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'Perfect' volunteer brings love of Q-C to Welcome Center
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
George Loveland is a volunteer at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center on Eagle Ridge Road, LeClaire.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
George Loveland is a volunteer at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center on Eagle Ridge Road, LeClaire.
LECLAIRE, IOWA -- George Loveland of Port Byron loves this land and the mighty Mississippi River, which draws people from all over the world to the Quad-Cities every year.

The gentle, helpful66-year-old Indiana native is an invaluable guide at theMississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire, perched just off I-80 with a sweeping view of the river from its second story. In recognition of Mr. Loveland's talents for promoting the area, he was given the 2010 Volunteer of the Year award by the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

"George Loveland was and is a fantastic, perfect example of what a volunteer should be like," said Beth Payne, the CVB's former vice president of visitor services. "He likes to chit-chat with visitors and creates a great first impression for the Quad-City region.George really has the best personal skills as anyone else."

One of the best things the Quad-Cities has, besides the natural and recreational wonders of the river, is its friendly customer service, which Mr. Loveland tries to embody.

"I eat out a lot, and I think it's true: Almost no matter where you go in the Quad-Cities, you get good service," he said. "I see it with both paid staff and volunteers here."

"One of thegreatest comments we get when we send out surveys to groups is about the volunteers or the customer service they received through our visitor centers, our CVB or all the communities," said Margo McInnis, the bureau's head of visitor services.

The CVB is doing a space analysis for the 22-year-old welcome center to see what technological improvements can be made in this age of more travelers relying on Internet research, GPS and smart phones that threaten the viability of actual visitor centers.

"Online doesn't give you customer service. That's what we specialize in," Ms. McInnis said. "We want people to see our smiling faces, get that customer service."

"Everyone talks about interactive, but when they walk into the visitor center, they don't go to technology, they go to a person," Ms. Payne said. "It's the first impression, the first face of the Quad-Cities. People like George are fantastic to have, the best face we can put forward."

Mr. Loveland is the son of a preacher and teacher, and he recalled that when his family took vacations, they always learned something. "It was that our parents had a certain curiosity. I've been about everywhere Abe Lincoln was; my mother was a native of Illinois and liked Lincoln."

Now a retired Methodist pastor, Mr. Loveland first lived in the Quad-Cities from 1971 to 1979. He moved around Illinois before coming back in 2002 to Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church in Moline. He retired in 2006.

He beganvolunteering for the CVB at the Quad-Cities International Airport information booth in 2005, and by the end of that year he switched to the LeClaire Welcome Center, where he's usually working eight hours a week. Mr. Loveland appreciates the river partly with his sailboat and uses the marina at Cordova.

"Primarily, I answer questions of travelers, suggest places they may want to see in the Quad-Cities," he said, noting he always asks what they're interested in and offers a range of options.

"The river is the No. 1 driver to the Quad-Cities," Ms. McInnis said of the area attractions. "The Mississippi River is huge for us. It's like going to the Nile or going to Salt Lake. It's a huge attraction, specifically for the internationals, because the Mississippi River is America to them."

One popular gift item (among the scores of locally made or Q-C related merchandise) is a tiny bottle of cloudy river water, attached to a key chain, so visitors can take the Mississippi home with them.

"The river is very popular," Mr. Loveland said of people who want to ride on it, or walk or bike beside it. "For families, I'll recommend the Channel Cat river taxi. It's a short tour; you get to see the center of the Quad-Cities. The kids will enjoy it; you won't spend a lot of money. The Celebration River Cruise and Twilight cruise in LeClaire are very popular and completely different."

LeClaire's "American Pickers" of History Channel fame have lured many, and people ask where they are, Mr. Loveland said. The center has large photos of them among their brochures.

One of his favorite experiences was meeting a family from New Jersey whose boy was doing a school report about his trip, and Mr. Loveland introduced him to a woman writer from Wisconsin who wrote a blog about the 90 days it takes for a drop of water to travel the length of the Mississippi, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

"He said he'd love to have her autograph, and he was about 8 feet off the floor when he walked away," Mr. Loveland recalled.

"That's why I do this -- to either help people connect to each other or connect to our area," he said. "I have a friend who still works at the airport. Our volunteers do unusual things, and he makes cookies. He sees somebody waiting, asks them if they'd like a cookie. They say, 'That's never happened before.' He just looks at them and smiles (and thinks), 'That's right, and that's why you'll remember the Quad City Airport.' All the other volunteers call him the cookie man."

Mr. Loveland has learned a lot about Iowa on the job, which includes recommending the center'sIowa Peddler Gift Shop. Its food products and wines are very popular, Ms. McInnis said, noting wines of Wide River in Clinton, Tabor Home of Baldwin, Iowa, and the Amanas.

Mr. Loveland also does quilting; a red, white and blue Iowa quilt is at the back of the center.

When he has out-of-town guests who have never been here, he takes them on River Drive on both sides of the river.

"A lot of the history is along the river. I like the Village of East Davenport, the John Deere Pavilion and Isabel Bloom," he said. "Even in the '70s, a place of peace for me was driving River Drive in Moline from 17th Street to 48th Street, seeing the calmness of the river. The Butterworth Parkway -- I was on the committee to develop that. Black Hawk Park is another place of peace and quiet."

The mix of serenity and activity is one Mr. Loveland loves about his land, through which a river runs.










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  Today is Friday, April 18, the 108th day of 2014. There are 257 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: A new steamer, Keithsburg, now is at our levee taking on board the balance of her fixtures preparatory to assuming her position on the daily Rock Island and Keokuk line.
1889 -- 125 years ago: C.W. Hawes was appointed deputy county clerk by county clerk Donaldson.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Mrs. O.E. child, of Moline, was named president of the Women's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church Rock Island District of the Central Illinois conference.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Augustana College is making plans for a drive for funds to erect a field house and make football field improvements.
1964 -- 50 years ago: A expanded election coverage system featuring a 16-foot chalkboard showing up to the minute running totals, attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd to The Argus newsroom last night.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Balloons frame Rock Island attorney Stewart Winstein who was given a surprise party in the rotunda of the Rock Island County Courthouse on Thursday to honor his 50th year of practicing law.




(More History)