The 18th Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon

Dec 12, 2017

The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) held its 18th annual River Bell Awards Luncheon on Thursday, December 7, 2017, at the Paducah McCracken County Convention and Expo Center, Paducah, KY. This year, 461 guests attended raising a grand total of over $300,000.

The River Bell event recognizes the contributions of an individual, company or organization to the inland maritime industry. This year, SCI honored Mr. James F. Farley (Kirby Corporation, ret.) with the River Bell Award, Ms. Cherrie Felder of Channel Shipyards with the Distinguished Service Award, and Mr. Scott McGeorge of Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel Company with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Additionally, SCI honored Shell Trading (US) Company with the Leadership in Safety Award, accepted by Capt. Tim Downs. This award was planned for SCI’s Maritime Training Benefit Luncheon in Houston, originally scheduled for October 2017, which was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. All the honorees have made significant contributions to America’s waterways in different arenas, and SCI celebrates their services to the industry.

Before the SCI awards ceremony began, the US Coast Guard made a presentation of the USCG Public Service Commendation to two SCI employees, Ms. Kelly Butts and Mr. William (Buck) Viniard, who have each served SCI for 20 years. The award was a surprise for both Kelly and Buck, who were delighted with the honor.

During the proceedings, Mr. Mark Knoy of ACBL spoke about SCI’s new suicide intervention initiatives, including the two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) courses offered by SCI.

David Grzebinksi of Kirby Corporatoin introduced the award for Shell Trading (US) Company, accepted by Capt. Tim Downs. Mr. Grzebinksi described Shell as “a company that has helped raise the bar on safety”, pointing out that Shell’s hard work in addressing all things safety-related benefits the whole industry, even, arguably, Shell’s competitors. Mr. Grzebinksi went on to say of Capt. Tim Downs, Shell’s Shipping and Maritime executive for the Americas, “he is passionate about our industry and passionate about safety. He embodies Shell’s leadership in safety, so it is fitting that he will accept this award on Shell’s behalf.”

In his acceptance speech, Capt. Downs spoke about the vast improvements in Shell’s safety record over recent years, but said that the goal is for further improvements. Shell is committed to doing this through visible and felt leadership, learning from incidents, and care for people.  He elaborated on Shell’s “Goal Zero Hero” program, which focuses on intervention. Shell encourages the use of this program by all companies, as it is, in Capt. Down’s words, “all about getting folks back from ships or towboats in the same condition as they left.”

For the Distinguished Service Award, Rick Calhoun introduced Cherrie Felder with the words, “she is truly a tireless industry volunteer and servant…bright and bold, with a great sense of humor.”

Ms. Felder attributed her entrance into the maritime world to ‘serendipity’ – she didn’t have any fixed idea for a career path but after a couple of jobs, a role in the inland river industry was suggested to her, and she was immediately fascinated, learning all she could. Cherrie spoke of her utmost respect for the men and women working out on towboats. She is excited to see young people steeping up to take their place in the industry, and pleased to see new initiatives to support and encourage women in maritime operations. Thirty years ago, when Ms. Felder started, she was often the only woman in the room, but she observed that times have changed and that’s a very positive thing.

“I am truly the luckiest person I know, to have the opportunity to work in this wonderful industry” Ms. Felder concluded. “Life should not be measured by how many breaths we take, but by what takes our breath away. Receiving this award takes my breath away, and I accept it with sincere gratitude and complete joy.”

Mr. Tony Greer of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Company introduced Scott McGeorge for his Lifetime Achievement Award. “Scott is an absolute gentleman, kind and humble…he is a superb advocate for our inland river community”, Mr. Greer said. Mr. McGeorge is the third-generation owner of Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel Company. He succeeded his father as President of the company and passed on his mantle to the fourth generation recently, remaining as Senior Vice President and Chairman of the Board.

Mr. McGeorge also recognized his team, saying, “I work with outstanding people who work safe, smart, and hard. He spoke of the journey toward a better safety record that Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel has undertaken, and of his pride at the improvements that have been made.

Denis Steger, introducing James F. Farley who received the River Bell Award, spoke about Mr. Farley’s hard-working, down-to-earth attitude throughout his career. “Jim never used the word “I”, he always spoke of the team… He knows every facet of his industry, and he knows it’s the men and women who keep the industry going.” Mr. Steger concluded, “Jim is proud to be called a river man.”

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Farley paid tribute to his wife, Linda, and talked of his career, “so full of fun, drama, and characters”. He echoed Cherrie Felder’s sentiment of feeling “lucky” to be a part of the maritime industry. Jim spoke of the American Mariner – that “hardworking, selfless, maddening, fantastic crew” who have given him “an education in life, courage, and relentless determination.” As he closed he said, “I and everyone here owes this long line of tow boaters a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.”

To conclude, SCI President and Executive Director, the Rev. David M. Rider, expressed his appreciation for David Dewey, one of the instructors at SCI’s Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, who is soon to retire.

SCI wishes to thank all those who were present at this year’s River Bell Awards Luncheon and those who supported it without being able to attend in person. Proceeds from the event fund SCI’s crucial programs, including pastoral and practical care for American maritime industry employees and shore-side management.

To view photos from the 2017 event, click here.

18th Annual River Bell Awards Journal by The Seamen's Church Institute on Scribd