"If you walk around this vessel, chances are you will find him working somewhere around here, even when he is off the watch," Dredge Hurley Assistant Master Tim Tucker said. "We sometimes have to make him stop to go to his room to relax after a long day. If some of the kids coming out of high school these days would show up with half of the work ethic that he has, we would really get a lot more done."
Tucker is describing Curtis Williams, who is also known by many on the dredge as "Lil Wolf". Williams is the Dredge Hurley's ship keeper and has been with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a little more than 30 years.
"I started as a janitor contracted by a company out of Oklahoma," Williams said. "I worked around Ensley Engineer Yard back in 1981 just after high school."
Williams has lived in Memphis, Tennessee, his entire life. He went to elementary, middle, and high school here, but had to drop out of high school at the age of 16. However, because of his constant and strong desire to better himself, he later earned his GED diploma in 2007.
Williams started out as a janitor, yes, but that wasn't challenging enough for him and how he wanted to spend his days.
"I wanted to do something with my life that was a little more than just a regular job," he said. "Something with some responsibility that would allow me to take care of myself and my family."
Some of his crewmates say Williams is the last of a dying breed. When asked what his responsibilities included, the list was too long to repeat, as "Lil Wolf" apparently does it all.
"He started here back before I even started middle school and has been an asset to USACE and our country for over 30 years," Tucker said. "His contributions to the Hurley, and the Burgess before it, are too many to list. If you could take the time to sit with him and talk, there is no telling how much experience he could pass on."
Tucker continued to say that, especially during these trying times, his position as a ship keeper has been invaluable.
"Here on the Hurley, he is a perfect example of the "essential" worker, quietly keeping this country going and safe from the virus that has shut down so much," he added. "I have seen him dozens of times working with rags and bleach solution wiping down surfaces we all touch every day when he could have had some downtime from his duties. It isn't a glamorous job, but he carries on without even being told to do any of it."
Williams has worked up and down the Lower Mississippi River on both the dredges Hurley and Burgess but can’t pick a favorite location.
"I just enjoy working with people and serving others – that's my favorite part of the job," Williams said.
Like others who have served 30 or more years with one organization, Williams has a long list of mentors he wanted to recognize. Still, a few in particular, stood out among the rest.
"Will Ousley, and some of the other 'old-timers' who talked me into coming back to this job when I got discouraged when things were difficult at home with family," he said. "I was raised to be a hard worker; my whole family is full of hard workers. My dad always expected nothing less and held me accountable. My mother and father were my mentors also."
When 'Lil Wolf' isn't working on the dredge, he said he enjoys cooking, cleaning, and spending time with his family, including his work family. It turns out Williams is related to a recent retiree of the M/V Mississippi – Randy Fell. Still, he doesn't limit his work family to just Mr. Fell.
"I look at the Corps of Engineers as my family," he added. “When you’re gone working on the river as long as we are, the people you work with become family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Williams especially wanted to thank his wife, children, and grandchildren for their support as well.
Those who work with 'Lil Wolf' have nothing but great things to say about him. Dredge Master Adrian Pirani even said he's so great, he actually tries to emulate him.
"Lil Wolf" (Curtis) is, without a doubt, the hardest working person on board," Pirani explained. "Whether we have guests here or when he volunteers to help other units, it’s universally known he is doing all he can from the time he rises to when he finally lays down. He is a genuinely great person, always caring for others and putting them first. He promotes harmony, peace, and smiles at all times."
We at the Memphis District are always honored to recognize employees reaching milestones as significant as these. But more importantly, we are thankful; grateful for their service to the district, division, and nation.
Curtis “Lil Wolf” Williams -- thank you, sir! We are very appreciative of you and all you continue to do for us. You're an inspiration to everyone around you, and it's evident as to why.