Monday, February 23, 2009
sponsored by Quiznos


Personality of the Week

All career paths led tourism director to Lincoln:
Geoff Ladd

Send a link to a friend 

Geoff with his "inspiration," Julianne Shoopman
(Click on picture for larger image.)

[February 23, 2009]  Everyone entrusted with promoting Lincoln and Logan County is quick to say, "All roads lead to Lincoln." In the case of Geoff Ladd, director of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County, it could be said that all of Geoff's career paths have led him to our community. And numerous are those paths.

InsuranceGeoff was born and raised in the Evanston area, just north of Chicago, but his parents, Frank and Nancy Ladd, moved the family to Jacksonville when he was a teenager. "Now that was a culture shock," Ladd laughed as he compared a big-city upbringing and his transfer into a much smaller community.

A graduate of Jacksonville High School, Ladd received his degree in psychology with a minor in communications at Western Illinois University.

The time was 1983 and our country was in the midst of economic doldrums that saw Geoff try on many hats to make money. "I worked at a White Hen; I sold shoes; I even painted houses just to make some money," Ladd recalled.

Ladd did have an opportunity to see if psychology would be his life's calling, with a stint at the Jacksonville Developmental Center, but he found his passion was in communications. Working area radio, Ladd also worked at the local public-access television station, directing and offering other technical assistance to the programming. To earn a living while he pursued these personal interests, Ladd worked as a freelance website designer and television commercial producer.

It was this work that gave him area contacts and established him as a person worth hiring.

When the job as assistant at the Jacksonville Area and Convention Visitors Bureau opened up, Geoff, at ease with the media and understanding public relations from his past endeavors, was hired. After almost three years at the Jacksonville post, Ladd heard that the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau was looking for a new director and applied for the position.

In September of 2005, Ladd was hired and began a revamping of an agency that was facing difficult times. "The first issue we faced was to get our finances back into the black without letting that problem bog down the agenda." Ladd said. "When I first came to Lincoln, Marilyn Craig was the interim tourism director. What a help she was to me. She knew everyone and really knew the community, which helped me a great deal."

In the three-plus years Ladd has been on the job, the direction, scope and activity of the tourism bureau has expanded exponentially. A firm believer in networking, Ladd has made contacts and friends with other tourism bureaus throughout the state as well as the country.

Ron Keller, curator of the Lincoln Heritage Museum at Lincoln College, had this to say about Ladd's efforts: "Since assuming the helm of tourism a few years ago, Geoff has built a coalition of organizations which were somewhat disparate prior to that, including connecting Abraham Lincoln with Route 66. He is personally responsible for bringing both the covered wagon and saving The Mill from demolition. He has networked and connected Logan County's tourism treasures to individuals from all across the state and the nation. I can think of no other person who more actively promotes -- through a sometimes very unorthodox vision -- our heritage in Logan County as a tourism destination. Geoff has revitalized tourism in Logan County as we know it. It's as simple as that."

Ladd says he usually spends two or three nights a week at various organizations' meetings as well as being on the job all those weekends when the area is celebrating a festival or event.

"I have found out the various historical societies in the area are a great base for volunteer support," he said. And the tourism bureau needs those volunteers, as it is just Geoff and his assistant, Misty Bell, to man the tourism office. But Ladd in turn has become a significant volunteer to all those organizations as well, and it is his relationship with them that has helped create a unified effort to promote the county's tourism strengths.

While Ladd is an extremely active director, his personal affability comes into play with everyone he meets, and that also has helped the interest in area tourism and the community as well.

"From my first day on the job, Geoff has been very welcoming to me," said Andi Hake, executive director of the Lincoln/Logan Chamber of Commerce. "His very relaxed, jovial personality makes him enjoyable to be around. Geoff is not only deeply involved in tourism efforts in the state and locally in Logan County, but he dedicates many hours to the chamber, serving on our marketing, bike trail, Art & Balloon Festival committees as well as ex-officio on our board of directors. Sharing a building with Geoff, I have learned he has a big heart."

[to top of second column]

Geoff's big heart is seen often by those close to him. Most recently he made a co-worker's wedding day more memorable by making arrangements for the ceremony to take place at the Postville Courthouse site.

Ladd sees many important tasks ahead of him and tourism in the upcoming year. For one, there is the continued movement of the Railsplitting Festival into a celebration and exhibit of early pioneer days. For another, there is the continued work restoring The Mill on Washington Street.

But Ladd doesn't just focus on a few events in the community. "We (tourism bureau) are charged with helping all events that promote tourism in the county," he said.

Ladd is also very positive on the long-term affects for increased area tourism. He's focused in on the rebirth in Route 66. This is an interest that is happening throughout the country and the world. "We have two new, beautiful hotels, and we need to do everything we can to bring people into our community," he said.

Ladd understands that although he is in charge of tourism, his duties also include being a champion of all agencies that grow our community. Joel Smiley, director of the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership, praised Ladd. "Geoff's enthusiasm and dedication to tourism has been evident with all the great progress he has made at The Mill," Smiley said. "His efforts and how he works with volunteers shows he is a great leader. The economic partnership has had a great relation with tourism as a result of our interaction with each other."

With this being the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birthday, Ladd believes it could be a banner year for visitors. He also believes it is important to focus regionally on possible visitors, as the economy could create more "staycations" than ever before. That is where people use their vacation time locally or regionally rather than taking long, expensive trips.

In a more serious moment with a man who wears a smile as comfortably as a regent wears a crown, Ladd talked about the only time he portrayed Abraham Lincoln. "It was at Middletown's 175th anniversary. When I walked past the veterans as I was portraying the president, they saluted me. Imagine being saluted by our veterans. What a humbling experience."

As busy as Ladd is, he still finds time to delve into still more diverse paths, as he did as a young man. He still loves his music and hopes to get back into a rock group as a drummer someday. He is an amateur paranormal investigator and a major politics and news junkie. Ladd also is a Pez collector and is working on getting a master's degree in communication from the U of I in Springfield. Ladd also makes every attempt to spend time with "the inspiration in my life," his girlfriend, Julianne Shoopman.

Although many adjectives could be used to define Ladd, no two, or perhaps no dozen, could define this tireless worker for the community. Perhaps it should just be said that Ladd's selfless energy, always served with a generous smile, is what makes him our Personality of the Week.

Geoff in earlier days, as a rock-and-roller



Personality of the Week archives

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor