Honored in 1995
In 1973, Robert and Ruth Kehl purchased the 150-passenger sternwheeler River Rogue and began what was to become a long and successful partnership with the river.
In 1977 the couple launched the 325-passenger Spirit of Dubuque and added a private charter service and a highly popular prime rib dinner to their river cruises. In 1984 Captains Bob and Ruth Kehl launched the $2 million, 800-passenger Mississippi Belle featuring day long cruises. In that same year, the Iowa Travel Council selected the Belle as Iowa’s top tourist attraction. Despite a nation wide recession and poor economic times in Dubuque, the Kehls’ river business boomed.
By 1986 the Kehls expanded their reach even further by christening the Mississippi Belle II and by moving the original Belle to the Quad Cities to begin excursion service to that area as well.
In 1991, the Kehls were among the first in the nation to operate a gaming boat, the Dubuque Casino Belle, bringing national and international attention to Iowa. The Kehls’ business continued to bloom, and they moved from operating riverboats to building riverboats.
In 1986, the Kehls received the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Persons of the Year award. This national award credited the Kehls with “reviving the economy of northeast Iowa” and recognized the personal risk of expanding their business in a period of economic difficulty in the Midwest.
In addition, the Kehls have been friends and advisors to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and the National Rivers Hall of Fame, donating a major building to the museum when it was first established in 1978.