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Belgian native chases dreams to 'land of opportunity'
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Patrick Van Nevel grew up on a farm in Belgium. After traveling throughout the United States, he settled in the Quad-Cities and has been involved in the banking industry since 1984. He is currently market president for MidWestOne Bank.
DAVENPORT -- The man, middle 50s in age, scans the gorgeous corner office of the downtown Davenport bank. He smiles and, in a grateful manner, opens his arms to his surroundings.

He is two years into American citizenship, though he immigrated to America in 1981. Prior to the move three decades ago, Belgium native Patrick Antoon Van Nevel visited the Midwest in 1974 as an exchange student in Galesburg. He knew then America would be his land of opportunity.

There would be return visits before making America his home, once criss-crossing the United States for four months, just to make sure. "Some trip that was," Mr. Van Nevel said, closing his eyes to recall those carefree days in the 1970s.

Today Mr. Van Nevel is 11 months into a position with MidWestOne Bank, Davenport. Hired as a vice-president for business development and commercial lending, he was promoted to market president just nine months into the job.

"Great companies and amazing people," Mr. VanNevel said of Norwest, Wells Fargo and MidWestOne, the three banking institutions he has worked for in three decades locally. "My new position, though, is the perfect challenge and the perfect fit. Change, albeit a challenge at times, is good. And in America — the land of opportunity — it's OK to step out and try something new."

A native of Ghent, Belgium, Mr. Van Nevel realized as a teen there could be just one full-time salary drawn from his family's farm. America would provide the landscape to chase his dreams.

"The trip from the great Smokey Mountains to the California coast cemented everything," Mr. Van Nevel said. "I saw that America — and I knew this — provided ample opportunity if one is willing to work."

Prior to his lengthy career in banking, he worked in farm property management in Louisiana. After four years he felt a change was needed. Mr. Van Nevel had never lost touch with his Belgian roots, and he decided to move to the Quad-Cities because of its large Belgian population. He and his wife, Barb, live in Davenport.

At its peak in 1920, the Quad-Cities' Belgian population was between 25,000 and 30,000, and the area had the second largest Belgian population in the U.S., next to Detroit. According to Mr. Van Nevel, today the Quad-Cities have more than 10,000 residents of Belgian ancestry.

In 2005, Mr. Van Nevel was named the honorary consulate to Belgium, having been sworn in at Moline's Belgian consulate, which was established in 1919. His post finds him helping Belgians with pension paperwork and other documents. He makes two trips to Belgium each year to see his parents and always is working at promoting business relationships and opportunity between Belgium and the Quad-Cities.

"Other than a period where we were in North Liberty (Iowa), this has been home," Mr. Van Nevel said of the Quad-Cities. "Barb and I lost our positions in the banking industry and had to move out of the area at that time. Again, change was good. We managed to get back here and still have our careers."

Many years after starting the paperwork and then getting busy with other projects, Mr. Van Nevel became a U.S. citizen in 2010. It was a banner day.

"It was time, even though it should have been done sooner," he said. "Barb and I were in Des Moines for the ceremony. I have always been welcomed here and thought of the United States and the Quad-Cities as home.

"I'm honored and grateful for all that has come my way all these years. This is truly the land of opportunity."
Belgium



-- Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between France and the Netherlands.

-- Population: 10,438,353 (July 2012 estimate). No. 82 in the world.

-- Languages: Dutch (official) 60 percent, French (official) 40 percent, German (official) less than 1 percent, legally bilingual (Dutch and French).

Source: CIA World Factbook.



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