Feeding the crew on the Lee A. Tregurtha

TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson heads into the galley to see how the Steward of the ship prepares food for the 22-person crew
A Marquette woman has been feeding crew on the Great Lakes for the past 7 years, working to keep everyone happy and their belly's full
Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 7:46 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2023 at 1:42 PM EDT
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GREAT LAKES, Mich. (WLUC) - What’s it like to work on a Great Lakes Ore Boat?

We’ve learned it’s tough. The work is grueling. The time away from family and friends can be painful.

But, traveling with the crew of the Lee A. Tregurtha TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson learned there’s also a good living to be made, an opportunity to enjoy months of the year without working, and the freedom of sailing on the Great Lakes.

Now, imagine being on a ship for over 80 days working long, hard days. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aren’t going to cut it!

Food is the fuel of the ship, just as important as the fuel of the diesel engines.

In part 3, we head into the galley where a Marquette woman works to keep the crew fed and the menu enticing for everyone.

Susan Dorman has been an elementary school bus driver, a medical center clerk and for the past seven years a steward for the Interlake Steamship Company, this year for the Lee A. Tregurtha.

Dorman said, “we do all the planning, all the ordering for the menu - all the prep - breakfast, lunch, dinner, holidays we do a little bit of everything”

Elizabeth asked Dorman, “How do you handle it?”

She replied, “carefully and like a mom. I just treat them like I’m at home and it’s my family.”

It looks just like you’d expect a family sitting down for a meal to look like... enjoying a meal together, conversation, a chance to fuel their bodies and take a break.

But let’s be honest, cooking for a family of four is challenging in itself. To prepare food for 22 different palettes, traditions, and tastes - three times a day, seven days a week - well, it’s a big job!

“It’s a big responsibility, said Dorman. “I asked one of the guys, what do you think about my cooking? And he said well, a friend of mine asked and I told him you’re a Midwest mom and I said that sums it up. I try to cook home cooked meals and try to keep everyone happy, not everyone’s happy all the time, that’s part of the surrounding”

Dorman said she’s always willing to take suggestions from the crew, and is constantly looking for new recipes and reading cookbooks for inspiration.

“If I’ve got chicken breasts in the fridge,” explained Dorman. “It’s like what new recipe can I find that I haven’t done & they’re pretty open to trying new things.”

But, it’s not as easy as running to the grocery store for ingredients. Don’t have an onion or garlic? Too bad! She’s tied to the food she orders and the ship that delivers.

Dorman said she orders the food and it’s delivered to the boat about once a week, hoised on while the ship is still moving by a crane.

“It’s a huge process that everybody is involved in to bring the groceries in,” said Dorman.

We picked up the week’s grocery order just outside of the Soo Locks around four in the morning. It was a quick and seamless process. An efficient system perfected over years. Dorman said she tries to order a little bit of everything. On our trip that meant, steak, shrimp, pasta, fresh fruit and veggies. There really seemed to be something for everyone.

And this was a normal week, holidays on board the ship are even grander - there’s even more planning, more of an emphasis on making each meal something special.

“It takes a lot of work, a lot of work,” admitted Dorman. “My second cook is really busy, helping with prepping and putting everything together. We just put together a lot of different appetizers. We try to stay with a traditional meal but yet throw in a little extra. It means a lot, it means a lot that everyone’s happy and has a full belly.”

And they do all this while also feeling that same pull the rest of the crew feels. Missing family, missing friends - spending months on the boat.

“I miss home everyday, I miss my kids, I miss my grandkids,” reflected Dorman. “But one of the great things about being out here is when I’m off work and I’m on vacation - I’m on vacation.”

It requires the same mental toughness as the other areas on the boat. Just doing it. Doing it for each other.... doing your part of the bigger picture, of a mission bigger than all of them... moving thousands of tons of cargo across the Great Lakes. For Dorman, that also means being a light on a hard day, being a warm smile at the end of a long shift, being someone the crew can count on.

“I think everyone needs a hug once in a while and if I see someone having just that moment, Oh, I’m huggin ‘em. I feel like I’m a mom, I’m a sister, I’m an aunt, I’m a Grandma, I’m all of that and everyone needs it out here.”

It’s a role, a job she never planned on having - but she says she loves it - and doesn’t plan on hanging up the apron anytime soon.

“I love being on the water for one thing - that’s a big bonus when you can look out your door and just see the lake right there - the crew - I love the crew, they’re my family, they really are.”

Follow along the entire journey:

Part 1: TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson begins her journey with the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Great Lakes

Part 2: Getting to know the crew of the Lee A. Tregurtha

Part 3: Feeding the crew on the Lee A. Tregurtha

Part 4: Navigating the Lee A. Tregurtha through the Soo Locks

Part 5: The final leg of our journey with the Lee A. Tregurtha