TVIB To Honor George Foster With Inaugural Mike Rushing Legacy Service Award

George Foster
George Foster

Last year at the Inland Marine Expo (IMX), The Waterways Journal presented the annual IMX Achievement Award posthumously to the late Mike Rushing, founder of Rushing Marine Service and a founder of the Towing Vessel Inspection Bureau (TVIB), who lived out his company motto “We are here to help,” in myriad ways.

This year at IMX 2024, set for May 29–31 in Nashville, Tenn., The Waterways Journal will honor all past recipients of the IMX Achievement Award and welcome representatives of TVIB to the stage as they present the inaugural Mike Rushing Legacy Service Award. The award recognizes an individual who serves as a role model for compassion, service and passion, both in the community and the maritime industry, and exhibits the core principles of community service, professional excellence and mentorship.

“The 2023 IMX Achievement Award dovetails nicely with the new award that carries a legendary name,” said Nelson Spencer Jr., publisher of The Waterways Journal. “When we heard of TVIB’s intention, we were sold on the idea and excited to learn more. When we saw how strong the nominees were and how professional the process was, we were in with both feet first. It is our privilege to have a small role in TVIB’s duly named and very well-thought-out award.”

Fittingly, the first recipient of the Mike Rushing Legacy Service Award will be a dear friend of Rushing and a river legend in his own right: George Foster.

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“I have had the pleasure of working with George in many capacities over the past 25 years,” said Todd Rushing, son of Mike Rushing, who leads Rushing Marine Service. “He is one of the most caring and trustworthy people I have ever been around. My dad thought the world of George and would be very happy that he will be receiving this award.”

Foster got his start in the maritime industry in 1964 after his sophomore year at Central Missouri State University, when he spent the summer working as a deckhand for Bussen Quarries near St. Louis. Soon, he earned his pilot’s license, then took a job as vice president of operations for a subsidiary. At the same time, Foster and a high school friend, Tom Rollins, began buying and rehabbing boats. By 1976, they’d saved enough money to launch a fleeting and harbor business in St. Louis, which they named Jefferson Barracks Marine Service. The pair went on to buy Barbour Shipyard, or Barbour JB Shipyard. Foster eventually bought the operations side of the business from Rollins and changed the name to JB Marine Service Inc.

Beyond his business, Foster started the hugely successful not-for-profit JB Marine Soccer Club. He’s also an avid fly fisherman. Foster is a past president of the St. Louis Harbor Association and previously served as chairman of The American Waterways Operators (AWO). In 2015, he received the River Bell Award by the Seamen’s Church Institute.

“George is one-of-a-kind,” said Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services in St. Paul, Minn. “Since he first started on the river, he has dedicated his career to improving our industry in any way he could. He has always been extremely generous to others with his time, his knowledge and his resources. Along the way, he has welcomed many to the industry, selflessly aiding in their career growth while sharing his love of the river. George has long been a strong advocate of the smaller operators and their people. At the same time, he has worked side-by-side with titans of the industry to address significant issues and deal with many times of severe operating conditions. He has led the leaders but never forgotten the new deckhand during their first few days of stepping on a towboat. George Foster is a riverman’s riverman.”

George Leavell, executive vice president of Memphis, Tenn.-based Wepfer Marine, praised Foster for always remembering his roots and helping others.

“George Foster epitomizes the American Dream,” Leavell said. “He started out on deck, worked while in college and ended up owning his own company. He did this through hard work, persistence and integrity. He never forgot where he came from, as evidenced by his commitment to make the marine industry safer and more efficient for all mariners. He has always been extremely generous with his time, money and effort to make the marine industry and his community better and safer for everyone involved.”

“I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the first Mike Rushing Legacy Service Award, and I know Mike is looking down from heaven beaming at this selection,” said Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO of AWO. “George Foster embodies leadership, service, generosity, dignity and decency. Like Mike, George is the kind of person whose humble, thoughtful, self-giving way of leading and living brings out the best in the people around him. I saw this again and again throughout George’s long tenure of leadership within AWO, where he served as Harbor Services Sector chairman, River Industry Executive Task Force chairman and chairman of the board, winning the respect, admiration and affection of AWO members, the AWO staff and the many government stakeholders with whom he worked.”

Carpenter praised Foster for setting an example for smaller companies and those in the inland harbor sector by demonstrating that they have a place and a voice within AWO leadership and are respected and essential to both AWO and the industry as a whole.

“That legacy continues as small members continue to take leadership roles and bring critical knowledge, experience and perspective to AWO’s work,” Carpenter said. “On a personal level, I consider myself blessed to have George as not only a mentor but a friend and role model.”

TVIB representatives will present the Mike Rushing Legacy Service Award to Foster during the closing session of IMX on May 31, which will also include the annual 40 Under 40 Awards presentation. More information on IMX 2024, including registration and a detailed schedule, is available at