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Layer traded concrete for physical therapy
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Steve Layer co-founded Rock Valley Physical Therapy 28 years ago.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Steve Layer co-founded Rock Valley Physical Therapy 28 years ago.
ROCK ISLAND -- Steve Layer pauses, sips his root beer and remembers the day his late father, Jake, made the offer.

"He said I would have a quarter of the family (concrete) business if I wanted it,'' said Mr. Layer, 53, co-founder of Rock Valley Physical Therapy (RVPT). "I had prepared myself to attend college, and then I was going to go to PT (physical therapy) school or medical school. I had a plan, but here he was -- generous as always -- giving me a shot at being a business owner with my brothers right out of high school. My brothers have had tremendous success, and it would have been a great run, but I'm glad I decided to chase what I did.''

What he did was create the largest physical therapy practice within 150 miles of the Quad-Cities. From a small pole building where snow used to sneak under its walls, Rock Valley -- under Mr. Layer's guidance -- has grown into 25 clinics with more than 125 employees (including 70 therapists and 45 board-certified therapists).

Today Mr. Layer (who was No. 1 in his PT graduating class from Chicago Medical School) has stepped aside from the day-to-day operations as CEO and is mentoring and guiding other physical therapists. He still sits on the RVPT executive board, but the 16- to- 18-hour days are no longer.

"There are so many thank-you's, business-wise, along the way,'' Mr. Layer said, starting with RVPT co-founder Marc Levsen, business partner Wanda Robb and W. Gerard Huiskamp, president and CEO of Blackhawk Bank & Trust. Mr. Huiskamp's bank loaned Mr. Layer and Mr. Levsen the startup capital for Rock Valley.

"I have great respect for Marc,'' Mr. Layer said. "He is teaching at St. Ambrose University and still sees patients with us. And Gerry ... I played baseball for him and he said (to) come see him when I was ready to chase my dream. The man loaned me money on my word and the promise (that) what we had would work. I have paid him back, but could never pay him back for his faith and generosity. And to have had Wanda Robb in 1986 step in and provide great guidance and leadership with Rock Valley was huge. We never would have made the strides we made without her skill (hand therapy) and vision.''

Though many things have changed from that small start, Mr. Layer's vision -- to provide outpatient orthopedics and sports physical therapy -- has not. Today, RVPT has specialists in post-operative spine, sports physical therapy, women's health, hand therapy and aquatic therapy. Quad City Sport Performance, a division of RVPT, offers speed, strength and conditioning programs for prep, college and professional athletes.

"We have stayed true to our orthopedic base," Mr. Layer said. "What we've been able to do is bring the community off-shoots of our orthopedic care. And with our expansion, we feel we have something to offer all the communities we are in and something to give back. If a community trusts you to be there, it's paramount that you give something back. We have always done that."

The backbone of Rock Valley has been its commitment to sports therapy, which began with Mr. Layer and Mr. Levsen working Friday night prep football games and seeing injured players the next day.

"We've been putting trainers in the high schools for over two decades," Mr. Layer said. "We see injuries from schools wherever we are. I believe one of the things that has helped us establish great relationships through the years is our willingness to be available. We began 28 years ago seeing patients on Saturday mornings after football and sometimes on Sunday nights. It didn't matter the time or the day, we did our best to be available. I think that endeared us to so many.''

"My wife, Christy, is a saint, who, with a career of her own, understood the hours that came with what I was doing,'' Mr. Layer said. "It also helps to have four great kids who have always been close. There have been challenges, but my family has been there each step. Now I'm a grandfather and still having a good time.''

Mr. Layer says in a few more years he may step back even more from the business.

"We have a home in Colorado, and I would love to do what I am doing until I am 60 and then enjoy a little more of life,'' he said. "That's not to say I'm not having a blast now. But that's when I think I'll finally step away. It might change.''

He looks to the future knowing all is well with what he began.

"The executive group in charge is amazing,'' he said. "Eric Sacia, Mike Horsfield, Randy Boldt, Greg Monson and Todd Kersten have taken specific branches of the company and run with them. What a great group. Their guidance means Rock Valley will be around for many, many years.''

And about turning down his father's offer to join the family business?

"Before he died, he knew we were doing things right,'' Mr. Layer said. "He would have marveled at how well things have turned out.''

Remembering the dream

Who: Steve Layer, co-founder of Rock Valley Physical Therapy
Quote: "We began 27 years ago seeing patients on Saturday mornings after football and sometimes on Sunday nights. It didn't matter the time or the day, we did our best to be available. I think that endeared us to so many.''

Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.

(More History)