Living Lands and Water Barge Tour

During Tugfest 2014 in Port Byron, Illinois the Living Lands and Waters barges were berthed offshore and open for tours. Here’s a short tour and quotes from Chad Pregracke’s dad and one of his former board members. Chad wasn’t there Saturday or else I would have interviewed him too.

Tugfest is an annual event held on the Mississippi River in Le Claire, Iowa and Port Byron. Teams play tug-of-war with a giant rope stretched across the river. The festival offers rides, arcade games, live music, food vendors and fireworks.


President Obama Visits Galesburg

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Local Residents React to President’s Message – Click to Listen: Link to audio story

An ocean blue sky dotted with islands of clouds stretched over a crowd of about 400 well-wishers and protesters at Knox College as they greeted President Obama’s motorcade.
Once inside Memorial Gym the president started off reminding Galesburg residents of what they told him about the changing economy in 2005. That’s when the local Maytag factory closed, leaving 1,500 people without good paying jobs.
“So these were stories of families who had worked hard, believed in the American Dream, but they felt like the odds were increasingly stacked against them. And they were right. Things had changed.”
“We’ve had a lot of repercussions in the area and all you have to do is drive around and see. The housing is deteriorating and so on. And people just don’t have enough money to make those improvements. I’m one of those people.”
That’s Sallee Wade. She’s a semi-retired yoga teacher and writer and has lived in Galesburg for years. She’s seen the changes in town since Maytag left.
“I would love to make some improvements on my property but it has lost value.”
“You just don’t have the extra…”
“No, no. There’s no extra. There’s always enough for this day, enough for this day. But I know people who are a lot worse off than I am.”
The president outlined five familiar areas he wants to focus on to help the U.S. stay competitive. They are: modernizing our infrastructure to create jobs, addressing skyrocketing college costs, new home ownership initiatives, continuing to focus on health care, and helping the middle class retire securely.
He also said that, behind closed doors, some Republicans in Congress agree with this agenda. But Mary King said she thinks things in Washington are pretty hopeless.
“I agree with everything he says but I still don’t know how it’s ever going to get done. No, it’s not his fault, but how’s he going to get anything through Congress?”
But George Lane from Peoria thought he heard something a little different.
“Was there anything in particular he said that really kind of struck a chord with you?”
“Yes. That he will go ahead and use the power of his office and try to bypass Congress as much as he can. Congress has not given him any cooperation whatsoever.”
Emails and calls to Illinois GOP leaders to get their responses to Obama’s speech were not returned. But Congressman Aaron Shock’s office directed me to a press release published by the Illinois House GOP Delegation.The delegation says they have worked to repeal the Affordable Care Act, are working on a tax reform bill they say will stimulate the economy, have presented a bill to permanently fix the student loan crisis, and quote: “we stand ready to work toward real, bipartisan solutions, not listen to another stump speech”.
Naturally you would expect to find most people at an Obama speech agreeing with him, but several people who said their own personal economies were fine were worried about global competitiveness. And they’re worried about younger adults and what lies ahead for them.
Doc Patterson is a retired firefighter from Chicago and Monmouth.
“The state of Illinois has been a leader in a lot of things in the world, not only locally here in Galesburg but nationally. And to hear him say we’re going to bring that back, and his plan, those five bullet points, are so important for these younger generations because they’re giving up hope. And I hope this re-energizes the area.”

Link to the GOP press release: here.

Link to full text of the president’s speech: here.
(The audio quote from the speech was gathered from a podcast published on

Related News:

Quad City Physician Shares Insight About the Syrian Conflict

Click to Listen:Background on the Syrian Conflict as Explained by Dr. Kayali

 The World Affairs Council of the Quad Cities hosted three speakers at its April meeting, all of whom had first-hand experience with the political upheaval in their home countries.

QC residents Aussama Bazaraa, from Egypt, Dr. Adnan Ismail, from Yemen, and Dr. Kayali, from Syria, described how life at home has changed for them and their families.

Dr. Kayali completed his medical training in Des Moines. While living in Iowa he and his wife gave birth to their two children. They decided to return to Syria in 2006 so their children could grow up near other family members, but at the urging of his mother, Dr. Kayali brought his family back to the U.S. in 2012 until life returns to normal in Syria.

