Ocha Potter was a copper mining engineer and adventurer who also played an important role in the promotion of Keweenaw County, Michigan as a vacation destination during the 1930s and 1940s. He was born on March 1, 1878 in Sherwood, WI. After attending school in Fond du Lac and later Appleton, WI, where he met his future wife Julia Silverfriend, Potter taught for a brief period at a country school 20 miles outside of Appleton. In the spring of 1898, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish American War, but a case of typhoid fever prevented him from traveling to the front and he spent the next several months in a series of military hospitals.
In 1899 Potter moved to Ishpeming, MI in search of work. Shortly thereafter, he secured a position as a laborer at a copper mine near Houghton, MI. This began a stint of logging and mining-related jobs that provided Potter with the opportunity to gain experience with diamond drill mining, a relatively new technique at the time which was in high demand. This experience led to many more opportunities in the field of mining, which constituted Potter's primary employment over the next several years. He enrolled at the Michigan College of Mines in 1904 to pursue a career as a mining engineer shortly after eloping with Julia Silverfriend in Denver, CO.
During the course of his studies, he led several mining expeditions that interrupted the progress of his degree, including multiple trips to Alaska, one of which he undertook in 1908 in the company of his wife, Julia and three-year old son, George. Upon his return, the college conferred upon him the degree he had almost enough credits to earn, in recognition of all of the field work he had completed on his various expeditions.
Over the course of his career, Potter made important contributions to the field of copper mining, including the development of a safer, more efficient method of stoping and advocacy for the use of the lighter "one-man" alternative to the ubiquitous two-man drill, an industry shift that was a major factor in the 1913 strike by the Western Federation of Miners. Potter served as the superintendent of the Ahmeek Mine for Calumet and Hecla Copper Company from 1921 until his retirement in 1948.
Outside of his mining work, Potter served on the Keweenaw County Road Commission from 1922 to 1950, and was a leader in the effort to make the Keweenaw Peninsula a vacation destination. In 1934 he became the first president of the Copper Country Vacationist League and took a month-long automobile trip to California with Julia, stopping along the way to study famous golf courses and tourist resorts. He returned with the results of this recreational field survey intent on implementing some of what he had observed in service of the mission of the newly formed Vacationist League.
Potter undertook two other major trips during the 1930s. One was a journey to Africa to visit his son George who was working as a mining engineer in Rhodesia. On this trip, which lasted several months, Potter and his son visited South Africa, the Belgian Congo, Portuguese East Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania Kenya and Zanzibar, Yemen, Egypt, Italy and France before returning to New York. The other trip was a tour of several national parks in the American West with his children, Betty and Billie, in 1936. They visited the Black Hills, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Salt Lake, Bryce Canyon, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Mt. Zion Park, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert and Pike's Peak.
His work with the Copper Country Vacationist League spanned from 1934 to 1941 and included his service as the chair of the advertising committee, a role which gave him the opportunity to employ his hobbyist interest in photography, an interest honed on his many travels and expeditions.
Ocha Potter was diagnosed with phlebitis, pleurisy, pneumonia, and bacterial endocarditis in June, 1949. His ill health limited his level of activity, but he lived for another six years before dying of lung cancer on July 15, 1955 in Laurium, MI.