Rollin’ on the River

The Eckstein family channels their love of the waterways in EVERY way

Tom Sawyer had to employ some “whitewash” techniques to manipulate his young compatriots to join him on the fence in the classic Twain tale. But the Eckstein sons, Grant, 10; Jake, 11; and Justin, 13, didn’t need much arm-twisting to get in on the “shore-washing” event at the Paducah riverfront these last few years. The annual clean-up is sponsored by local marine companies and organizations.


I think the river clean-up is a very important cause.Chad tells an amazing story that inspires people tocontinue his work even when there isn’t an organized effort. I completely support Chad and his cause.

—Justin Eckstein


But there was one primary motivator. His name is Chad Pregracke and he has become the national face of inland waterway environmentalism.

“I met Chad about 10 years ago,” says John Eckstein, president of MarquetteTransportation Company. “We immediately hit it off and we’ve been personal friends ever since. My company has been supportive of Chad’s work with Living Lands & Waters and my family has become big fans of his mission to clean up our rivers.”

Chad Pregracke grew up spending lots of time on, in, and around the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. During summer breaks from high school and college, Chad worked on the river and often camped on the islands and shorelines of the two rivers. It was during this time that Chad began to realize how neglected the rivers were, with the unsightly and toxic accumulation of trash along their banks. At the age of 17, he started making calls to government agencies to notify them of the problem, assuming someone would take care of it. Year after year passed by and the problem only worsened. In1997 Chad decided that, if no one else was going to clean up the river, he would. One river, one piece of garbage at a time. In 1998 Chad founded Living Lands & Waters, a not-for-profit organization based in East Moline, Illinois, dedicated to cleaning up and preserving the nation’s rivers. Today, the organization has grown to include 10 full-time employees and a fleet of four barges, a towboat, six workboats, and two skid steers. Marquette Transportation actually gave Chad the use of one of their own barges early on until the organization was able to acquire the necessary elements of its own fleet.

“Chad just has one of those personalities that makes you as enthusiastic about the work as he is,” adds Eckstein. “He’s very passionate about what he’s doing.” And many have taken note of his good work.

His vision and charisma have garnered him an abundance of awards and honors over the years. Most notably, Chad was the recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service in June 2002, America’s version of the Nobel Prize. Chad accepted the award in the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. with other award recipients: Rudy Giuliani, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Lilly Tartikoff.

“Our family’s business relies on the nation’s rivers,” Eckstein says. “I am really impressed with a guy who cares so much about the well-being of our inland waterways that he’s devoted his life’s work to it. We’re really glad we can support his organization with both our contributions and our on-site efforts here in our hometown.”

The Eckstein sons and mother, Loree, agree. “I think the boys have been able to see first-hand what a difference one person can make. Chad truly started this effort on his own and through his passion for the rivers has had a national impact on the clean-up of this country’s waterways. He’s been a really positive influence on the way our sons view their own future opportunities to effect change in the world.”

Paducah Bank is the first to applaud such community-minded efforts, both by local corporate citizens like Marquette Transportation and by individuals like the Eckstein family. “This is the kind of ‘giving back’ that Paducah Bank’s philosophy is built on. We are pleased that we can honor this kind of effort in the magazine,” says Wally Bateman, President of Paducah Bank. “Paducah is so very fortunate to have family-owned businesses like Marquette in our midst, who not only invest in our local economy but also make lasting contributions to our way of life.”