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JIM O'NEILL   |   

Over the course of our lives, we each develop a reputation. Through the diverse interactions we have with others, over time, opinions about us form and shape our reputation. Eventually, opinions become a general belief that may precede us when we meet new people. We become known by our reputation and it is a big part of our legacy.

To purposefully create and maintain a great reputation is nearly impossible. One must be honest, kind, trustworthy, knowledgeable, respectful, and fair to virtually everyone he or she meets. Former employee, Jim O’Neill, built a great reputation by naturally exhibiting all these attributes throughout his long career at Brennan. We're honored to share Jim's story with you.

Early Days

Born and raised in Harpers Ferry, IA, Jim grew up on a farm with two brothers and a sister. The O’Neills were no strangers to hard work; they raised chickens, cows, and hogs. Every weekday morning, Jim got up by 4:00 am to help with farm work before heading to school; after school, he returned to the farm and worked until 10:00 pm at night. His weekend hours were no different.
Harpers Ferry Iowa


After graduating from Lansing’s St. George Catholic High School in 1967, Jim landed his first job: loading railroad cars in Cedar Rapids. Mike Manning, then a superintendent at Brennan, recruited Jim to join our team in late 1968.

1967 Jim ONeill Yearbook photo


Jim’s first job at Brennan was as a general laborer on a bridge project in Waterloo, IA. There, he worked under the tutelage of Ralph Brennan and superintendent Urban Strub, beginning a long and industrious career in pile driving. Soon, Jim was involved in some of our biggest jobs at the time, including the Dubuque Flood Wall project in 1970 and the nearly catastrophic Prairie Bridge project in 1974. On the latter job, Jim was working in a cofferdam when ice-loading caused an adjacent cofferdam to collapse and sent crew member Donnie Hammel Jr. into the frigid waters of the Mississippi River.

1977-1978 Dairyland Power Alma Power Plant Project017_Jim ONeill working as a loftsman


During his first decade working at Brennan, Jim was the “young guy” in the crew; he often had the arduous task of being the “loftsman,” sitting on top of the sheets and threading the interlocks as a crane lowered each individual sheet pile into position. Jim had to shimmy up the sheet pile (or ride the hook) and use a special set of stirrups to straddle the top of the wall. It required a great deal of skill to thread sheeting from this position, and it was dangerous work. A gust of wind could catch a sheet pile during a lift and blow it into the unprotected loftsman. But in Jim’s view, he was part of a team and that was his job: “Everyone had their deal. I was involved in pile driving and sheeting.” By the 1980s, Jim ran his own crews.
1983-1984 Eagle Point RR Bridge Removal_Jim ONeill


Most of Jim’s jobs took place along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, but as Brennan expanded, he traveled where he was needed. He worked with the Specialty division (Underwater Services group) to raise a bridge in Wall, SD, with the Dredge division (Environmental group) during the 1993 flood to restore the levees in Missouri.

1993 Emergency Levee Repair in Missouri_Jim ONeil


Jim was part of our first environmental remediation project where he helped divert the Grand Calumet River. Jim also worked with the Lock and Dam division (Structural group) on several lock projects, including the Locks & Dams #15 and #10 major rehabilitation projects.
2001 Grand Calumet Remediation Project_Gary IN, Jim ONeill - resized


After spending 43 years at Brennan, it’s difficult to fathom the breadth of impact Jim made along the Upper Mississippi River. He could travel the river and point out countless barge terminals, mooring structures, power plants, bridges, sheet pile walls, and docks that he worked on during the course of his career. However, his reputation—developed through his interactions with others—may have made the largest impact on Brennan.

Jim shared his positive attitude, expertise, and kindness with everyone. He retired in 2011, but his great reputation remains well-known throughout the company. 

2010 Tyco Barrier Wall in Marinette, WI_Jim ONeill


In 2019, at our 100-year celebration, we named a new towboat after Jim, in his honor, recognizing his dedication and tremendous contributions to our organization.
Resized 2019 Brennan 100th Anniversary_Matt Binsfeld, Mike Binsfeld, Jim ONeill, and Adam Binsfeld


When asked about how he would describe his career at Brennan, Jim’s answer reflected his infectious, positive attitude:

“From my viewpoint, excellent. I liked to get around to the different towns, met a pile of nice guys working with Brennan. I was always treated good.
What better could you want?”

From all of us at Brennan, Jim, thank you!


2011 Jim ONeill at the helm of the John Manning at Lock and Dam 11
This might also interest you:  A Look at Brennan's 100-year History