A love of water, pride in challenging and rewarding work, and a close-knit family has helped create a legacy four generations in the making for the Plaunt family. Some of the most sincere and kindest people you may encounter, the family and their business have been a lifeline for residents of Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron, and the visitors who travel there for over 85 years. It is through this legacy, and that of a beloved ferry captain, that the Plaunts are now helping others to discover the joys of a maritime industry career.
Curt Plaunt is the current owner of Plaunt Transportation, which carries people, goods, mail and even vehicles across Lake Huron from Cheboygan to Bois Blanc Island and back. He is the third generation to run the business, and the boat. His grandfather, Charles, started the business in 1932, with Raymond Plaunt (Curt’s father), taking over in 1948.
Curt took over the business in 1987, and his son Jason and nephew Ryan McLaren have both joined the family tradition by becoming ferry boat captains. Perhaps you have driven through Cheboygan and noticed the Plaunt Transportation boat docked in the Cheboygan River waiting to load for the next trip. The boat’s name? Kristen D - named after Curt’s daughter Kristen. In fact, most of the boats used by the company are named after women in the family.
“Our family shares a rich history in the maritime field,” says Curt. “Living on Bois Blanc Island, we grew up on and around the water, which became part of our everyday life. Our family learned a great deal of respect for the water, wind, and ice, which has a direct connection to all of us. Mother Nature can be very unforgiving, as she has been to many sailors, but I love the ways that our ferry business challenges us to continually adapt and grow.”
Curt says it has truly been a family endeavor since the beginning with many family members serving in various ways from deckhands to bookkeeping and everything in between. One of his favorite parts of the job is getting to witness incredible sunrises and sunsets on the water.
Curt’s father Raymond ran the business and was boat captain for 39 years. When Raymond passed away in February of 2016, his love and passion for the family’s maritime work continued. Right away, the Plaunts knew they wanted to find a way to honor Raymond and inspire and help others on their path to a maritime career. They wanted a permanent way to memorialize the larger-than-life legacy of this man who had given safe passage across the Lake to so many passengers; and had been a loving and supportive patriarch for his family.
The Plaunts connected with the Straits Area Community Foundation (SACF) and quickly established the Raymond A. Plaunt Maritime Memorial Scholarship. The fund specifically supports students who are studying and pursuing a career in the maritime industry.
“The driving force behind this scholarship is keeping Raymond’s legacy alive,” says Curt. He and his sisters, Char and Leanna, make annual contributions and work on ways to build the fund. “Sustaining the scholarship and helping as many people as possible allows us to continue to share his story and honor him and his maritime career.”
Curt adds that the family has thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with the Community Foundation and they love getting to know some of the scholarship recipients, being involved in their educational experiences, and staying updated on their progress. He says it is another way they honor their family tradition.
While funds established at the Community Foundation grow through investment income, the Plaunt Family is committed to ensuring that the scholarship in Raymond’s name not only grows, but thrives. They hold fundraisers at significant times like Raymond’s 100th birthday or milestones for Plaunt Transportation. As a family and business, they have also committed to annual contributions in Raymond’s memory to help build the fund. All of these efforts have led to the fund growing to over $133,000 in assets at the time of this publication. So far, the scholarship has awarded over $13,000 to three students studying in the maritime academy.
“Most of the people who would go into the maritime field have to have a love for the water. It is a rewarding field which can provide a comfortable living and offers many different areas in which to work,” says Curt. “For our ferry service, some of the rewards come in the form of breath-taking sunsets and sunrises, as well as serving an island community that means so much to us.”
Andrew Bennett is a three-time recipient of the Raymond Plaunt Maritime Memorial Scholarship. He graduated in January 2021 from Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Michigan, with a bachelor’s degree in Maritime Technology and a Third Mates Unlimited License.
“I got to meet Curt during my sophomore year while he was in town for a Captain’s Association event. He and his friends were so welcoming,” says Andrew. “Each year, I would get a chance to catch up with Curt on the ferry to Bois Blanc Island to visit my aunt. It was really encouraging to have so many people interested in my success and checking in.”
Andrew says he was working 60 to 80 hours per week as a lifeguard to help pay for his housing and tuition, but after receiving this scholarship, he was able to cut back on hours and focus more on his education.
“This scholarship allowed me the time to actually focus on and understand the material, instead of just short-term learning for a grade, which was an immense help, and will continue to help me throughout my career,” says Andrew.
Curt notes that education can be expensive, and the Plaunts strive to ease that burden for students who choose the water as a way of life.
“This scholarship fund is one way we can honor Raymond’s legacy, celebrate our family tradition, and share our passion for the water,” says Curt. “Sharing that with the community and knowing this legacy will last forever through this fund is incredibly rewarding.”