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February 27, 2014 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-02-27

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Charles and David Usher

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Detroit's Marine Pollution Control is on the front line at oil spills around the world.

r

Harry Kirsbaum I Contributing Writer

rom the outside, amid a
row of non-descript brick
buildings on the banks of
the Rouge River in Detroit,
the Marine Pollution Con-
trol corporate offices belie
their importance. When an
oil-spill disaster happens
anywhere in the world, MPC will
most likely get involved to clean it up.
Although Charles "Charlie" Usher,
MPC president, said they are the old-
est and most established oil-spill re-
sponse company in the Great Lakes,
their reach is worldwide.
Among other spills great and small,
MPC has helped clean up the 1976
Amoco Cadiz oil spill in France,
assisted Hurricane Sandy cleanup
efforts, served on an assessment team
during Desert Storm in the Persian
Gulf and rented out equipment to
companies cleaning up the 2010 Gulf
of Mexico BP Oil Spill, the worst in

36 March 2014

1 HD THREAD

U.S. history.
When the Exxon Valdez ran
aground in Alaska in 1989 dumping
10 million gallons of oil into Prince
William Sound, MPC was called to
transfer the lion's share of the re-
maining 40 million gallons on board
into other vessels.
"The Coast Guard had one pump;
we had about six, and within 10 days
we had all 40 million gallons pumped
out," Usher said.
Charlie has a degree in environ-
mental studies and a minor in busi-
ness, but his father, MPC chairman
and founder David Usher, never
finished high school.
"But I had good opportunities,"
said David, who lives in Detroit.
David's father emigrated from the
Ukraine at the turn of the century
and started Usher Oil in 1937, which
is still in operation and run by Da-
vid's nephew.

In 1933, at the tender age of 3,
David started joining his dad, also
named Charles, at work, using a
hand pump to load waste oil from
Detroit's manufacturing plants into a
big wooden barrel on a flatbed truck,
and then hauling the load back to
Keystone Oil, where it was re-refined.
During breaks, the youngster
would sit on the lap of Keystone's co-
owner, Bill Fisher — the late philan-
thropist Max Fisher's father.
He worked off and on in the oil
salvage business, but in 1947, David's
love of music led him to become a
music producer and build a lifelong
friendship with jazz legend Dizzy
Gillespie.
They started DeeGee Records
in 1953, "the first white and black
record company," David said. They
produced records for Dizzy, Ahmad
Jamal, Ramsey Lewis and others.
David vacillated between the two

worlds until he took over Usher Oil
with his brother Morris in the late
1950s, said Charlie.
And he got into the oil cleanup
business from a request.
"A guy from the Ford Rouge Plant,
where he made oil pick-ups, called
him in a panic in August 1967 and
said there had been a release of oil
into the Rouge River and could he
come and clean it up," Charlie said.
"My dad had never cleaned up an
oil spill, but had operated vacuum
trucks and worked on ships for many
years, and said he could do it. He got
together a crew of guys with jon boats
and a vacuum truck and cleaned up
his first spill.
"He thought that this was the dawn
of the environmental age and started
the business," Charlie said. "The first
Earth Day was a year later, so he was
a pioneer in dealing with pollution in
the waterways."

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