Due to current events in Syria his story is featured. What follows are parts of his presentation at the World Affairs Council meeting and some answers to questions asked a week later.

Transcription, Part 1:   I was born and raised in Syria. I went to medical school over there in my city called Aleppo, second largest city in Syria. I came to the states in 1990. I did my residency in pediatrics at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. My oldest was born there, my youngest was born here at Genesis. In 2006 my wife and I decided that we wanted to take our kids and go back to Syria and have them live with their cousins and uncles and grandparents and so on and we have been in Syria until the end of 2012. Because of everything going on in Syria, we decided to come back.

         In Syria first we have Assad the father. So the father, Hafez al-Assad, led a coup, he was an officer and led a coup, took over in 1970. In the year 2000 he died of natural causes and the son took over. The problem was that his son was only 36 years old and the constitution says that the president should be at least 40 years old. The constitution was changed within a half hour.

There is no freedom of speech. There is all of corruption. There is no equality when it comes to … job opportunities or education opportunities. The police state was run by the police, by the intelligence service.

The question is not really what led to the Arab Spring but what took it so long … to happen. Henry Ford one time said, ‘Whether you think you can or you cannot, you are.’ Most of the Arabs felt that they cannot. We were putting up with all that corruption…with all that injustice and all of the people were on the borders. If any unrest happens they are going to starve the following day. They are working per day and earting whatever they are making that day. They have no reserve. So any unrest, any problem, that might affect their living and their family might starve.

So people put up with that until we saw what happened in Tunisia first, and people start to feel that yes, this can be done. And then Egypt; and we felt more empowered because Egypt is like a key country in the Middle East.

So because of everything going on, and because they felt that yes, we can do something about it and, the age of information when you can go to the Internet and see what’s going on in other parts of the world.

A Hidden Child of the Holocaust Shares His Story at Augustana College

Click to Listen: Mr. Koek Tells His Story

Joseph Koek was 10 years old when the Nazis invaded The Netherlands. His father was a tailor and his mother was a manicurist. Their family of five included his two sisters. Mr. Koek spoke to a hushed crowd at Augustana College Monday night. He started by explaining why he shortened his Dutch name.

I was advised to change my name because if I ever got married and had children and my kids would go to school and they would be called “kook-kook” and have problems. So I cut my name in half.”

He said his early childhood was wonderful, and since his parents didn’t discuss politics in front of him he was unaware of the enemy about to invade their country.

After the Nazi invasion of May 5,1940 everything changed.”

The fear didn’t begin to come ’til later when I was not allowed to go to stores that were owned by some people. And then I had to start wearing the yellow star on my suit with the word Jew on it. And that curfew started to get earlier and earlier until the family could barely get out of the house.

On August 18, 1942 our family received a letter ordering us to report to the train station to be transported to what they said was a work camp. Later as an adult came to realize that my parents must have been laying plans to escape for a very long time unbeknownst to my sisters and me Because the next day I’m leaving home with a resistance guide. He’s a total stranger but we talk as he takes me to the end of the street and as we turn we keep walking until we get to the home where we’ll spend the next few years in hiding.”

Being only 12 years old I have no idea what to expect or what’s going on. I do not turn around to wave good-bye to my parents. I don’t kiss them good-bye. Looking back, now that I’m in my 80s, I wonder what must have been going on in my mind and more than that, what my parents must have been thinking.”

For years after the war I have punished myself for not dealing with our parting any better. My parents had to offer their three children that they loved to strangers that they must trust. None of us know what the future will hold for us. We never see our parents again.”

The Dutch Resistance guide led Joseph and his sisters to a three-story building where they hid on the top floor along with other children. The second floor of the building was a school, so when class was in session Joe and the others had to be very quiet. He said they played cards, Monopoly and his sister even taught him how to knit to pass the time in quiet ways.

We found out that our parents had been betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo. They were picked up and they were transported to the camp at Auschwitz where they were murdered.”

After that Joe and his sisters were separated. He didn’t know where his sisters went but he was taken by train to live with a farmer and his wife in the Dutch countryside. It was a common practice during the war for city-dwelling parents to send their children to live with relatives on farms because food was scarce in the cities. So the farming couple told neighbors Joe was the child of relatives who came to stay with them to get away from the city. The farmers were wonderful to him and he went to school, church, and wore wooden shoes everyday. One day, while delivering crops to market with a horse-drawn wagon, those clumsy wooden shoes saved his life.

