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The Global Village

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Each year hundreds of Rock Islanders fly south to Florida for a day or two at Disney's Epcot Center, and its feature attraction, the World Village. I could save them hundreds of dollars, and long lines, by directing them instead to Bettendorf, Iowa.

Bettendorf began as a sleepy little farm village sometime around 1850 when Elias Gilbert arrived from the East and platted a few lots to house laborers working on his farm. Gilbertville, located in a township named "Pleasant Valley," soon began to attract immigrants from around the world.

A Mr. Greve arrived early. He was reported to have been Napoleon's coachman. Then the Bornemans came—members of the Austrian nobility. The Irish followed, and touched everyone's lives. One of their descendants said, "We amused them, we did their work, we took care of them when they were sick, and we built their roads and shoveled their snow.” The Irish banded together in a Hibernian Society to keep their culture alive.

The Danes who had come to Bettendorf did the same thing in 1883 when they established a Danish Brotherhood.

The arrival of hundreds of Germans from Schleswig-Holstein in 1848, fleeing a revolution in Europe, soon enriched local culture with music, theater, and art. Two German brothers, the Bettendorfs, who built a factory along the river in 1903 eventually changed the name of the town itself. It became Bettendorf.

The growing community now attracted the Greeks. Odes Stavros opened a shoe shop, while Nich Ziakos operated the Athens Grocery. They were followed by an Armenian, John David. King David, as he was known, ruled the Armenians in Bettendorf with an iron hand until he was shot to death by a hired assassin.

The Bettendorf brothers themselves brought in so many Mexicans in 1918 to work in their plant that a section of Bettendorf became known as Holy City—because, it was said, so many residents were named Jesus.

Bettendorf does celebrate its diversity each year with a grand ethnic festival, but it could have cashed in big time—perhaps making a bid to become the site of the United Nations. Instead, it has turned into a bedroom community. Or, as Disney might call it, Rip Van Winkle Village.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.