Two words is all it takes to elicit fond of memories for Rock Island native Robert "Bobby'' VanHoorebeck.
He can recall every Little League, Babe Ruth and semi-pro baseball game he played at the scenic and historic corridor to Rock Island's western half.
Last week, VanHoorebeck created a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/79gedf-friends-of-douglas) to enlist donations to fund enhancement of the historic site. All donations, including the large one he made to start the project, will go to the Friends of Douglas Park group that is working to upgrade the stately complex.
"I'm sitting here and in my mind, my buddy Joey Lopez is hitting a home run on the softball diamond that landed in the street, that gave us a big win in the city tournament,'' said VanHoorebeck, now a regional vice president and general manager for Juul Labs, manufacturer of electronic cigarettes.
"I knew Douglas fell on some hard times, but I also know the Friends of Douglas Park and the city have taken the big diamond to great heights in recent years,'' he added. "I also know there is so much more on the drawing board, and this is my way of assisting.
"Think about this: It's where the NFL got its start and the World Softball Tournament was played. It's famous, and it's up to us to keep it special.''
In his baseball-playing days, VanHoorebeck starred at Rock Island High School, Black Hawk College and Eastern Illinois University. He played for the Quad City 76ers, a semi-pro team that has played its home games at Douglas Park for the better part of three decades.
VanHoorebeck was also a key fixture in Rock Island American Legion Post 200's run to the 1997 Illinois state title and third-place finish at the American Legion World Series.
He has set a lofty fundraising goal of $50,000, and as of this writing, a whopping $13,000 had been raised in five days. The fundraising period will run through April 5.
"It's a great start, but there has to be a great finish,'' VanHoorebeck said. "I have seen many Rock Island names that have stepped up, but I would like to see so many more. Think of all the games played there on so many levels, how it was always a meeting place after games or on nights you didn't play.
"I grew up there, and it holds a big place in my heart. I know it holds a special place for others.''
Based in Chicago, VanHoorebeck has a hometown routine whenever he returns to Rock Island. It includes the usual stops for local cuisine and a tour of his old haunts — Douglas Park included.
"I knew there were great things happening, but had no idea just how good things are getting,'' VanHoorebeck said in a phone interview last week.
"It did my heart good to see what has been done when I drove in and looked around, but there is more that needs to be worked on. I have to give a huge tip of the cap to Kevin Corrigan, who leads the Friends of Douglas Park, for all he and that group have accomplished.
"Thing is, I'm not the only one with special memories, and that's why we are doing the GoFundMe page. Whatever we raise, I know the Friends of Douglas Park will put it to great use.''
Corrigan had nothing but praise for VanHoorebeck and his passion for the historic site, which played host to the first Iowa-Illinois college football game in 1899.
"All the credit here goes to him,'' Corrigan said of VanHoorebeck. "He's a Rock Island native who played at Douglas and has gone on to be a success. Through business, Bobby has accumulated quite a list of contacts and has called on many of those to be a part of this project. Some of those people have never heard of Rock Island, but Bobby has sold them on the idea of helping. That's a credit to him.''
A trip home for the annual Veterans Cup Challenge, an American Legion baseball match in June, will allow VanHoorebeck to get a look at the results of his fundraising idea, whatever they may be.
"It's Rock Island vs. Moline in Legion baseball,'' he said. "Bitter rivals, a game played in a special place by two of the best. I can't wait.''
Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or email@example.com.
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