As I was walking beside the wagon my wooden shoe caught on one of the wagon wheels. I tripped and I fell and I broke my leg. I was brought to the hospital where I spent the next six weeks in the children’s ward of the hospital. During my stay at the hospital I became aware that there was at least one other hidden child in my ward, a young girl. I also became aware that the doctor who ran the department was a dedicated Nazi.

On the second or the third day after I arrived at the hospital the Nazis had a round up. They marched into the village where I had been staying and for a tiny village they were sheltering a very large number of Jews and other escapees. Every single person who was hiding and every single person who had been sheltering them was taken to the front of the house and shot.

After my leg healed I was taken to an interim hiding place.”

Mr. Koek moved again to a new farming family in the northern region of Holland. Again he tried to settle into a routine of farm work and school. His new foster parents were also very good to him and they helped others too.

The father was generous with food and tried to help any hungry people that came around. Sometimes people would drive for hours and come from the city and trade whatever they could for food. Since hunger was by then rampant in the big cities, and this man was always kind he would give them whatever he could share.

Mr. Koek spent three years in hiding and had no idea where his sisters were or if they were even alive.

He also didn’t know, at this point, if his parents had survived. News of the outside world was heavily censored in Nazi occupied Holland, but they sometimes snuck in a few minutes of listening to resistance radio.

On June 6, 1944 I heard a broadcast from the BBC that announced that the Allies were invading France. The winter of ’44-’45 was extremely difficult for the Dutch. Thankfully I never went hungry. But I heard about how desperate and hungry the general population was from all the people who came to the dairy factory.”

In May of ’45 the Nazis capitulated and the Dutch were finally free. I was only 15 years old and didn’t know where I would go or what I would do with the rest of my life. The family that had sheltered me had been wonderful to me and they were very, very fond of me also. However with great love and kindness they told me that they could not adopt me even if I could not find my real parents. They explained that because the Jewish people had lost so very much they wanted me to be true to my heritage and live a Jewish life.

At this point in time many groups including some Jewish organizations and the Red Cross were trying desperately to find the hidden children and reunite them with their families. Somehow they found the three of us.

Eva and Annie had been living in the south of the country so they had been liberated almost a year before me. Eva had already been living as an adult and Annie was living with a lovely Catholic family that really wanted to adopt her. In fact, they fought for Annie in court more than once and eventually agreed however to give her up only on the condition that Eva would quit her job and go into the orphanage with Annie and me in order to take care of our little sister.

I learned that my sisters had some very difficult experiences during the war. At one point the girls had been in hiding with a number of other people. One very wealthy self-centered gentleman in their hiding place had bribed the local officials … to get to America. He decided he needed to look good for his trip to America so over strenuous objections of all the other adults he left the hiding place to go and get a haircut. He was caught by the Nazis and led the Nazis back to the group’s hiding place. Eva and Annie were led away from the hiding place by gunpoint.

They were supposed to be sent to Westerbork, the concentration camp in the northeast part of Holland. There was a list of all the captives but somehow Eva’s and Annie’s names were left out from the list thanks to The Resistance. An undercover resistance fighter told Eva to take Annie to the bathroom and wait there until roll call was over. Eva and Annie went to a stall and stood on top of the toilet seat. While they were there a Nazi searched the bathroom. He peered under all the stall doors but didn’t see them since they were standing on the tops of the seat. Later on they returned into the main room of the holding area and in the middle of the night a woman awoke them and informed them that they were being escorted to a doctor. For some reason the Nazis let them take them. The woman who was from the resistance took Eva and Annie to… a mile and a half down the road and cut off their Jewish stars and returned them to hiding.

We later discovered that our family had lost about 100 relatives during the Holocaust.”

The three Koek children lived in a Jewish orphanage for many years until each of them turned 21.

It was during those five or six years that I learned what had happened to my parents. I got a letter telling me that they had perished in Auschwitz. But for many years it was hard for me not to know what really had happened to them.

I never had any closure. I never got a way to say goodbye to my parents. As I am writing this it’s in the middle of the night in 2012 and I can’t fall asleep. I’m thinking of my parents. Where are they? Is this the last days of their lives? They are probably not together. They are probably not together. I have no idea how much they must suffer. I want to be with them one more time and talk with them.

