Guttenberg native oversees river royalty fleet

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A new riverboat passed through Guttenberg last week on its maiden voyage from New Orleans to Red Wing, Minn. The American Duchess is the latest addition to the American Queen Steamboat Co. fleet. Guttenberg native Gary Frommelt accompanied the boat on its inaugural journey. See story below. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)

  By Shelia Tomkins

Gary Frommelt, a native of Guttenberg who is now vice-president of marine operations for the American Queen Steamboat Co., recently accompanied the American Duchess riverboat on its maiden voyage, a round-trip journey from New Orleans to Red Wing, Minn.

On Wednesday evening, Sept. 6, the Duchess passed through Guttenberg on its downstream journey. Frommelt, along with his sister, Jane Staebler, and cousin, Linda Dubbels Frangipane, were on the visitor platform at Lock and Dam 10 to watch the majestic boat enter the locks about 8:30 p.m. 

A handful of curious onlookers had a birdseye view of the boat and its passengers, catching glimpses of the sumptuous dining room, back veranda terrace, and loft suites. Passengers on the deck conversed with people on the observation platform, and Frommelt answered questions from those who realized he was "with the boat."

Following its christening on Aug. 14, the American Duchess headed north on its maiden voyage. Frommelt, who had planned to ride on the boat, ended up accompanying it by car due to the fact that the cruise was sold out.

The American Duchess was converted this year from the former Bettendorf Casino boat, originally built in 1995 by the Bollinger Shipyard in Louisiana and refurbished by the same company.

It is the first all-suite luxury riverboat on the river, and features private veranda suits as well as some two-story loft suites. Chefs offer cuisine using local ingredients when possible, and passengers enjoy entertainment and other amenities. 

The boat can comfortably accommodate 160 passengers and a crew of 82. It travels at a pace of 6-10 mph, powered by three 680-hp motors. It is 314 feet long, 100 feet wide and draws eight feet of water. Wider but not as tall as other riverboats that ply the Mississippi, there was a scant five feet of clearance on each side as it entered Lock 10.  

Frommelt has been with the AQSC company since 2015. Prior to that he was vice-president of marine operations for Entertainment Cruises, where he was responsible for 31 boats in eight major cities, including Chicago, Boston, New York and Fort Lauderdale.

As part of his current duties for AQSC, he is responsible for the company's three boats: the American Empress which can handle 230 passengers, the American Queen with its 410 passengers and now the American Duchess. Frommelt oversees the captains, pilots, and engineers, along with Coast Guard compliance, safety, ship repairs and renovations

As the American Duchess left Lock 10 Wednesday evening, Frommelt said farewell to his relatives and continued his road trip to Dubuque, where he was scheduled the give a passenger talk on a topic he knows well — the pearl button industry on the Upper Mississippi. His grandfather was manager of a button-cutting factory in Guttenberg for 50 years. Frommelt's sister, Karen Sudmeier, who resides in Dubuque, attended the presentation.

Frommelt resides in Webster Groves, Mo., though his office is in Tennesse and he frequently rides the steamboats in the AQSC fleet. He and his wife, Connie, are the parents of three grown children. Frommelt is the son of the late Cliff and Janice Frommelt.

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