The 39th annual meeting and golf outing of the Illinois River Association—held July 10 at the Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont, Ill.—included a surprise this year. About 425 attendees looked on with pleasure and pride as Del Wilkins was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. It was only the third lifetime achievement award given in the association’s history.
Wilkins has served as vice president of northern operations and business development for Canal Barge Company Inc. since 2007. In 2012, he was appointed to the additional position of president of Illinois Marine Towing (IMT), a wholly owned subsidiary of Canal Barge Company that provides towing, fleeting and shipyard services along the Illinois Waterway
Before joining Canal Barge Company, Wilkins worked in executive leadership roles with American Commercial Lines LLC and National Marine Inc. He started his career with Dravo Corporation in Pittsburgh.
Sean Gerrity, chief operating officer of Midwest Tankerman Inc. and president of the Illinois River Association and organizer of the event for the past 36 years, told The Waterways Journal, “The Illinois River Association lifetime achievement award is given to a person who has made a major contribution to the Chicago area marine industry and the Illinois River. Del is a leader in our industry who has helped benefit the Chicago area waterway and our industry as a whole.”
According to Gerrity, the surprise was complete. The main remarks were delivered by Merritt Lane, president and CEO of Canal Barge Company.
Wishbone, Backbone And Funny Bone
Lane said he “leapt at the opportunity to be a part of honoring my friend.” Lane described Wilkins as “one of our most valuable Canal Barge teammates,” adding, “We’ve been through a lot together and he’s taught me so much. Our passion for the industry and our relentless pursuit of excellence have proven to be well-matched.”
“That great philosopher Reba McIntire once said, ‘To succeed in life you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.’ Del clearly has all three. He has dreamed big dreams, been tenacious in pursuing them and has always maintained a great sense of humor regardless of the circumstances,” said Lane.
Lane spoke of the importance of Wilkins’ grandfather, and of his early career in the industry. “After graduating from Pitt, Del started his career with Dravo Corporation, the famous conglomerate that was the cradle of many of our industry’s future leaders. After the merger with National Marine Service that created National Marine, Del was sent to Chicagoland to run the Lemont operation in an era that was dominated by folks named Adams, Egan, Spivey, Shriner, Hannah, and let’s not forget, the legendary Captain Barnaby. Del proved yet again his amazing ability to learn and adapt, and soon Chicago became his adopted new home.”
During his tenure at ACL, Wilkins served as president and executive director of ACBL Hidrovias, S.A., where he spent 14 years in South America in the area of project start-up and infrastructure development in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.
“His international experience is truly unique,” said Lane. “His business development and consulting missions have even taken him to Europe, Africa and China…and since he has been with Canal Barge, he landed us a nice contract in Columbia.
“I had followed his career for decades and, truth be told, tried unsuccessfully to hire him several times. After Del returned to ACBL’s headquarters he was commuting between there and his home in Beverly where his beloved wife Betsy and young son Tad were living.
“When I learned that his circumstances in Jeffersonville had changed, I immediately contacted him. I had a modest, but hopefully compelling offer in mind for him. I knew I had the right guy and hoped I had the right proposition for him. I told him about the importance of the Illinois River to our company and that we were developing a state-of-the art liquid bulk terminal in Channahon that, I believed, could be an exceptional business opportunity under strong leadership.
“Since Del joined our company, we have grown the terminal into a highly utilized multi-modal facility with 760,000 barrels of storage and a full-service laboratory on site. When our good friend Leo Cattoni decided it was time to sell Illinois Marine Towing [which Canal Barge purchased in 2008], we were able to proceed with confidence in making a deal, because we knew we had a knowledgeable and engaged leader in Del. Leo sold us a fine company and, under Del’s leadership, it has become stronger and more diverse in our service offerings. We subsequently acquired the Artco’s Lemont operation solidifying IMT’s market leading position. I’d say that the modest proposal I made to Del has worked out pretty well!”
Lane didn’t forget to mention Wilkins’ service to the industry. He has worked as an advisor to a former governor and been “the go-to industry leader on the issues surrounding Asian carp.” He has served as chairman of AWO’s Midwestern Region and served on AWO’s executive committee for many years. “His integrity, common sense, knowledge and charisma always seems to carry the day, whether with his teammates, customers our elected officials,” said Lane.
Lane concluded, “I have come to understand that ‘Del’ is not just his name, but it is an ‘action verb’! He is in perpetual motion and is a joy to watch as he excels in all aspects of his life…effective business and civic leader, loving family man and uplifting mentor to so many. So, for all of these reasons, I hope that you agree that our good friend Del is a very deserving choice for the Illinois River Association’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Caption for top photo: The Illinois River Association held its 39th annual meeting and golf outing July 10 in Lemont, Ill. During the awards ceremony, the association surprised Del Wilkins, left, with a lifetime achievement award, only the third such award in the association’s history. Canal Barge President Merritt Lane, at the microphone, describes Wilkins’ career while Sean Gerrity, chief operating officer of Midwest Tankermen and president of the organization, looks on. (Photo by Cheryl Eurick)