The port at Duluth Harbor
The water in the Duluth, Minnesota, harbor never gets very warm, and it’s practically freezing by the time November rolls around.
But that didn’t stop Zoran Pedisic, a Croatian immigrant working as a stevedore at the Minnesota port, from jumping into the frigid waters in an attempt to rescue an elderly man who was trying to commit suicide.
The incident occurred Nov. 1 at Duluth’s Clure Public Marine Terminal. Pedisic was operating a forklift during his usual Friday morning shift at the Lake Superior Warehousing facility, when he noticed an older man walk past him. Ignoring Pedisi’s shouts, the man walked to an empty slip, slid his feet over the side and jumped face first into the icy harbor.
Pedisic, 55, a married father of three who has worked at the port for 17 years after emigrating from his native Croatia, didn’t think twice before swinging into action.
Port Workers Spring into Action
“Man overboard,” he shouted into his radio before immediately jumping in after the man, who was lying face down in the chilly 45-degree water and making no effort to save himself. Still wearing his heavy work boots and coveralls, Pedisic grabbed the man’s head and pulled him to a beam alongside the slip’s steep wall all the while calling for help from his co-workers.
At first, the drowning man — Bill Schowalter, 90, of nearby Hermantown — refused to help Pedisic in his efforts to save his life. But eventually, he changed his mind and allowed himself to be pulled to safety.
Within moments, several other port workers had responded to Pedisi’s cries for help. A 30-foot ladder was lowered into the slip and two other men climbed down to assist Pedisic in removing Schowalter from the icy water. Knowing that they had only minutes before hypothermia set in, the workers fitted two life rings under his arms and lifted Schowalter out to safety. Schowalter and Pedisic had been in the water an estimated five minutes.
By that time, emergency crews had arrived and Schowalter was transported via ambulance to a local hospital.
Second Suicide Attempt in a Week
According to Schowalter’s son, Craig Schowalter, the elderly man had become depressed in the wake of his wife’s death a year earlier.
A week before the incident at the harbor, on the anniversary of her death, his father had attempted suicide by driving his car into a guardrail, Craig Schowalter said. His father escaped that incident with minor injuries and was released from an area hospital without receiving any counseling for his depression, something Craig Schowalter said made him angry, especially in the wake of the second suicide attempt a week later.
“It’s treat and street,” Craig Schowalter told the Duluth News-Tribune. “They turn you right back out.”
For his part, Pedisic said he doesn’t feel like a hero. Saving the elderly man was just something that came naturally to him because his own father is about Schowalter’s age.
“It was cold, but it didn’t hit so hard as I thought,” Pedisic said. “I was not thinking about the cold.”
A Happy Ending
After getting help for their father, Craig Schowalter, his brother, Scott, and other family members returned to the dock to thank the man who had saved their father’s life.
“We hugged and talked,” Scott Schowalter said. “It was very touching. (Zoran) is such a genuine person.”
“They were very pleased,” Pedisic said of his meeting with the family. “If they think we did something good for them, that’s great.”