Daniel J. Kobasic
ESCANABA — Daniel J. Kobasic, age 71, of Escanaba, passed away Thursday morning, Nov. 30, 2017 at his home surrounded by family.
“Wooden ships, iron men” goes the old maritime saying. While Daniel Joseph Kobasic never sailed on the wooden ships, he was certainly an iron man, with an unparalleled work ethic and fierce determination. And although his life was tragically cut short by pancreatic cancer, he lived more in his 71 years than most. He was a carpenter, machinist, landscaper, fisherman, entrepreneur, pizza purveyor, ship builder, tug boat captain, storyteller and visionary. Daniel was also a father, grandfather, brother, and friend. By all accounts, he led a complicated and extraordinary life.
Born on Aug. 10, 1946, Daniel was the second son and fifth child of Frank and Mary (nee Kolich) Kobasic. The very night he turned 18, he walked onto an iron ore freighter. As he was apt to say, “I left home with a paper bag and the shirt on my back.” Driven by ambition, Daniel worked his “way up the hawsepipe” and attended navigation school in New York. He overcame color-blindness to pass the red light/green light lantern test, and eventually became a celestial navigator, 2nd mate in the merchant marine. In lieu of the army, he served in the Vietnam war zone, hauled goods and weapons around southeastern Asia, and ultimately circumnavigated the globe three times.
After nearly 8 years on the ships, he returned to Escanaba, struggling to find self-employment, offering carpentry and landscaping work with little success. Heeding his then-wife’s suggestion, Daniel began construction on Shakey’s pizza restaurant. It was a risky endeavor for the young couple, and he broke ground on the property before securing financing. A gifted orator, Daniel found funding from Arnie Mackie at First National Bank, and Shakey’s opened in September 1973.
The pizza restaurant was merely a means to an end, however. He channeled profits from the thriving pizza business to build a fishing trawler. With no formal education in naval architecture, he built the Danicia K. in 1978 on land near the power plant in Wells, and a year later started Basic Marine. It was the modest beginning to an impressive maritime construction endeavor, building over 240 vessels that float in the fresh and saltwater lakes and seas.
After exiting the pizza-making business in 1986, he wholly devoted his attentions to Basic Marine, and together with his brother, business partner, and best friend, Claude Kobasic, he expanded the physical footprint of the business significantly during the late eighties and early nineties, adding a drydock to allow for the repair of larger vessels. He also launched Basic Towing, which ultimately grew to a fleet of 8 vessels. Two of the tugs were acquired on the East Coast, and he brought his 3 daughters along for the three-week long journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway. The tugs delivered vessels created at Basic Marine to destinations as far as Seattle via the Panama Canal. He also maintained a former World War II Coast Guard-cutter, the Erika Kobasic, as an icebreaker, freeing shipping lanes from their frozen confines in the winter. To quote a 2010 Daily Press article detailing the history of the company, “we would do well to remember that vast wealth and resources aren’t as important as good business sense, boldness to act, and an iron will to succeed.”
Daniel was a restless and driven individual, and happiest when embarking on a new project. His recent dock expansion project allowed the first saltwater merchant vessel into the area in 80 years, and returned Escanaba’s status as an international shipping port. The project expanded the dock from 450 to 1,200 feet, dredged the port to 28 feet, and included several thousand feet of steel sheeting to secure the shoreline. His unfinished dream to restore Escanaba’s North Shore to its original 1880’s glory will be carried on by his brother, Claude and nephew, Nicholas to honor his nostalgic labor of love.
He loved car rides, cigars, a good fish fry, Crown Royal, ice cream, and a well-prepared meal on a warm plate. He had a sparkling and often cutting sense of humor, and as anyone who spent time with him knows, he did not suffer fools. His musical tastes varied widely, from Pearl Jam to big band music to romantic piano ballads. He had an eye for design, and delighted in a well-made object. Daniel was an avid collector, and especially cherished wood stoves. He was proud of his Croatian heritage, and found solace in the Catholic faith of his ancestors, particularly in his last years. And he found true delight in riding bicycles with his youngest granddaughter, Gina. His legacy of generosity will continue through the many individuals and organizations that benefitted from his charitable heart.
In his brief but devastating illness, Daniel was devotedly and lovingly nursed by his youngest daughter, Krystal, with dedicated support from his middle daughter, Erika; and his brother, Claude.
He is survived his three daughters, Danica Stanciu of Washington, D.C., and her children, Nicolas and Elena, Erika and Steve Meyer of Milwaukee, the parents of his beloved Gina, and Krystal Kobasic and her fiancé Chris Bjuhr of San Francisco, Calif.; surviving siblings include, Catherine Wendt, Frank Jr. “Bud” (Audrey) Kobasic, Barb Darce, Joan Kobasic, Shirley Kobasic, John Kobasic, Claude (Bev) Kobasic, and Mary (Zahid) Hanif; as well as many nieces and nephews.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded by his sisters, Mary and Helen Lou.
Visitation for family and close friends will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at the Anderson Funeral Home in Escanaba. Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 3:30 p.m., Monday, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church with Father Rick Courier officiating. Burial will take place in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials please be directed to the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association. The Anderson Funeral Homes are assisting the Kobasic family with the arrangements and online condolences can be sent at www.andersonfuneralhomes.net.