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Pavilion shows Deere to the world


More than 80,000 people from around the world have visited the John Deere Pavilion since it opened in August. The pavilion is filled with interactive exhibits and new and antique farming equipment.

MOLINE -- Al McCune retired from Deere & Co. in 1980 after a satisfying 31-year career with the Moline-based agricultural giant.

When the company asked him to cut short his retirement last year to be a tour guide at the new John Deere Pavilion on River Drive, he didn't hesitate.

``We're unique. No company has a display like this,'' Mr. McCune said of the pavilion, which opened in August and has attracted more than 80,000 visitors from around the world. ``I think the products that we have here are unique.

``I came from a John Deere family,'' he said. ``My family has always been very proud of their affiliation with Deere. I feel like I'm part of that. For me to come back to work, I just have that loyalty, which is not uncommon.

``You're loyal like a person would be loyal to a family.''

The pavilion -- filled with interactive exhibits and both new and antique farming equipment -- is special because ``it shows our product and how the product has developed through the years,'' the guide said. ``I don't think the average person has a good grasp of the history of the company.

``Deere has survived through a lot of hard times, which I think is indicative of the soundness of the company,'' Mr. McCune said.

Deere marked its 150th anniversary in Moline in 1997.

Richard Wahlstrand, who works in human-resources management at Deere's Davenport Works, was making his first visit to the pavilion, which has no admission fee.

``It's done up in typical Deere fashion,'' he said. ``It's a quality organization that builds quality products. It's very gratifying to show off the company to the world. Employees take terrific pride in their work.''

``I never realized what tourism was really about,'' said pavilion manager LuAnn Haydon, seemingly surprised with the center's success. ``If you have a good place, people want to be there and everybody has a good time.

She noted that during several days over the recent holidays, the pavilion attracted 1,000 visitors a day. ``I thought I was the only one that had the fever,'' she said. ``I still feel the newness.

Ms. Haydon said she often would see visitors waiting at the door at the start of the day. ``People are coming back for a second, third time. They have a little more time to spend,'' she said.

``That's what's fun to see. That's what makes you want to be here.''

What's also gratifying is serving such a diverse audience -- from toddlers to retirees, and visitors from all across the U.S. and countries such as Russia, Spain, Germany, China, Japan, Italy and Belgium, she said.

``It's not just the farmers, the employees. It's really the whole community.''

``Small children see this as a playground,'' she said. ``They're in awe of the big equipment. Some people come back just to look at the structure. They love the artwork, how the building is designed from an architectural standpoint.''

``Kids just love it,'' Brandy Kolb, a receptionist and tour coordinator, confirmed. ``They're mostly impressed by the tire sizes. They really enjoy the equipment. You get the `Thank you!' and they run up and hug you.

``That's the part I like the best.''

Ms. Kolb remembers a television crew accompanying a delegation from one of the former Soviet republics. ``It was something else,'' she said.

She also is moved by the continuously shown film, ``The Bounty.'' She said she never tires of viewing it.

Assistant manager Heather Moritz agreed there is a boundless variety of people who come through the pavilion's doors and also head to the neighboring John Deere Store.

``Everybody who comes here, you learn something from them,'' Ms. Moritz said. ``It's an educational process every day for me.''

The pavilion should be an education for the visitor as well, learning about farming's past, present and future and how agriculture meets the world's needs.

``It's important because of the fact that our world population is going to double in the next 40 years, and they need to be fed,'' Ms. Moritz said. ``That shows how important agriculture is to our survival.''

The pavilion is going to be part of a television commercial this spring for the state of Illinois, Ms. Haydon said.

Changes are planned for the interactive exhibit, which features Web sites on various agricultural topics. Each of the four stations is the same now, but they may be altered to be independent and explore to different subjects more exhaustively, Ms. Haydon said.

-- By Jonathan Turner (January 26, 1998)

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