Blessey Christens Mv. Brenda Ann Cacioppo

By Capt. Richard Eberhardt

How does a boat owner show appreciation to a loyal 17-year shore-side employee who has saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars by catching billing errors and smaller issues like discovering supplies destined for a new build but sent to a former employee’s home?

If you’re Walter Blessey, owner of Harahan, La.-based Blessey Marine Services, you name a boat for the employee.

So alongside the names of senators, congressmen, governors, the company chief financial officer and legendary boat captains, appears the name Brenda Ann Cacioppo from the finance department.

The February 3 christening was a truly emotional event for the single mom who, “when cut, bleeds Blessey green,” as Walter Blessey said. Blessey runs his company as a family business and it creates an uncommon loyalty among the ranks. He is known for spending Christmas mornings calling each boat to wish the crew Merry Christmas, and calling again in the afternoon with Yuletide greetings for the back watch.

“In my heart, I have come to realize what a special person Walter is,” Cacioppo told The Waterways Journal, still emotional more than a week after the event. “I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with Blessey Marine and it is hard to put into words the respect and honor I have for him and the company, which is truly a family.”

A couple of years ago, the company lost an employee, and it “was like losing a brother,” Cacioppo said. It was a story she wanted to tell in detail at the ceremony, but would have brought up too much emotion for her to get through it.

She credits Pat Voss, the company chief financial officer, with mentoring her and challenging her to excel.

“You’re throwing me overboard,” Cacioppo laughed as she said she would tell Voss, more than once, when he tasked her with new responsibilities. “I love to be challenged, but his response was always, ‘Sink or swim.’ It really helped me to grow and I appreciate the confidence he has in me.”

Each Blessey christening has its own signature family moment. During a recent christening, the captain left the podium to propose to his girlfriend, as Walter and wife Jane Ann looked on nervously. A “no” could have caused the company to lose a valued captain if he threw himself overboard in embarrassment. Her “yes” answer saved the day, and added another member to the Blessey family.

For Cacioppo, the family moment occurred when her son Destin spoke. Not nervous in front of some 200 people attending the ceremony, he spoke of his mother’s devotion—and her “uncanny gift to embarrass me in public.”

He told of his first date with a “girl I really cared about.” When mom picked them up, her first question to his cherished date was, “Did he kiss you?” It brought the house down.

Destin is a graduate student in business and works at Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. His goal is to become a minister. He clearly was enjoying his mom’s day in the spotlight.

“I am proud of my son and I wanted Walter to name the boat for him,” Cacioppo said. “No, mom, you earned it, the boat should carry your name after the years of sacrifice I saw you give for me,” Destin said. As he sat down next to his mother after speaking, she could be seen dabbing tears of pride from her eyes.

Moving the presentations inside the New Orleans Riverfront Hilton because of the biting chill in the wind, Blessey spoke in front of a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows with the mv. Brenda Ann Cacioppo moored to the dock in the background.

“Tenacious” and “bulldog,” were only some of the words he used to describe Cacioppo’s work ethic. Jane Ann Blessey presented the customary company gift to the honoree. But when it was Brenda’s turn to speak, she began by presenting a bouquet of flowers to Jane Ann and thanking her for “allowing me to be part of the Blessey family.” And, of course, there were hugs and a few more tears.

“Brenda has a heart as big as this river, and will do anything to help a friend and even a stranger,” Blessey said.

“We can all say a lot of great things about Brenda,” added Clark Todd, company president and husband of Laura Blessey Todd, Walter’s daughter. “But topping the list is, she is a wonderful mom.”

Built At A&B Industries

The Brenda Ann Cacioppo is the fifth boat A&B Industries of Morgan City Inc. has built for Blessey Marine Services, joining a fleet that now numbers 73 inland pushboats. At 66 feet, eight inches in length with a beam of 30 feet, it is powered by twin QSK 19-M Cummins diesel engines producing a combined 1,350 hp.

A&B Industries general manager Sean Torgrimson Sr. thanked Blessey for the opportunity to build the boats, and talked about some of the Brenda’s features, including an elongated aft window in the wheelhouse that allows the pilot an unobstructed view of the stern. Solid oak handrails surround the inside access stairway and add a nice touch.

Auxiliary power is supplied by two 6BTA 5.9DCMJ 60 kw. Cummins engines, which, like the mains, were supplied by Cummins Mid-South.

Karl Senner Inc. of St. Rose, La., supplied the Reintjes gear boxes, model WAF 364 with a 6.048:1 ratio, turning Kahlenberg 66- by 52-inch, four-blade CF-3 stainless steel, workhorse-style propellers.

Steering controls for the follow-up and non-follow-up steering and flanking system were by Hydra Force LLC. Beier Radio and Baton Rouge Marine Electrical Services supplied the electronics and navigation equipment and alarm systems. The CO2 fire-suppression system was furnished by Herbert S. Hiller.

Dale’s Welding of Plaquemines built and installed the aluminum doors throughout.

The boat holds 26,509 gallons of fuel, 22,502 gallons of water and 210 gallons of lube oil. It was designed by Parfait Marine Designs to meet zero-discharge standards. On board are five staterooms with bunks for seven crewmembers. As is customary on nicely appointed Blessey boats, galley countertops are granite.

Crew attending the ceremony included Capt. Charles “Charlie” Jones of Aransas Pass, Texas; Chuck Suire, pilot; Chris Brown and Devin Malone, tankermen; and Jeremy Page, deckhand. Capt. Jones accepted the ship’s Bible from the Rev. Harry Bugler, who then christened the boat.

As the day of the christening approached, Cacioppo said she got really nervous, knowing she would have to speak in front of so many Blessey employees. Friends would offer support.

“You have to ‘woman-up,’” one told Brenda. “I did. I told all those people how much they mean to me—and I cried,” she said.

Brenda Cacioppo Christening

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