Patella Stepping Down After 34 Years Serving WEDA
Nancy and Larry Patella at CONEXPO in Las Vegas in March.
In June, Commander (Ret.) Lawrence M. Patella will step down as executive director of the Western Dredging Association (WEDA), exactly 22 years after he became executive director and 34 years after taking his first committee position with WEDA.
The move is a natural progression. This was Commander Patella’s third career, following 31 years in the U.S. Navy and 20 years as manager of the Navigation Division at the Port of Portland, Oregon.
“We’ve had a good run,” Commander Patella said, referring to himself and his wife Nancy, who performs administrative duties for the organization. “I’m ready to step down,” he said.
And the WEDA Board of Directors now comprises individuals who are anxious to have a more hands-on role in running the organization.
“Many changes are happening,” Ram Mohan said. He was elected president of WEDA at the 2013 annual meeting. “Larry did a great job over the years, and now the board wants to be more active,” he said.
Always finding ways to help, Patella brought hundreds of lanyards to the WEDA booth, which was next to the main entrance at CONEXPO in March, saving attendees a long walk to the registration area.
When Commander Patella took over the job at the 13th annual WEDA meeting in Mobile, Alabama, in May 1992, he was given a salary, a budget for administrative aid, and the job of running the organization. He managed the memberships, sustaining memberships, dues and mailing list. He selected the venue for each annual meeting, visiting hotels and cities, making a selection, negotiating maximum services from the hotel, and making sure the contract was honored in every detail. He instituted the trade show at the annual meetings, which provided a draw for vendors and became a major source of revenue for the organization. He established all the awards, the first one being Dredger of the Year, which was awarded to George Watts at the 14th annual WEDA meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in May 1993. He encouraged the chapters to hold their own local meetings, rather than as sub-events at the WEDA annual meeting, which spurred the growth of the chapters, and created top-notch regional dredging events.
Patella helped and supported the Mexico Chapter, which met in Mexico City in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997. The leaders of that group retired or moved on after 1997, and the meetings were not continued. Larry and Nancy Patella managed mailings and bookings for those meetings, and also attended them all. Commander Patella worked with dredging people in Panama and Brazil to establish meetings in those countries, providing organizational support, including handling the mailings and other administrative tasks, and encouraging attendees and exhibitors from the U.S. and elsewhere to participate. He has attended every WEDA annual meeting since 1980, as well as most chapter meetings, and has helped the chapter officers when needed in dealing with hotels and in organizing the events.
Nancy Patella, besides helping in office administration, has taken charge of the accompanying persons program at each WEDA meeting, including organizing a daily breakfast and tours of the local area, which enables spouses and friends of the attendees to get to know each other.
The new board of directors plans to build on Commander Patella’s legacy.
“We’re re-branding the annual meeting to evolve with the times,” Mohan said. The new name is Dredging Summit & Expo, an apt name for an event of this size and importance.”
In addition, committees will be formed to handle various functions, each under the leadership of a board member.
The technical paper committee will continue as always, with Robert Ramsdell of GLDD taking Ram Mohan’s position as chair. Bob Randall of TAMU, Julie Rosati of USACE ERDC, Vicksburg, and Robert Wetta, president of DSC, are committee members.
An events committee will handle finding locations for the annual meetings. A membership survey Mohan conducted after the 2013 meeting showed that members want venues in dredging locations with dredging-related field trip possibilities, and those will be a priority for the venue choices. The committee will present its choice to the executive director, who will then organize the meeting, including the accompanying persons program.
An awards committee will handle the nominations and selection of the Dredger of the Year, the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Safety Award and Environmental Awards.
A communications committee will manage letters and emails going to the members, with emphasis on what information would be of the most interest, and at a pre-scheduled frequency.
The website committee will make additions and improvements that will increase the value of the site to the members.
The Board also wants to concentrate on Latin America, continuing Patella’s efforts.
There is a new group of people in Mexico who are interested in re-establishing that chapter, Mohan said. And the board wants to concentrate on other countries – Brazil, Panama and Colombia, as well as others, which will require active travel and interaction, he said.
Last year, Mohan sent the members an announcement that a new executive director was being sought.
“We have received eight or nine good candidates,” Mohan said on April 14. These candidates are being interviewed by a committee consisting of Ram Mohan, Marcel Hermans, Tom Verna, Alan Alcorn, Bill Hussin and Bob Wetta. That group will create a short list of two or three, and the selected individual will be announced at the meeting in Toronto in June.
Patella has been retained by WEDA as consultant to the new executive director and to the board members. During an interview in March at the Conexpo-ConAgg show in Las Vegas, he told IDR that already he is getting many requests for help and advice from the board members.
Conexpo-ConAgg takes place every three years at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and one of Patella’s self-assigned duties for the past 20-plus years has been to take the WEDA display to the event. Situated in the main lobby with the other trade organizations, the WEDA booth is a gathering place for aggregate dredgers and others interested in dredging, and provides a place where WEDA members can display their business cards, company literature and even equipment models. It is a source of dredging literature for the 150,000 attendees at the show. He touts WEDA to all who come within hearing range of the booth, and collects a surprising number of new memberships. One person renewed with cash this year, and refused a receipt, saying that he had seen Commander Patella at every Conexpo for 20 years, always alone, always working for the organization.
Patella Had Varied Career
Commander Patella began serving WEDA at the Ninth World Dredging Conference (WODCON) in Vancouver, B.C., in October 1980. WEDA members from the Western Hemisphere were gathered in a large speaker’s hall for a business meeting, and newly-elected president Carl Hakenjos asked for a volunteer to handle membership. After an uncomfortable silence, Larry Patella offered to do the job, and all breathed a sigh of gratitude.
By 1992, he had advanced to president of the organization, when Chairman William R. Murden tapped him for executive director, having filled many of the positions in the organization. In those years, he was managing the Navigation Division of the Port of Portland, and made improvements on the dredge and in operations that increased production of the 31-inch cutterhead dredge Portland by 43 percent. Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, filling the Columbia River and tributaries with abrasive volcanic ash, and in succeeding years Patella dealt with the extreme wear caused by dredging that ash, including installing rubber liners on the dredge pump, then reporting the results in a technical paper at a WEDA annual meeting.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1947 and in the next decade, advanced through the ranks to chief petty officer. In 1958, he was selected for Officer Candidate School and received a commission as ensign that June. From November 1965 through January 1976 he served as the commanding officer of three warships and as the executive officer of a fourth. During the evacuation of South Vietnam, he supervised the evacuation of some of the 35,000 South Vietnamese refugees at the end of the war.
Commander Patella’s Military awards include: Bronze Star with Combat V, four Navy Commendation medals, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Citation (2nd award), and Good Conduct Medal (3rd Award).
He retired from the Navy in February 1978.
Ram Mohan concluded: “I’ve known Larry Patella since 1993, and I know for sure that no other person has done so much for WEDA over the years, and has steered the organization to what it is today. Larry and his wife Nancy were always 100 percent for WEDA, and it is always a pleasure to see them at the annual conferences and elsewhere. Through this transition, I wish Larry and Nancy all the very best in their future endeavors and sincerely hope they will stay in touch with WEDA in the future.”Edit Module