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Mentor Spotlight

Mentor Spotlight - by Bill Barr

Traditions make up the culture of the river, and one of the most treasured is that of the mentor. While the exact process or definition of a mentorship can be elusive, that time honored tradition of a more experienced crew member helping to guide a less experienced crew member over time lives on today, and is still being passed on to our next generation of river folk.

Today’s Mentor Monday features a kaleidoscope of those who inspired Bill Barr!

“What role does a mentor play in one’s life? A mentor may share information about their career path, provide guidance, motivation, emotional support and be a role model. The mentor may help with exploring career possibilities, assist in setting goals, help develop contacts, and identify resources. Here are some of my mentors.

My parents: My father had a sales career from selling advertising to selling heavy equipment, and quality ready mix concrete. As a young boy I often get to go on road construction sites where they might be demonstrating rotary drills, earth moving equipment, and bridge building. As a kid I got exposed to many different people and situations.

My mother was a pioneering woman who was one of the early graduates from Duke University Law School where the majority of classmates were men, she learned to fly sea planes off the Kanawha River, and was well regarded in the legal profession.

Boy Scouts: I would consider my scoutmasters as mentors and some boys in the troop were mentors as well. My first scoutmaster, Harry Townsley, was a good family friend whose son was also in the same troop and became an Eagle. I progressed in scouting from Tenderfoot and Second Class, but got stymied obtaining the rank of First Class, because I had to pass Morse Code signaling by wigwagging. One day Dad asked me if I was going to quit scouts, because I had not progressed past Second Class. I already had enough merit badges to achieve the rank of Star Scout, but I needed to achieve First Class before I could achieve the rank of Star. Dad told me he didn’t want me to quit until I achieved First Class. I got mad, because he thought I was going to quit and that got me motivated to reach First Class and then Star, Life and finally achieving the rank of Eagle.

Growing up in a Christian home and attending Sunday school and church, I can count my ministers as being mentors; Dr. Kyle Hazelton, Dr. John Wilkes, Reverend Roland Weiser, and Dr. Fish.

The JOE COOK Steam Towboat

Dad had two friends who were involved in river operations; John Sutherland and Joe Cook. John worked for Union Carbide, but maintained a First Class Pilot’s License which he earned while working for W.Va. Sand & Gravel; a family business. He always said if things got bad on the bank he could always return to the river and work under his license. That got my attention while in Junior High School. Joe Cook was a major owner of Pfaff & Smith Builders Supply and would talk about his river experiences and the steam towboat JOE COOK. Pfaff & Smith had a small wooden hull sternwheel towboat that I got to work on without pay in my Junior and Senior High years and began learning to handle a towboat. That helped the “river bug” bite harder.

S.D. Hoag

As the river exposure grew, beginning somewhere in Junior High School I started subscribing to The Waterways Journal and got interested in river history. During one of our family river vacations, we met Steve Hoag, owner of the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta who said I needed to meet Capt. Frederick Way, Jr. who was the President of the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen and famous riverman and river historian. I count time spent around Fred Way and Capt. Ross Rogers from Coraopolis, Pa., river surveyor and licensed Master who also had worked on the rivers in South America, as great experiences. Those two people had lots of river information which they passed on to me who was eager to learn anything I could about the river. From the Waterways Journal I learned Hershel W. Burford was writing Steam Towboats on the Kanawha and he let me assist in that project while I was in High School.

Capt. Fred Way, Jr.

While attending Marietta College, I had to do something to help pay my way through school. So I wrote two companies letters inquiring about summer jobs. Bob Hartman from Amherst Coal Company replied and said I had an opportunity to come aboard their MV J. S. LEWIS for the summer. I was assigned as a striker in the engine room and flunky in the galley. My first mentor there was Jim Bentley, their Port Engineer, who was a Chief in the Navy. The other engineers on board were Joe Sizemore, Duff Sullivan and Tom Moore. All three served as good teachers. Captain on the J. S. LEWIS was James Lilly and I would call him an “egg shell” pilot, because he could do most anything with a tow and boat and you wouldn’t even feel him land. He often would round to with a tow sticking the head up inside the Little Miami River and has also rounded to above the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati before going into the Hatfield Landing at the foot of Baymiller Street.

After graduation from college, I went to work for Amherst Coal Company and in addition to Bob Hartman who gave me my first opportunity to earn a paycheck, another great mentor was Charles T. Jones. As a young boy I had heard of the river vacations he would take on the LAURA J up the Kentucky River and on the Ohio River. Mr. Jones was an intelligent hard worker who could communicate with anybody on any topic from deckhand to international heads of state. He was truly a student of people, an inspiring leader, and I am fortunate to have worked for him at Amherst.

I want to thank RiverWorks Discovery for allowing me to share my mentors."

We would like to help YOU tell the story of your mentor to our community! Who helped make you, you? When was the first time they trusted you? What piece of advice do you come back to, over and over? Why did their style of leadership stick with you? Sharing the journey of your experiences can encourage others to follow your lead—to step up, become a mentor themselves, or reflect on the guidance they’re receiving right now! To find out more or to submit your personal experience for Mentor Monday, contact Andra at

Posted by Andra Olney-Larson at 07:30