Welcome to the Quad-Cities -- QCQ&A
Progress 2010 Page

List of Advertisers

Retired teacher offers lessons at Deere pavilion
Comment on this story
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Jens Rehder gives tours at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline. Mr. Rehder, a retired school teacher, speaks fluent German and often has the opportunity to put his skills to use.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Jens Rehder talks to visitors from Canada during a tour at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Jens Rehder speaks to visitors during a tour at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline.
MOLINE -- Jens Rehder, of Andover, loves history and sharing his knowledge. So it's appropriate the friendly, 61-year-old retired school teacher is a tour guide at John Deere Pavilion.

"I like doing the tour because I was a history major at Augustana; it's been an interest of mine my whole life," Mr. Rehder said recently. "It's something I enjoy, telling the story, and it comes easier for me than the mechanical part, with the machines. My strength is being able to tell the story."

The 14-year-old pavilion, at 1400 River Drive,is the fifth-most visited tourist attraction in Illinois (and is free), but was not that familiar to Mr. Rehder, who retired in 2007 after a 35-year teaching career. The Augustana graduate spent 30 years in Orion mainly teaching social studies and the last five teaching German at Rock Island High School.

It was his German background that led him to Deere in summer 2007. "They were looking for foreign-language speakers to be tour guides," Mr. Rehder said, noting one of Deere's main factories is in Mannheim, Germany, and the pavilion averages German-speaking visitors once per week.

When he was 6, his family emigrated from Schleswig-Holstein (in northern Germany) to the Chicago area, since they had relatives there. That same year, 1956, John Deere bought Lanz, a German tractor company. "I joke with people (that) in 1956, my family came to America, and John Deere went to Germany."

Before coming to work at the pavilion, Mr. Rehder had led tours of the area for the German American Heritage Center in Davenport, and was recommended to Deere by the Moline-based Sedona Group, which employs the pavilion guides. He usually works about eight hours per week and has met people from all over the world.

Mr. Rehder has led tours of Germany as well, including Deere's tractor factory in Mannheim, "andwe got treated like royalty there," he said.

"I knew from going to Augustana, I had classmates who went to work for Deere, some I still know today. I have always known Deere & Company was a good place to work," he said. "First of all, I've learned a lot of interesting information that's of personal interest to me.

"I also learned that there is a tremendous loyalty to this company (for) a number of different reasons. One of them is just quality products. One thing one guy said, 'There is nothing better than a John Deere tractor.' He kept saying it."

Mr. Rehder has spoken German to visitors (including Deere employees, dealers and customers) from Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada, and has met Hutterites, Amish and Mennonites interested in Deere. Where they would be shy around American-born tour guides, they open up more to German speakers like Mr. Rehder.

"Ididn't grow up in agriculture. My vocabulary having to do with equipment isn't great, and I like to practice my German," he said. "It just so happens, this group of Amish unexpectedly came in; they're not very outgoing people. They may be curious about someone who speaks German, but they may not ask you. We have a sign up in German that says we have German tours."

"It ended up being one of my favorite tours," Mr. Rehder said.

"The other great thing about this job is just meeting people, from all over," he said. "You meet the Hutterites (residents of self-sufficient, farm-based communes) from Canada. Where else are you going to do that? Where else are the Hutterites going to come to you?"

He sometimes leads school groups and tailors the tour differentlyfor kids. "I sing songs, keep their interest. I sometimes use my language because that gets their attention," Mr. Rehder said. "School groups, depending on the age, can be challenging. I get to do a lot of those because they know I was a teacher."

Students from Future Farmers of America (FFA) are very enthusiastic, he noted.

"Theyusually know some of the history of the company. They're interested in hearing more," Mr. Rehder said. "It's something they're passionate about. There's always been the problem of keeping kids on the farm."

One solution, he said, is to recruit young people who want to farm (but aren't in a farm family) and connect them with existing family farms whose owners have no heirs to whom to pass on the operation.

The improving technology of Deere equipment, such as use of satellite and GPS, helps attract younger people to farming, which is part of a pavilion exhibit, Mr. Rehder said. There is talk of developing unmanned machines that can run without an operator in them, he added.

A common question he gets is about the iconic Deere colors of green and yellow.

"There isn't a good answer. I have heard John Deere liked corn on the cob," Mr. Rehder said. "The company line I heard when I started is, green is for the growing season and yellow is for the harvest."

He likes to tell stories about the equipment on display, including a 4010 tractor -- introduced to great fanfare in 1960 in the jewelry department of a Neiman Marcus store in Dallas. It was in a giant gift box, and encrusted with diamonds, Mr. Rehder said.

Deere's original Moline factory was on land where the i wireless Center is today (across from the pavilion), and Moline was known as "the farm implement capital of the world." Deere donated the property for the arena and Radisson Hotel, and opened the pavilion in 1997 -- "designed to look like a pavilion you'd find at a state fair or county fair," and also echoing the factories of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Mr. Rehder said.

He's visited the blacksmith who made the metal symbols in the pavilion ceiling, representing 10 agricultural products, appropriate because Deere was a blacksmith.

Mr. Rehder also has toured the JohnDeere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Ill., and went with two Swiss visitors who were going to be flying back home that night. It helps enhance his latest lessons.

"I try to encourage people to go to the Historic Site. First of all, Rick the blacksmith up there is unbelievable. He's an entertainer," he said. "I always tell people he's worth the trip. You get a tour of the house there; you get a sense of the humble beginnings."

Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 274th day of 2014. There are 91 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: It is rumored in the streets that the 13 negroes sent to Quincy on the Moline quota were refused. We think this must be a mistake.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Harvey McKenna, of Detroit, billiard player matched to play Wizard Schafer in New York in January for the world championship, was a professional friend and manager, Billy Catton in Rock Island.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Rehearsals for the 84th season of the Handel Oratorio Society chorus will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the stage of Centennial Hall, Augustana College.
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Rock Island City Council's plan announced this week to have the federal government vacate Valley Homes public housing and move residents to Arsenal Courts to reduce density may not be feasible.

(More History)