On December 5, 2019 at a major awards ceremony attended by nearly 500 guests from the river industry and associated companies, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) presented its prestigious River Bell Award to Delbert R. Wilkins of Illinois Marine Towing. Each year, SCI confers the River Bell Award to an individual or group in recognition of outstanding leadership in the river community, significant commitment to U.S. mariners and engagement with issues facing the inland marine industry. In addition, James “Goat” Patters was presented with the River Legend Award, and Our Industry’s Mariners received the Distinguished Service Award. SCI’s 20th Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon, held at the Paducah McCracken County Convention & Expo Center, raised a record-breaking $324,600.
During his opening remarks, SCI President & Executive Director the Rev. David M. Rider stated,
“Today, we gather to celebrate two distinguished and unique individuals, who have dedicated careers and personal resources to improving all aspects of our industry – including safety and professionalism – by sharing lessons learned, instituting best practices, and collaborating with peers in the industry and related associations. We also celebrate the contributions of our industry’s mariners who face unique challenges but do so with grace and dedication – inspiring us all. This gathering provides an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate the incredible work of this industry as a whole. You in the room, and the mariners working on the water, make our modern way of life possible. We thank you for all you do.”
George Foster of JB Marine Service presented James “Goat” Patterson with SCI’s River Legend Award. After a series of positions of increasing responsibility in the river industry beginning with the role of dispatcher at The Valley Line Company, Goat founded the harbor fleeting company, Osage Marine Services in 1999. Osage continues to operate fleeting services in cooperation with Consolidated Grain & Barge at five locations and totaling 18 boats.
“During all these years, I have had the good fortune to establish many relationships, both business and personal, with the great people of this industry,” said Goat.
One of several highlights of the luncheon occurred following River Bell Awards Luncheon Committee Chair, and President and CEO of American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) Mark Knoy’s remarks:
“As mentioned, this year has been particularly tough for the industry. We know this takes a toll on our bottom line, but more so on the mariners themselves . . . SCI has been recognizing mariners and their contributions all year long at our events. Mariners are the first line of defense in keeping our waters safe, clean and efficient. Working in all sorts of weather, spending time away from family and friends, dealing with the stress of the ups and downs of this industry and providing support for one another – all fitting reasons to acknowledge our mariners with a Distinguished Service Award.”
Jessica Brent, renowned singer/songwriter and Captain Howard Brent’s daughter, recorded a moving rendition of her song, “Ride It Out, Captain” for use at the event. The song accompanied a celebratory photo montage of mariners at work.
Captain Michael Burkhart of Ingram Barge Company and Captain Greg Smith of ACBL, nominated by company management and chosen by an SCI panel, accepted the Distinguished Service Award on behalf of all mariners. Each of their respective speeches, replete with authenticity and humor and stories, brought the room of industry leaders to their feet in appreciation. Both of them received standing ovations.
Perhaps the crescendo of the afternoon occurred during Delbert R. Wilkins’ acceptance speech for the River Bell Award after being introduced by Merritt Lane, President & CEO of Canal Barge Company. Delbert recounted a life of dramatic joys and challenges with his career. He expressed deep appreciation for those who valued hard work, “didn’t always choose the politically correct option,” and took a chance on him in leadership roles. He shared stories about his father’s and grandfather’s influence on his life and graciously thanked his family for their encouragement, love and support over the years. His speech generated the third rousing standing ovation of the event.
Proceeds from the 20th Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon support SCI’s efforts, including ministry to the American maritime industry employees and shoreside management, and marine education programs.
Photos of the event are available for public use from this link with the following notation: "Photos courtesy of the Seamen's Church of New York and New Jersey."
For further information, contact Nancy Van Epps at the Seamen’s Church Institute at (212) 349-1791 or [email protected].