it all in. Seconds later, Steve P. came in and said hey, don't you know Joe Seliga? Why you could have bowled me over with a marble. So THIS was the famous Seliga-the guy who builds those beautiful wood canvas canoes. I had just met one of my life long idols. Right after the event I took Joe home to see one of his canoes being built. He gave me quite a tour. Joe told me he had orders for dozens of boats-boats that at his advanced age, he'd never have time to build. Said that if you wanted to get at the head of his list you had to be a really nice person, and that he was only going to make canoe for folks he liked. That really made me smile. Shortly thereafter I pleaded with Bell Canoe Works to build his famous canoe in composite construction. Joe thought that was a great idea; he was really proud of that boat.

My biggest smile was when I got to paddle a genuine wood-canvas Seliga canoe with Joe himself. (That's the red canoe that currently hangs in the Piragis store) This was when Joe was 92 years young. And he could still paddle! I cherish the memory of canoeing with Joe and of giving him a great big bear hug afterwards.

Goodbye old friend. We'll miss you. But we'll never forget your love of life, your cheery smile, and the wonderful canoes you built. Cliff Jacobson

Thinking of you Joe!

From the end of the road,

Tim Stouffer
Piragis Northwoods Company