BELLINGHAM - Art Nordtvedt, founder of the company that became Uniflite Inc. on the south Bellingham waterfront, died Tuesday, Oct. 1, at age 91.
Nordtvedt founded the company as United Boat Builders in 1957, producing pleasure craft under the Uniflite brand. In 1965, the company's name was changed to match the brand.
In its heyday, the company employed more than 500 workers, adding military boats to its product line as the Vietnam War ramped up.
Nordtvedt was a 1939 graduate of Ferndale High School, where he played football, baseball and basketball. He first met Shirley, his future wife, in the fourth grade at Washington Elementary School. They were married in 1941.
In a 2005 interview, Nordtvedt said he was new to the boatbuilding business when he was hired as an apprentice at Bellingham Shipyards in 1942. He quickly rose to foreman at the firm's Stanwood shipyard, working on construction of military barges. He served in the U.S. Navy in 1945 and 1946 before returning to Bellingham Shipyards and eventually launching Uniflite.
Nordtvedt left Uniflite in 1970 to pursue other ventures. Ten years later a fire ravaged the plant. The company struggled to rebound and went through a long period of financial struggle under a variety of owners before its eventual shutdown.
Nordtvedt stayed active in the boat industry, with a stint at Ocean Alexander Yachts in Taiwan and work with his sons and son-in-law at Nordic Yachts and Norstar Yachts.
The Bellingham Maritime Museum at 800 Cornwall Ave. features an MK I PBR vessel that Nordtvedt's company built here under contract to the U.S. Navy. The vessel saw combat in Vietnam and is believed to be the only surviving boat of its kind.
Museum Director Mike Granat recalled how much Nordtvedt enjoyed meeting veterans who had served on that boat, calling them "his boys."
"All of us at the museum are saddened by the fact that we lost a giant in the boatbuilding industry," Granat said. "His commitment to the working waterfront was unsurpassed. ... We won't see his like again."
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said Nordtvedt and his wife were neighbors for several years before the Nordtvedts moved to The Leopold, and she and her husband grew very close to the older couple.
"He was handy," Linville said. "He had a woodshop. He was always willing to help us. We almost considered them a second set of parents."
A celebration of Nordtvedt's life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at Bellingham Cruise Terminal. The family suggests memorials to Whatcom Hospice, Bellingham Maritime Museum or Northwest Baptist Church.