Lee Hendrix

Riverboat pilot and story teller

Captain Lee Hendrix combines twin careers as a steamboat pilot for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. and as a storyteller / historian.  Lee began working on Mississippi River towboats as a deckhand in 1972.  He survived the winter of 1972-1973 when it was so cold on the Illinois River that icicles clung to his beard and nearly froze his eyelashes shut.  His fingers numb from putting half-hitches into lines that twisted like pretzels from the cold as the boat "mule-trained" its way across Peoria Lake, Lee decided his towboating  career would be more comfortable, profitable, and lengthier in the warmth of the pilot house. 

Lee received his first U.S. Coast Guard pilot license in 1976 and began navigating long, heavy tows of barges into black  river nights on the Upper and Lower Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, and Cumberland Rivers.  Lee continued his towboat career until 1983, when he abruptly "retired" and traveled across the Atlantic to Europe where he resided until 1985. 

While in Europe, Lee became involved in outdoor, experiential education at the Hinterbrand Lodge near Berchtesgaden, Germany in the Alps. Upon returning to the United States, he decided to pursue an educational career and, working with the Student Leadership/Environmental Adventure Program, the Student Conservation Association, and the North Carolina Outward Bound School where his previous deckhand experience carrying heavy things on his back and having frozen eyelashes and fingers once again stood him in good stead. 

During this period of life (1985-92) Lee accomplished three milestones: 
1. He married Dianne Coombs. 
2. He became the father of Mitchell Hendrix. 
3. He received his MAT in communications from Webster University. 

During a folklore class at Webster in 1989, Lee dressed as a French Voyageur and told stories to his classmates. When none of the other students in the class bombed him with half-eaten pemmican, he decided to push his luck in front of other audiences and started a career in storytelling. 

Since then Lee has performed for hundreds of audiences ranging from four barefoot kids whose parents were away drinking homemade brew at a rendezvous to a group of museum directors and interpreters at the Mercantile Library in St. Louis.  He is also a regular performer at the St. Louis Storytelling Festival. Most of his work is done through Young Audiences in St. Louis and the Missouri Humanities Council.  His programs' main thrust is the river and how man has interacted with the river.  Lee's stories range from Mark Twain to his own personal experiences of 26 years spent on the river. 

In 1993, Lee went back to work on the river as a pilot of passenger vessels and has worked for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. since 1994.  Lee feels privileged to pilot three of the six remaining steamboats on the Mississippi River.  Lee is interested in all topics involving the history, culture, and environment of the river and is excited to have the opportunity to communicate with others about it.  He is also a periodic writer for "Big River" in Winona, Minnesota.  He resides in St. Louis with his wife, son, two dogs, cat, and gerbil. 

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Center for Global Environmental Education
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