Fly-fishing and philanthropy are
hallmarks of UDM alumnus Arnie Ochs
The journey of Arnie Ochs '57, from a University of Detroit football guard to a fly fisherman includes a legendary career that took him from teacher to manufacturing executive, topped off by ownership of an orchard, winery and robotics company.
His diverse interests and aptitude for business have enabled him to succeed in a variety of challenges and seek out new opportunities. He built his wealth over time. "I was 45 years old before I had $500 in the bank," he said.
After attending U of D on a football scholarship and earning a degree in economics and political science, he started out as a political science teacher at Muskegon Heights High School in his hometown. He and his wife Joyce had five children in four years: twins Stephanie and Melanie, Bradley, Tracy and David. To raise his growing family, he took a job at Aeroquip in Jackson, MI, as a production control planner. It was the right job at the right time; he was on the ground floor of data control processing.
After a few moves to other manufacturers in Michigan and to Hamilton Beach in Zanesville, OH, as a materials manager, he began to plan a bigger move. He was in charge of slow cookers, steam irons, frying pans and other small appliances when he decided to get out of frying pans and "into the fire" with a job in materials management at Polaris in northern Minnesota. Within two years, he became vice president of manufacturing at the snowmobile company.
In the early 80s, the company's sales suffered due to a lack of snow. Textron wanted to divest this subsidiary. When a pending sale to a Canadian firm fell through, Arnie and five other executives bought Polaris in 1982. The new management team introduced ATVs to the snowmobile line-up, which sparked sales, provided product diversity and expanded production from seasonal to year-round.
The company went public, selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 1987. Arnie took his stock gains and "retired" at age 54. He and his wife moved back to Michigan. His ability to discover good businesses opportunities led to new ventures.
Since the Grand Traverse area is the largest producer of sour cherries in U.S., he figured that he couldn't go wrong with an orchard and bought Bluewater Farms in 1990 with 150 acres of cherries and wine grapes.
He likes the educational aspect of the orchard. "It's mostly about teaching the grandkids how to work," Arnie said. "For 50 weeks out of year, the orchard works for us. Then, for two weeks, the grandkids come out and help harvest. One of the jobs is to exchange the tanks of cherries gathered by the hydraulic shaker."
The equipment can shake a tree free of fruit, which has been chemically loosened from its stem two weeks earlier, in about 20 seconds. That's a big time saver when there are 7,000 to 8,000 trees from which to harvest fruit.
After 42 years of marriage, Arnie lost his dear wife Joyce to cancer in 2001. She was a nursing administrator who oversaw the care of geriatric patients.
Arnie bought into Chateau Chantal winery on Old Mission peninsula. The wine from the Riesling grapes grown and bottled there, he says, is equal to the same varietal from vineyards also on the 45th Parallel in France and Germany.
He also purchased Trantek, a robotics company that develops and performs automated manufacturing processes. His son, Bradley, an engineer, is one of its 40 employees.
Now 75, he and his second wife Aggie live in Traverse City and have a summer home on the Au Sable river in Grayling. The Ochs travel extensively for fly-fishing. Right up there with the Au Sable river are those that snake through Chile and Croatia.
He has invested a portion of his wealth back into the community, creating jobs and helping others through philanthropic endeavors. He serves on several boards, but has asked his daughter, Stephanie, to take over some of those obligations.
His charities include many Catholic-based organizations, including UDM; environmental preservation groups; and assistance to breast cancer survivors.
At Aggie's suggestion, each Mother's Day for the past five years, the Ochs' guest house on the Au Sable river is turned over to "Reeling and Healing Midwest Fly-fishing." Ten to 12 women spend the weekend fly-fishing, with equipment and instruction provided. It's an inspirational retreat and physical workout that helps the healing process.
"The motivating factors in my life have been my family and grandchildren (14) and giving back for all God has given me," Arnie notes. "We all have an obligation to do that."