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Mentor Spotlight

Mentor Spotlight - by Bill Kinzeler

Having spent nearly 60 years working on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, I can honestly say that almost everyone that I have worked with or for has provided mentoring moments. In life, it makes no difference from whom the nuggets of wisdom come from, it only matters that they were offered and that they provided insights.

The river rat journey started early, my first responsibility being to provide nails to the repair gang fitting oak planks in the cargo hold of hopper barges. This was very short lived. I wanted to be on the boats.

As a deckhand in the early 1960’s, I was mentored by mates Raymond Sesher (Good Brother), Jim Lancaster and Roy Hines. Jim and Roy were country boys from Manchester, Ohio and Vanceburg, Kentucky. Both had farm backgrounds and neither subscribed to that as a life career. The Sesher family, however, was quite well to do and was absolutely appalled and upset that Good Brother chose a vagabond’s life on the river. Bailing Raymond out of the local jail (he and Old Crow were drinking buddies) and drying him out was a standard routine. All three of these river rats played hard but worked harder. As task masters, they expected deckhands to listen and learn (a drill sergeant comes to mind). Pay attention to detail, do a job correctly, do not take short cuts, and always look out for your fellow crew member were common themes. Off watch and pitching pennies on the head deck, I learned that each of these men had a passion for family and extended family, each had a zest for life, and each took pride in being a professional mariner.

As a pilot, I have been mentored by numerous capable masters and pilots. Too many, in fact, to acknowledge in this space. Colin Washnock, Leland Roberts (Cotton), and Walter Reed are three standouts in the long list of teachers who contributed to my professional and personal development. Colin worked in the Cincinnati harbor and was the best small boat master I have encountered. He developed tactical plans for conducting the day’s work, solicited input from the deck hand, and trusted a deck hand’s guidance when working fleets, terminals and tows. Regardless of stress in a critical situation, Colin never lost his composure and always stayed focused on the crew’s and vessel safety.

Leland Roberts, being a kindred spirit to Good Brother, was rather hard to get to the boat, but once on board, was the consummate professional. As a cub pilot on a single crew boat, he taught me the need to think and plan, always having a plan B-- which included knowing when to call the Captain for help. Reading the river is always important and Cotton likened that skill to reading people. Understanding the perspective of others has proven to be an important life skill. Walter Reed taught me the art of being able to effectively communicate. To him, being able to coherently talk to boat folks and multiple levels of management was always important. His mantra, “Understand Your Audience”.

As I transitioned from the boats into management/leadership positions, Rudy Lane stands out as a mentor having a significant impact on my professional and personal life. His favorite nuggets of wisdom included, “There is always someone smarter than you” and “Listen dummy, you don’t know it all”. As with several other mentors, Rudy stressed the need to communicate effectively and truthfully with people, understanding that success depends upon them.

I would be remiss in not acknowledging both my mother and father as my most important mentors. They provided the guidance that set my moral compass. They also subscribed to the benefits of saying YES. This advice has led to an exciting career in which I have travelled to and worked on 4 continents, managing multiple and varied projects. I have worked with hundreds of talented indigenous personnel and along the way gained insight to cultural differences and common bonds that bind humanity together. Travel has been a great teacher.

Thank you, RiverWorks Discovery for giving me this opportunity to share my mentoring experiences.

IT’S GOOD TO BE A RIVER RAT.

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