At the present time, it’s 2012, I still miss them and so I can’t fall asleep. Crazy? Not really. I think about how much they must have suffered. I wish that I knew more about all they did to save our lives. I wonder why I am still living and able to tell the story; to share my feelings with you.

Is it alright for me to say at this late date thank you to my parents for all that they have done for me? Of course it is.

I am 12 years old. I walk out of the house with a resistance helper and I never look back. Now I wish that I had turned around and waved good-bye. But maybe that would have been too dangerous? I loved them more than they ever knew. I still do.”



RELATED: I found a wonderful blog with posts about The Netherlands in WWII. Here’s the link.

Questions and Answers with Mr. Koek

Click Here to Listen: Questions and Answers with Mr. Koek

After his presentation Mr. Koek took questions from the audience. He said he decided to tell his family’s story about seven years ago after a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at his synagogue. The president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum was the speaker at that service:

And I said to him, I said, ‘I’m one of the hidden children’, I said, ‘And I’m one of the survivors.’

And he says, ‘Are you telling your story?’ And I said, ‘No I can’t.’ Like most of us, we couldn’t. And he looks me straight in the eye the way you’re looking at me now and he said, ‘But Joe you must.’ And ever since then I haven’t shut up.

Some audience members wondered if Joe had ever gone back to visit his host families. He did return many decades later and made contact with the son of one of the couples.

Joe came to the U.S. after his oldest sister moved to the states after the war. She found him a job and so, in 1956, he came to Chicago. He became a tailor like his father, and then opened a dry cleaners. He also married, twice, and has three children and five grandchildren. His younger sister still lives in Amsterdam.

Question: What was it like the first time you told your story and where was it?

The first time was in Libertyville at a junior high school in front of over 300 children. Before I went there I went to the gentleman who was in charge of the speaker’s bureau and I said to him, ‘Where do I get trained for this?’ And he says, ‘You don’t.’ He said, ‘You go to school, you walk in front of these children and you tell them your story.’ And of course since then it’s become a little bit less difficult but it’s still not that easy.”

Question: What was their response?

“Interestingly enough the kids are wonderful. The questions…are fantastic. I’ve had groups of children where they would come to me, ‘can I shake your hand?’ ‘can I hug you?’

There’s a lady here from the area…brings children from the Middle East who are Muslims and other religions…these kids have become my friends.”

Joe says he wants the students he meets to understand that “we are all alike. We need to live together peacefully.” He read the audience a final page from his story that he usually reserves for students:

The story of the Holocaust tells us that there are people who hate other people so much that they will kill them only because they believe different, or look different. My story also tells us that there are also people who will do anything to save others, including risking their own lives. My wish for you children, is that you will grow up and belong to the second group.”

Joe also spoke to troops and guests at the Rock Island Arsenal’s Day of Remembrance Ceremony on April 9th. He answered a few more questions there.

What happened to your first host family – the ones where you were wearing the wooden shoes and then you fell?

“That was the second host family. The first one was The Haig, the second was the farmers and since I was no longer living with them when the Nazis walked into their house it was just a farmer and his wife. They turned around and left them alone.”

So they were safe.

“They were safe.”

The name of the village where the slaughter took place is Zevenhuizen.

Since you’ve been sharing your story does it make the memories more difficult, or does it help?

“It comes and it goes. It depends on who the audience is, what my mood is that day. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes…a day like today…it was not so easy seeing all these uniformed men. It’s a little difficult.


Joe’s son Steve was with him at both of these events and has seen his dad tell his story before.

What did you think when your dad started doing this?

Oh I thought it was phenomenal. I mean I think it’s changed his life. I think it’s added years to his life, to be able to do it. I was telling someone over there that he’s always loved to talk, he’s always been a ham – it’s been such a release for him, to be able to share it and to see the importance of the story living on for the next generations. I think he enjoys it and sees the importance of it. And for me as a son to be able to watch him and to hear the story is incredible. And to see the reactions from people, now that I’ve seen it a few more times, is really endearing.

At the Arsenal Ceremony several members of the audience, men and women alike, were moved to tears. 

4/19/14 – The Dutch want to create the first Holocaust memorial that includes the names of over 100,000 Dutch citizens who were exterminated by the Nazis. For more information see