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Work ethic, love of the river drive Celebration Belle owner
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Scott Schadler is owner of the Celebration Belle, shown above docked along River Drive in Moline.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Scott Schadler stands inside the wheelhouse of the Celebration Belle docked along River Drive in Moline.
MOLINE — He's never strayed far from the Mississippi River. It flowed 50 feet from his boyhood home and led him to where he attended college. It has filled his career and encompasses many of his summertime days off.

Scott Schadler, owner and captain of the Celebration Belle, said once the river gets into your blood, you can't get away. "There is just something about the water," he said.

The boat, which is the largest luxury non-gaming excursion boat on the upper Mississippi River, is docked for the winter at its home at 2501 River Drive, Moline. During the open season of Celebration River Cruises, up to 800 people fill the boat's four decks to be guided, entertained and awed on trips lasting hours or days and to go as far away as St. Louis.

Mr. Schadler's father, Joe, launched the business in 1984 with the three-story Queen of Hearts excursion boat. Mr. Schadler was 13 and began working on the boat, too.

"I started at the bottom, doing dishes working in the kitchen, working as a deckhand using the ropes," he said. "I worked all through high school learning every aspect of the business."

When it was time to choose a college, Mr. Schadler picked Winona State University in Winona, Minn, partially because of the location.

"One reason I chose it was because it was right on the Mississippi River. I couldn't be too far away from the river," he said.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in human resource management in 1993, he came back to Moline and began working full time with his father, who asked if he'd like to be a partner in the business.

"Of course, being in it since I was a kid and having a love of the river, I really wanted to do this as my living," Mr. Schadler said. "I started buying the business in 1995. Slowly over the years I kept buying more and more of the business and taking over."

In 1998, the family bought the Celebration Belle, a former riverboat casino they outfitted from scratch. The boat doubled the number of people they could take on a cruise and allowed room for an on-board kitchen so all meals could be cooked fresh.

Mr. Schadler is now in charge of all of the Celebration Belle's day-to-day operations, oversees a crew that can swell to 50 employees in the summer, sets up the logistics of out-of-town trips and sometimes pilots the 196-foot-long boat.

Mr. Schadler also said he isn't afraid of or above doing any job, and his dad is the same way. One of them works every cruise.

"If you come down here any time of the week, you'll find me cooking, scrubbing the boat, bartending. We do every aspect of every job," Mr. Schadler said. "A lot of people tell me I am the boss and ask why I don't hire someone. But if someone doesn't show up or someone is sick, we just jump in and do it. I believe most of the crew would say they have a lot of respect for me. I won't ask them to do something I wouldn't do myself."

That, he said, is a value his dad taught him.

"My dad taught me how to work," Mr. Schadler said. "I admire him for what he's done and what he's taught me. You can only learn so much from reading books. He showed me how things work and how to get things done.

"Even to this day — my father is 71 — no one will outwork him. He's just a workhorse."

Mr. Schadler and his wife, Laurie, have two children: Madeline, 8, and Carter, 6. When the boat is closed on Sundays in the summer, they often spend time cruising on their 26-foot runabout. The kids will water ski in the Mississippi, and they will stop at beaches along the river, he said.

Both of their children are interested in the family business and enjoy going to work with their father. Madeline wants to learn how to cook and Carter wants to learn to pilot the boat, Mr. Schadler said.

He said he wants to teach them a work ethic and that the only way to get ahead is through hard work -- lessons he learned from his father while working next to him on the boat.

"My dream is to keep the business going," Mr. Schadler said. "Like I told my wife, I would never force my kids into this. If they want to take it over, I would love to have a great business for them to take over."

He admits work can be stressful at times, "but it is a different way of life being down here working on the water," Mr. Schadler said.

When people come on a cruise, they do so to have a good time, he said. Many are vacationing; 85 percent to 90 percent live at least 60 miles outside of the Quad-Cities, and some are even international travelers. Most are drawn here by a legendary river many local residents don't realize is the unique feature it is, he said.

The people on the cruises want to see, touch and feel the Mississippi River, Mr. Schadler said. He likes being a part of the cruisers' fun and providing them a memorable experience.

The company books up to three cruises a day and logs an estimated 8,000 miles a season, he said. There are trips to places such as Dubuque, Iowa, and Prairie du Chien, Wis.

"I love what I do," Mr. Schadler said. "In the summer, I can work 18-hour days, six days a week. People will ask me how it is I can work those hours and still love coming to work. But I love it."








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