SUTTONS BAY -- Tom Kelly, who launched the first sailing schoolship program on the Great Lakes 25 years ago, will retire at year's end.
He and the Inland Seas Education Association board hope to have a new director to take over the watch in 2014.
Kelly will turn 65 in June. He announced his decision to ISEA donors and volunteers last month.
More than 94,000 people sailed on ISEA schoolships since 1989, when the first students stepped aboard the schooner Malabar. The ISEA’s Schoolship Inland Seas set sail as a floating classroom in 1994 after the nonprofit raised $750,000 to design, build and launch the 77-foot schooner.
Kelly said ISEA will go on much the same after his retirement.
Kelly will be an adviser to the ISEA board's transition committee, which will hire the next director.
“I still like this job more than anything else I can think of,” he said. “But I’m ready to reduce the intensity in my life and spend more time doing other things that I’ve put off because the job takes up most of my waking moments.”
He added he will work part-time on the ship and share captain duties with Ben Hale.
Other activities he would like to pursue after retirement include: writing about the science of Grand Traverse Bay, teaching informally or at the college level, travel and spending more time with his family — wife Ann, daughter Emma, a University of Michigan senior studying environmental science, and son Graham, who will graduate from high school this year and will start U-M in the fall.
He said he and the ISEA’s board worked toward an orderly transition since 2008 with assistance from Rotary Charities and its Northsky NonProfit Network, a nonprofit management support program.
John Tanner, retired rear admiral of the U.S. Maritime Service and the Great Lake Maritime Academy, has high praise for Kelly.
“He had the passion to bring this to life and make it work,” he said. “He’s a wonderful asset to our area and I can’t see large changes happening right away. Things are going well and the ISEA has a proven purpose and is doing a wonderful job with the schoolship program.”