Three generations lead Vidalia Dock and Storage

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2010

NATCHEZ — Bettye Jenkins, Carla Jenkins and Sarah Wisner share more than genes.

The three generations of ladies also share a bond with the Mississippi River that they all said has their blood laced with the muddy water of the Mississippi.

The ladies are the driving forces behind operations at Vidalia Dock and Storage and Two J Ranch in Vidalia.

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Bettye Jenkins, the matriarch of the group, began Vidalia Dock and Storage in 1956 with her husband. Her daughter, Carla, followed “as soon as she was old enough,” and Wisner, Carla’s daughter, joined the team following her May 2009 graduation from Mississippi State University.

The trio handles the day-to-day operations of both businesses.

“You never know what you are going to come in and find on your desk,” Wisner said. “You could come in and have to start weighing trucks or jump on the loader or do dispatch for boats coming in.

“It’s never boring.”

It is that “never still for long” kind of work that has its hooks in the ladies, Bettye Jenkins said.

“Working on the river, that’s just what we have always done,” she said. “The work and the river has always been exciting for us.”

For Carla Jenkins, the river hooked her at an early age.

“From the time I was old enough to get in the car and come to work with my dad, that is all I wanted to do,” Carla Jenkins said. “I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do.

“It gets in your blood and you really can’t get it out.”

Vidalia Dock and Storage provides tug services for area river facilities, services grain elevators and also has boats that work up and down the river. Two J Ranch sells limestone rocks for construction and landscaping projects of all sizes.

“We are family businesses,” Bettye Jenkins said. “We treat everyone like family.”

Wisner said after graduating college she thought she’d find a job outside of Vidalia or Natchez, but the pull of the river was just too strong.

During high school and college, Wisner would work holidays and summer vacations at the business, but never thought of making it a permanent job. After her May graduation, she wanted to come back to the family business “just for the summer,” she said.

But after a few months of working fulltime, Wisner said she could never think of working anywhere else.

“After being here for a few months, I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “I enjoyed the work too much and being here with family just made it better.”

Carla Jenkins said she learned the business from her parents and now having the chance to pass along the knowledge to her daughter “is a blessing.”

“Of all my three children, she is the one I least expected to come back and work on the river with us,” she said. “But you can tell it is in her now. She loves it and we love having her here.”

Wisner handles a good bit of the office work including billing, collections and safety management, but she said her job isn’t at all confined to her desk.

“We all have to learn to do everything, because you have to pick up for someone if they aren’t around,” she said. “You can’t just say ‘I don’t know how to do that’

“In our business, since there are just a few of us, you have to know how to do it all.”

Wisner learned to do much of her daily work, by shadowing her grandmother.

“She’s 83, works fulltime and is as sharp as a tack,” Wisner said. “I’m glad I can take some of her work load off of her, but she’ll still work every day.”

Jenkins said retirement or even working part time isn’t in her plans anytime soon.

“There is only so much bridge you can play,” she said. “I still enjoy the work and can still do it, so I see no reason to stop now.”