Ernie Lehmann, sometimes called the grandfather of copper mining in Minnesota and a tireless promoter of the region’s vast mineral wealth, has died. Jim Kiehne, a business associate, said Lehmann died peacefully in his home Friday from congestive heart failure. He was 84.
Lehmann has been prospecting for, researching and promoting Northeastern Minnesota’s mineral wealth for more than a half-century, especially focusing on the Duluth Complex and its deposits of copper, nickel, gold, platinum and other valuable metals.
“For those of you in the industry who knew his incredible drive and passion for his work, you will not be surprised to know that he was following the recent developments in northern MN and active in helping with business decisions up until the last few days of his life,” said Kate Lehmann, Ernie’s daughter and business partner, in a statement. “This is a great loss to the industry as well as our family. We will send you information about a memorial service after plans are finalized. We expect to wait until after the holidays.”
Lehmann was born in Germany, but came to the U.S. with his parents at the outset of World War II. He earned a geology degree from Williams College and has worked out of an office in Minneapolis since 1958. But focused on and had been investing in and promoting mining projects in Northeastern Minnesota since the 1960s.
Lehmann, most recently the patriarch of Ernes K. Lehmann and Associates, North Central Mineral Ventures and Lehmann Exploration and Management Co., also helped start Mining Minnesota, the copper-nickel mining trade group now headed by Frank Ongaro.
“Ernie was the father and grandfather of exploration and mineral development in the state of Minnesota. He has practiced his geology trade all over the world for five decades plus. On top of that, he was just a wonderful, wonderful person,” said Frank Ongaro. “He will definitely be missed in this state and the world of mining, across the country.”
Lehmann was the founding owner of Franconia Minerals, which owned key holdings in the Birch Lake area and has now been taken over by Duluth Metals and the Twin Metals copper mine project east of Ely.
Lehmann also owned Vermilion Gold, which is still prospecting for gold and other minerals across the region, and Beaver Bay Joint Ventures, which continues to hold the mineral rights to key copper-nickel deposits north of the Iron Range.
After a period of interest in Minnesota’s copper deposits in the late 1960s and early 70s, most large mining companies turned to other regions and countries. But Lehmann continued to prospect in and push for mining of Minnesota minerals beyond iron ore.
Over the last decade, interest in the region has again piqued, and many in the industry credit Lehmann for the advancement of projects like PolyMet, the proposed copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes now in the environmental review stage.
“In my opinion, without question, he was instrumental for anything that we will see come from PolyMet or Twin Metals or whatever project moves forward,” Ongaro said. “We can credit Ernie.”
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