Setting Sail: Harrisburg’s new riverboat leader follows his father’s course.

Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat

Fittingly, Kim Rice landed on a nautical term to describe the similarities between her and her late father, former Dauphin County Commissioner Fred Rice.

“We’re both boat rockers,” she said. “We’re not afraid to rock the boat.”

It was exactly this fearlessness that prompted Fred, in the early 90s, to become the second chairman of the board of directors of the riverboat Pride of the Susquehanna. And it’s the same fearlessness that now allows his daughter Kim to follow in his wake.

Kim said her late father inspired her own journey.

Fred Rice was outgoing, people-driven and knew just about everyone, she said. His hunting cabins in Dauphin and Perry counties were full of friends, laughter and fond memories.

“He lived his life to the fullest,” Kim said.

He was a member of the Lions Club and the Safari Club, was appointed by Governor Tom Ridge to the Mid-Atlantic Fish Commission, and chaired the Lower Paxton Republican Committee. A veteran of the US Army during the Korean War, he was an excellent insurance and investment consultant.

When Dauphin County Commissioner Jack Minnich resigned to become court administrator in 1985, county judges selected Rice to replace him, and his journey to launch the boat began.

“He was so excited about it,” Kim said, citing his father’s friendship with one of the riverboat’s founding members, Mike Trephan.

“My dad was really good at rolling and negotiating to get people to do things for him,” Kim recalled with a laugh.

The late luxury home builder, Stan Custer Sr., built benches. Then-mayor Steve Reed offered to help. And his list of allies is growing.

Fast forward over 30 years. After former board chair, local attorney Deb Donahue, approached her in 2019, Kim joined the board. Their general manager had just resigned and a new general manager only lasted a few weeks.

“Deb and I did everything,” recalls Kim, who also has a full-time job with the Commonwealth.

Donahue, whose father Bruce Miller was also a notable local leader, served as chairman of the board from 2018 to 2021. Kim took the helm late last year.

As Pride’s first female president, Donahue had to navigate difficult waters including a pandemic, funding shortfalls, board resignations, internal power struggles, maintenance issues, and more. Kim inherited much the same.

“I love the river boat. I like riding on it,” she said. “I love going to City Island. I love going to meetings there. It brings me closer to my father. He loved the river and he loved the pride of the Susquehanna. I am honored to do so.

She is humbled by her father’s legacy.

“I can’t match my dad and his contacts,” she said.

rough waters

The past few years have been difficult for Pride. In 2018, high water repeatedly stranded the riverboat, which was just beginning to recover when the pandemic hit.

Board members often paid out of pocket for the boat’s operation and repairs, Kim said,

“My goal is to make him self-sufficient and not be in danger,” she said.

Therefore, she plans to focus on grant writing, marketing, board expansion, and fundraising. Exciting new youth programs also await on the dock.

She said COVID-19 and its two years of restrictions hit every nonprofit like a hole in the hull. In the first year of the pandemic, they had to operate at a limit of 25 people instead of 110, adhering to restrictions on bars and restaurants as they serve alcohol.

“We lost our shirt to cover the cost of crew and fuel,” Kim said candidly, noting the $300 an hour to run the boat.

This year, she noted, the board has already secured a gaming grant from Dauphin County Commissioners for $75,000. However, this is not enough to help them swim long term.

“This boat is 34 years old and there are always things to fix,” she said.

To help maintain the pride, she works with new board member Lorri Ribbans to utilize the skills of students at Dauphin County Technical School.

This year, Kim and her board’s plans for the Riverboat include a first-ever 5K “Float the Boat” walk and run for the Riverboat on Sunday, May 15. Sponsors, runners and walkers are always wanted.

A popular cruise for veterans will take place on May 30, over Memorial Day weekend, and is free for veterans.

Public cruises will resume in May, weekends only, said Melissa Snyder of Daza Development, which helps with the nonprofit’s day-to-day operations.

In June, the Riverboat is scheduled to begin its week-long and weekend-long public cruises. From June, they will also have:

  • “Princess” and “Super-Heroes” cruises for children
  • River School on Saturday mornings
  • Murder Mystery Dinners
  • “Dinner on the river”
  • Wine on Wednesday
  • Jazz cruises and other music.

Still in preparation, “Bourbon on the Boat” (bourbon tasting cruise) and “Trivia Tuesday”.

Popular country singer Garrett Shultz is set to take part in a major fundraiser, Boat-toberfest, in October. A tribute to the late board member, attorney Bill Cornell, is also planned.

Kim said a leader can’t be afraid to ask for help, so she is. The river boat needs welders, sponsors and donors.

When Kim was cleaning up her parents’ things, she found a handprint of Nick Ruggieri from the riverboat, signed by Captain Jack and two other captains as a thank you for her father’s service.

The river boat can still be buffeted by rough waters. However, the impression reminds him that rocking the boat can keep them sailing smoothly on the Susquehanna for years to come.

The Pride of the Susquehanna departs from City Island, Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.hbgriverboat.org.

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Denise W. Whigham