William D. Bowell, the riverboat captain who for decades brought pleasure to millions of passengers in the Twin Cities on his Padelford vessels, has died.
Bowell, whose bushy, white mustache and captain's cap made a fitting face for public-excursion riverboating on the Mississippi, founded Padelford in 1969. He operated the boats that made him a millionaire until his retirement in 2001, turning the company over to family members.
"When you think about when he started the business and how the cities had turned their backs on the river, he really helped to promote the river," Gasparado said Wednesday.
The Padelford's three vessels resume the seasonal 90-minute tours Saturday.
"On the river, there's a thing that's called Captain's Salute," Gasparado said, "one long blast, followed by two short blasts. We'll give him a Captain's Salute."
Padelford also partners with the University of Minnesota in operating the Centennial Showboat, which is permanently moored at Harriet Island in downtown St. Paul.
In 2000, a welder's torch ignited a blaze on the U's Centennial Showboat that destroyed the 100-year-old vessel. Padelford volunteered to build a replacement boat within the university's budget limitations and ended up contributing $300,000 to the project. The new showboat, with a 225-seat theater, put on its first show on July 4, 2002.
Throughout his life, Bowell owned or operated about two dozen vessels of various shapes, sizes and functions.
In 2005, he published his memoirs, "Ol' Man River: Memoirs of a Riverboat Captain."
The next year, a life-threatening blood clot led to the amputation of his left leg. Anticipating arrival of his artificial limb, he said: "I've always wanted a peg leg."
At age 20, he volunteered for the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. As a paratrooper, he jumped into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He received the French Croix de Guerre, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
A Macalester College graduate, Bowell worked in publishing and printing before founding Padelford.
A visitation has been scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Bradshaw Funeral Home in Stillwater. Memorial services are pending.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
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