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Finding love in Brussels leads Spaniard to Q-C
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Photo: Todd Welvaert
Conchita Lucas Murillo, Davenport, stands near a painting depicting the northern coast of Spain, where she spends her summers. Mrs. Murillo is a professor at Black Hawk College.
She was from Spain and he was from Illinois. They met in Brussels, married in the Quad-Cities and now live in Davenport.

Conchita Lucas-Murillo, who identifies herself as "a Castilian who grew up in the Basque Country of Spain," was an interpreter for the European Union in Brussels when she met Dale Haake, who was in Brussels from the United States on a fellowship.

"He was with the European Union, and I worked there as an interpreter," Mrs. Lucas-Murillo said. "We met, fell in love and had to decide what was next."

"Next" for Mr. Haake was returning to the Quad-Cities in 1980 to become an attorney with Katz, Huntoon & Fieweger in Moline.

Mrs. Lucas-Murillo, who said it's customary for Spanish women to retain the last name of their mother and father even after they marry, earned a degree in German from Deusto University in Bilbao, Spain.

"I spent part of my childhood in the northwest part of Spain on the coast, and I could see the German ships that came to the harbor, and I was fascinated by the blond, blue-eyed people," she said.

After five years at the university, she said she moved to Madrid to look for work. "Spain was about to become part of the European Union, and they needed people as interpreters. Officials from the European Union came to Madrid to select people to train as interpreters, and because I knew German and French, I was chosen."

She was trained in Madrid, then Brussels, where she met Mr. Haake. She said she took a leave of absence from her job and came to Rock Island in 1981 "to see if I could live here. It was a big decision to make."

She did stay, and the couple married in 1981.

Mrs. Lucas-Murillo did not know English and there were no English-language programs in the area at that time, so she was forced to learn on her own.

She said life in the Quad-Cities was very "foreign. It was difficult because Rock Island was nothing like it is now. I could not find what the Americans call 'French' bread, but is really similar to Spanish bread, and there were no cafes. Now there are cafes all over, and you can find French bread everywhere."

What was most difficult was being isolated, Mrs. Lucas-Murillo said."On the news, there was no mention of Spain. No Internet. Now, I can read the newspaper every day on the Internet and know what is happening there."

After about a year, she learned English and found a job at the former St. Katherine's/St. Mark's in Bettendorf. "I had to realize in this area all my studies in German were not going to help me find a job, but there were many opportunities in Spanish. So being an interpreter was not an option and becoming a Spanish teacher became my goal."

After a year, she got a teaching assistant position at the University of Iowa, and commuted to Iowa City for two years to earn a master's degree in Spanish.

"I continued to commute to Iowa City to study for my PhD, but then became pregnant, so I stopped," she said.

When Alexandra Haake was 1, her mother was hired as a professor in the humanities, language and journalism department at Black Hawk College, where she has been for 25 years. She teaches Spanish and has taught French and Italian.

She has co-authored a textbook of elementary Spanish, now in its third edition, that's used in colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

The family visits family in Spain every summer. The couple's three children, Alexandra Haake, of Chicago; Elena Haake, traveling in Australia; and Pablo Haake, a sophomore at Davenport Central, all speak fluent Spanish.

"Every summer, when we go there, they communicate in Spanish, and they stay in touch with relatives throughout the year by Internet or Skype," Ms. Lucas-Murillo said.

Mrs. Lucas-Murillo said she is "very comfortable," living in the United States. "It was extremely difficult for many years, and I really wanted to go home. Then it was me who changed. I finally adjusted. I feel very comfortable here, but it took many, many years.

"I did not come here looking for freedom. I had freedom and a high-paying job in Brussels. My reasons for coming were personal. I am thankful for what I have here."

— Location: Southwestern Europe, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay and Pyrenees Mountains; southwest of France.

— Population: 47,042,984 (July 2012 estimate). No. 27 in the world.

— Languages: Castilian Spanish (official), 74 percent; Catalan, 17 percent; Galician, 7 percent; and Basque, 2 percent.

Source: CIA World Factbook.

Local events heading

  Today is Friday, Aug. 22, the 234th day of 2014. There are 131 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: The ferry boat, Rock Island, having been put in good order at the boat yard is now making her regular trips, much to the gratification of those who have to cross the river.
1889 -- 125 years ago: W.J. Gamble, for many years superintendent of the Moline & Rock Island railway, leased the Fourth Avenue Hotel and renovated and refurnished it throughout.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Pending the building of new public schools or additions to the present ones to provide adequate room for all the children, the board of education decided that pupils younger than 6 years old would not be accepted in Rock Island schools.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The fifth annual New Windsor Fair and Horse show, which has been delayed for two days because of unfavorable weather, got off to a new start last night. The parade was held this morning.
1964 -- 50 years ago: The Rock Island County Fair and Rodeo will celebrate its silver anniversary this year. The fair opens Tuesday and will run through Saturday and offers entertainment and activity for young and old.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Earl Hanson School, Rock Island, joins the Program to Assist Latch Key Student, which aids working parents. PALS is a before and after school program for grades 1-6 in certain Rock Island public and private schools.

(More History)