Guests gathered around 44 tables at the the Paducah McCracken County Convention and Expo Center in Paducah, KY, but the event focused on everyone sitting at just one table. The Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) 16th Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon accentuated the world’s shared table made possible through the connections of maritime commerce and awarded leaders in the industry who have cultivated positive links.
George Foster, President of JB Marine Services, Inc., accepted the Institute’s River Bell Award. Three other industry leaders received further commendations. To Charlie T. Jones, Chairman of AmherstMadison, SCI gave its River Legend Award. The Institute named RADM Kevin Cook, Retired, US Coast Guard, its Distinguished Services Award recipient and paid tribute to the successes of Royce Wilken, President (ret.) of American River Transportation Company, with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Karen Foster Shoot introduced her father, George, before presenting him with SCI’s River Bell Award and recalled his relentless ambition. She said that as a young woman she asked her father why he worked so hard—serving a combined total of 55 years on industry panels—and he replied, “How can I not? … when the industry has given our family so much.”
In Royce Wilkin’s acceptance remarks he spoke of his observations of the industry working together even among fierce competition. Ninety-seven-year-old Charlie Jones regaled the River Bell Luncheon audience with stories of a career spanning 72 years, and RADM Kevin Cook talked of the important partnerships and alliances making the river industry a good place to work.
The fundraising event amassed over $260,000 to support mariners served by the Institute’s Ministry on the Rivers and Gulf program, the nation’s only network of pastoral care available on the American inland waterways. Providing year-round pastoral care, the ministry offers pastoral counseling, support and fellowship to the thousands of professional mariners at work on board towboats, offshore vessels, harbor tugs, buoy tenders and dredges on the Ohio and Mississippi River systems, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.
SCI established the River Bell Awards Luncheon in 2000 to recognize the contributions of an individual, company or organization to the inland maritime industry. Proceeds from the Institute’s luncheon support SCI’s programs, including pastoral and spiritual care to American maritime industry employees and shoreside management.