Posted Online: Oct. 02, 2012, 5:36 pm

Farewell, Hot Dog Lady

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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Joan Hill, better known as the "Hot Dog Lady'', has been a fixture in downtown Rock Island for the last 20 years. Ms. Hill, pictured with her hot dog cart on Tuesday before the lunch rush, has announced she will be retiring as of October 12, 2012.
On Friday, Oct. 12, Joan Hill will rise at 4 a.m. as she has every April through November weekday for the past 20 years.

With a heavy heart, she'll pack her trusty hot-dog cart with goodies, knowing it will be the last time the "Hot Dog Lady'' will open for business.

For seven months a year over two decades, Ms. Hill has mixed business with friendship, handling the lunch needs of thousands in downtown Rock Island. She has been a mother, sister, pal and sounding board to countless customers through the years.

Her patrons have come from around the globe, from China to Rock Island, wanting Chicago-style hot dogs or one of the famous bratwursts cooked up by Ms. Hill, a Wisconsin native.

"I have made so many wonderful friends,'' Ms. Hill said as she prepped her cart for another busy day along the plaza in downtown Rock Island. It was moments before the Hot Dog Lady would post a simple handwritten note telling customers of her plans to take a break.

"I have wondered and worried about my regulars since I made the decision to close up shop,'' she added. "So many people have been loyal to me through the years, and I will always appreciate that.''

Ms. Hill said she had many reasons for going into business for herself 20 years ago. Her first-rate hot-dog stand has been an extra income source and the perfect opportunity to get the latest word on the street from customers.

She has worked through stifling heat, wind, rain and cold. Several times, Ms. Hill witnessed all four seasons during her usual shifts.

"The heat of this past summer kind of sealed things for me,'' she said. "I lost my husband, Gene, two years ago, and it hasn't been the same without him. And the weather took it out of me.''

Support from her children -- Todd, Debbie, Lisa and Sheryl -- made the decision to step aside easier.

"They know how much work it takes, and they believe I deserve a break,'' Ms. Hill said. "They are great kids and have always been there for me. I have sold my house in Colona and plan to go to Arizona his month to see Sheryl for a break. It's just time.''

For 19 of her 20 years along the plaza, Ms. Hill has been assisted by Clyde Harris, a 90-year-old Rock Island retiree. He said Rock Island is losing a business treasure.

"She's an inspiration,'' Mr. Harris said of Ms. Hill. "We have had lots of fun through the years. Joan is a wonderful lady. I guess I'll have to find something else to fill my mornings.''

Out of respect for Ms. Hill, I will not post her age. Her energy level, though, is that of someone half of what her birth certificate reads.

"I have a job where I work four nights a week at Jumer's Casino,'' Ms. Hill said. "So I'll stay busy. I just won't be along the plaza every day.''

And that will be a shame.


Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.