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John "Red" Rieke

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It took the fates only a fraction of a second to determine if John Rieke of Davenport would become a star, so famous and wealthy that he could afford a new silk shirt every day, or if he would have to work long and hard for every penny.

John's chance at fame grew out of his acquaintance with Al Capone back in the 1920s. John was just a kid when Capone first began coming to Davenport for visits. Capone stayed at a two-story mansion on Al Bramer's Boat Place near where the LeClaire Park bandshell is now.

Occasionally Capone brought one of the boxers he sponsored along to Devonport. One day, one of the boxers, Mike Dundee, invited John along on a speedboat ride on the Mississippi. Back on the shore, John watched in awe as Dundee, who had gotten wet from the spray, took off his white silk shirt, threw it away on the ground, and opened a new package of silk shirts. A Capone boxer was somebody and didn't have to worry about silk shirts.

John got into boxing himself when he was 18. winning most of his fights by knockouts. Capone was interested in sponsoring him until a stray punch knock ed John out for an hour.

Al Capone lost interest. John Rieke was forced to go to work, becoming a jack of all trades, a golf caddy, a carpenter, a bank teller, factory welder, truck driver for Jack Spratt groceries, a house painter and printer. His was a life like most others. He loved golf and cats. He fished in the Mississippi. He taught himself to play guitar and piano and was good enough on the accordion for bands to invite him along on tours.

He married, produced children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He studied school assignments with all of them, attended their games. He fed neighbors down on their luck, shoveled snow, fixed automobiles, and read books in the Davenport library.

John Rieke died on March 9th, 1995. The hundreds who came to his funeral were there to celebrate an ordinary life. There were no white silk shirts. Just think how it might have been if the fates back there at 1929 had not prevented that punch from landing on a young boxer's jaw.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.