Geoff 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
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
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
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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
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