Riverview Boat Store & Tug Service, a provider of groceries, supplies and tug assistance based at Mile 557 on the Upper Mississippi River in Bellevue, Iowa, celebrated its 25th anniversary recently with a party for employees, customers and vendors at Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Iowa. Approximately 175 people attended.
The company was founded in 1998 by Capts. Don Dixon and Terry Putman, whose son Jeremy stepped in after his father’s death in 2013. Jeremy recalled a morning ritual at his father’s house that led to the company’s founding.
“A group of his friends from around Bellevue would sit around the dining room table drinking pots and pots of Folgers coffee brewed from my dad’s Bunn coffee maker, which had made thousands of pots of coffee without ever washing the pot,” he said. “During one of those morning sessions they discussed opening a boat store.”
Thus, in the spring of that year, they went on to open the Riverview Boat Store. “My dad helped with the business for several years before merging with another boat store (Dubuque Boat Store). He wound up selling his half of the business for a lifetime supply of Vienna sausages and Ritz crackers,” Jeremy said.
Prior to that, though, Jeremy’s father, twice awarded a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, had started up a boat store (Bellevue Boat Store), but it was only in business a year or two before several customers filed for bankruptcy, forcing the boat store to fold and Putman’s parents to divorce. His mother eventually met a captain at Iowa Marine, Jeremy said, and for several years “when I was 4, my mother, along with my two siblings and I, were allowed to live on one of the boats.” As a teenager, for several summers, Jeremy rode the excursion boats Twilight and Julia Belle Swain. “The hours of conversation with owner Capt. Kevin Stier and getting to steer those boats formed my love of the river,” he said.
Jeremy graduated from Bellevue High School in 1995 with no plans for college. Instead, following his father’s footsteps, he said, he “jumped on a line haul vessel,” the Conti-Nan, with Capt. Billy Thetford and pilot Stiltz in charge. After several trips for Conti Carriers, he decided to try working the fleets in St. Paul, first for Olympic Marine. He ended up in Hennepin, Ill., working the fleets during the winter months, when he met Mark Judd, owner of the Hennepin Boat Market, who would become one of his mentors.
“In 1999, I married Julie, who was working for the local grocery store that pulled the orders for river traffic. Fast forward a few years, the co-owner of the boat store, Capt. Dixon, reached out to me to see if Julie and I would like to purchase Riverview Boat Store.”
After working at the boat store the first year, Jeremy and Julie bought Dixon’s half of the business. The following year, they bought out his partner, Jeff Kissell.
“We had a lot to learn about running a business,” Putman said. Being a business owner was not as easy as they thought it would be and hiring the first employee was not an easy task, but luck was with them. The first hire, “an old, retired guy nicknamed Julio,” was the hardest worker Jeremy had ever met. “It took three people to replace him,” said Putman.
Over the 25 years, many family members would work in the family business: Julie’s father Bill, Jeremy’s mother Jean, brother Bill, Aunt Angie, Uncle Ed, stepsister Dorie, nephews Shane, Shawn and Colton, and their son Alex.
As for Riverview Boat Store, Jeremy brought in his brother Bill O’Donnell to help. “Bill started calling boats and soon the business was on a growth trend we had never seen before,” he said. As it grew, they expanded into the lock-assist business, in addition to providing groceries and other necessities.
Jeremy especially singled out Kevin Stier and Casey Herschler of North American Consultants for their “invaluable contributions.” Kevin had allowed the Putmans’ son Alex—who had just received his master of towing and 200-ton master licenses—the same opportunity, that is, to ride on hundreds of trips over the past 10 years.
“We are proud and excited he is following in the footsteps of the family business,” Jeremy said.
Riverview operates out of Locks 2 through 8, and locks 12 and 13 on the Upper Miss. The company now has 12 boats ranging from 750 to 3,000 hp.
Meanwhile, back to Riverview’s 25th anniversary celebration, Putman presented several awards, including one to Riverview co-founder Dixon, who was “very surprised and honored to accept the award.” Putman also presented a 15-year service award to Capt. Shawn Williams and a 10-year service award to Capt. Brandon Phillips. Further, he recognized Capt. Mike Napper for excellence in the workplace and his contribution to the company’s growth.
Other award recipients included Jerry Feltes, Riverview Boat Store warehouse manager; Capt. Anson Bowe, a family friend of the Putmans who, for over a span of 15 years, has worked with three generations of Putmans; and “Brother Bill” O’Donnell, who is Jeremy Putman’s business consultant.
After the awards, Putman unveiled the name of the company’s recent vessel acquisitions: the 3,200 hp. Far West, renamed Western Enterprise by Riverview Capt. Erik Baldwin, and the 1,200 hp. Harlan Richardson, renamed H. Michael Yuhas after a local photographer known for his pictures of tugs and towboats.
The Western Enterprise is a twin-screw towboat built in 1970 by Superior Boat Works in Greenville, Miss. Measuring 100 by 30 feet, it is powered by GM 12-645E2 diesels having a total of 3,200 hp.
The Yuhas was built by Louis G. Ortis Boat Company in Krotz Springs, La. in 1978 as the mv. Gulf Express for Gulf Lake Marine Inc. It is 60 feet long by 24 feet wide and has 1,260 hp. from twin Mitsubishi S6R diesels that were installed in 2012. The vessel’s namesake is a Trempealeau, Wis., photographer.
Most recently, Putman was elected president of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association, which is an alliance of waterways operators, shippers and other waterway interests whose mission is to “promote the economic and environmental benefits of water transportation in the upper Midwest.”
Caption for top photo: The mv. H. Michael Yuhas. (Photo by Mark Charles)
For more photos from the celebration, please click on the slideshow below: