Saturday in the Arts is a weekly feature covering a trend, subject, event or personality of local interest. It runs every Saturday morning on your site for the best entertainment and arts coverage in the area, QuadCities.com!

If you think the last two years have been crazy (thanks, Covid), the fine folks at WQPT-TV in Moline have endured an unusual past three years – simultaneously a thrilling joyride and a white-knuckled journey of adventure and challenge.

The Quad Cities’ PBS station, which will mark 40 years in business in 2023, got a new general manager last month – who’s actually a trusted veteran with a laser focus on quality, community and diversity, and a warm-hearted mom with an easy laugh.

Dawn Schmitt, the business manager at WQPT for 11 years, had been interim general manager since January 2019 (the first year with development director Terry Wilson), and was named GM Dec. 1, 2021. Since 2010, the PBS affiliate has been the media service for Western Illinois University-Quad Cities.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

“Dawn brings a holistic approach and experience with leading the mission of public television in the Quad Cities,” said Kristi Mindrup, WIU’s Assistant Vice President, Academic Affairs and Interim Administrator for the QC campus, who hired Schmitt for the new job. “In her interim director/general manager role, Dawn led the station in collaborative strategic planning that engaged Quad-Cities area community members, public television viewers, WQPT staff, and members of the Western Illinois University community. WQPT is a public media service of WIU, and Dawn’s collaborative style aligns the station with the opportunities associated with a University-hosted public television station.

“Dawn is well-positioned to lead WQPT initiatives and collaborations that connect viewers in the region to national and local education, entertainment, and cultural programming, and through educational outreach to Quad-Cities area youth, educators, and schools,” Mindrup said recently.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Kristi Mindrup is Western Illinois University’s Assistant Vice President, Academic Affairs and Interim Administrator, Quad Cities Campus

WIU conducted a national search to identify a permanent WQPT general manager. “The search process yielded candidates from a broad geography, and the process confirmed that Dawn’s background, experience, and vision were best positioned to lead WQPT into its next evolution,” she said.

In this role, Schmitt is responsible for the station’s strategic plan, developing new partnerships with the station, working with donors and other members of the general public, scheduling programming and managing the station’s grants.

She also continues to serve as WQPT’s senior business manager, a position she’s held since September 2010. In this role, Schmitt is responsible for maintaining the station’s financial records, preparing the annual budget, ensuring compliance with federal and state agencies and developing the station’s internship program. Before joining WQPT, Schmitt was the senior accounting clerk for IPCS Wireless in Geneseo from 2006 to 2010. She has also worked as an accounting clerk with IPCS in Davenport (2005-2006).

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Public television is often referred to as one of the most trusted brands in America.

A Cambridge, Ill., native, Schmitt earned her master’s degree from the University of Illinois-Springfield and her bachelor’s degree from Culver-Stockton College.

WQPT PBS serves more than 800,000 residents in eastern Iowa and western and north-central Illinois. The station has been a public media service of WIU since 2010. What began as a vision by a small group of dedicated citizens in 1983, with just four hours of daily programming, now provides viewers access to programming delivered across open-air signals, cable/dish providers and on-demand live and on-demand digital delivery.

Falling in love with the station

 “I was looking for a career change,” Schmitt said recently of first coming to WQPT. “It’s so interesting how I found it, then I fell in love with it after I got in here. Accounting, you’re behind a desk. But what I fell in love with in the business manager position – I was doing the finance and behind the desk, but then I was involved in the other parts of the station, doing a pledge drive, things like that.

“What I love the most is seeing the impact of the dollars – what we’re spending and how it impacts the community,” she said. “Giving out free books, being part of that, it really meant a lot. It was more than a job.”

As a mother of four kids (now 22, 20, 18 and 14), she always appreciated PBS, from “Sesame Street” to all of its educational, entertaining, family-friendly programming. “My kids have really enjoyed it, with me having this job, they have benefitted. They’ve volunteered with us. They’ve done Imagination Station; they always fight about who’s gonna be in the costume.”

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“They literally grew up in the PBS family, it’s funny,” said Lora Adams, director of marketing and local content, and a 21-year WQPT veteran. “They may not turn on PBS all the time, but they know what PBS means. They know what it is to be in the community, and without exception, they’ve all been volunteers here. It doesn’t take much to get them to volunteer.”

According to PBS, local stations average 14 percent of their annual budget from federal funding and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with member revenue comprising 30 percent. WQPT has 3,650 members, according to its 2020 annual report. That year, the station received a federal Covid relief grant of $260,205.

Former GM Rick best also was a WQPT business manager, and hired Schmitt when he was GM. “He was a great mentor,” she said.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The station’s online auction will run from Jan. 18 to 28, culminating with a TV auction airing the last two nights.

In December 2019, after more than six years, Mary Pruess retired from her leadership role at the station. A former president and general manager of WNIT, the PBS affiliate in South Bend/Elkhart, Ind., Pruess in April 2013 was named GM of WQPT.

During her tenure, WQPT moved offices, restructured master control and programming, and continued with a focus on creating more local television programming, aired along with PBS programming, according to a station release in 2019. “We are creating a new way of being a public broadcasting station,” Pruess said then.

In 2018, she retired as WQPT’s chief, but continued on with the station as director of capital projects and planning. With the leadership phase of a new signal-improvement capital project (called “Aspire Higher”) completed, Pruess officially retired from public broadcasting.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Dawn Schmitt, a Cambridge, Ill., native and business manager since 2010, was named station GM effective Dec. 1, 2021.

Before it launched in 1983 at Black Hawk College with four hours of programming daily (weekdays only), the Q-C area was the largest metro area in the nation without a PBS station. WQPT expanded its broadcasting 24 hours per day, seven days per week on its main channel (Mediacom 10 – Channel 24) and its secondary channel (24.2), MHz Worldview, which in 2020 switched to Deutsche Welle, German-based news programming on 24.2.

Milestones in the station’s history include adding the Sterling/Rock Falls transmitter in 1991; conversion to digital transmission in 2005, and transfer of the WQPT license from Black Hawk to Western Illinois University in 2010. The station went through hard times of BHC budget cuts and staff reduction, primarily because of state funding cuts.

The WQPT-produced public affairs series, “The Cities with Jim Mertens,” began in 2009. Other series that have called WQPT home include “Perspective” and “Life and Times,” hosted by Susan McPeters. “Get Movin,'” “Artists in Profile,” “Originals at RME” and “Dining In” were produced by WQPT, and “Romper Room,” produced by WQAD, found a home.

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Throughout the years, the station has produced documentaries such as “3 Esthers” and “Chad Pregracke: The River Rescuer,” along with such special performances as “The Nutcracker,” “Dracula” and “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”

WQPT has won many national awards, including Emmy nominations for “Scattergood,” and “Letters Home to Hero Street,” two CINE Golden Eagle Awards, Telly Awards and the PBS Sterling Award. It won the Grassroots Advocacy Award from the National Friends of Public Broadcasting for the WQPT/PBS Ambassadors program.

Through public television access, programming, and outreach initiatives, WQPT provides Q-C centered educational, entertainment, and cultural programming on and off screen, said WIU’s Mindrup. “The entire WQPT team, fortified by community volunteers, student interns, WIU collaborations, and strategic partnerships, partners in meaningful and impactful ways with area schools to increase literacy and with community organizations to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she said.

Based at Western, but not university funded

Western’s interest in holding the WQPT license from the Federal Communications Commission is centered on shared values and opportunities, Mindrup said. “With WQPT fitting as a department within Western Illinois University — faculty, staff, and students are actively involved with the station team on programming concepts and content.  WIU and other area college students serve as interns for the station in accounting, event planning, project management and more. Through these collaborations and more, WQPT in turn raises awareness about the positive impact WIU and public television have on the quality of life in our Quad Cities region and beyond.”

WIU is the FCC license holder for WQPT, and all staff are considered university employees, even though WIU doesn’t provide direct funding to their $2-millon annual budget.

“The resources of the university – we’re able to talk to different professors, who advise us. We partner to do outreach activities,” Schmitt said. “Even though they do not give us direct funding, we have wonderful space on the campus, beautiful office space. And access to students. We’re such a small staff, that our volunteers and our student interns have been a big part of us being able to do our job.”

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

WQPT PBS helps inspire children everywhere and sparks their imagination.

“We’re a smaller staff than it used to be,” Adams said, noting the station is looking for a new business manager, director of outreach and education (with applications for that sought until Jan. 28, and an office support person. Schmitt was the sole interim GM for the second year, and continues as business manager. WQPT has a total staff of just eight, including employing a WIU student (Logan Volkert) as part-time front desk employee during this school year.

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to us,” Adams said. “He’s got a big career ahead of him.”

Schmitt wanted to pursue the GM job because she loves the station and the people she works with.

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“I have an incredible team, but seeing the impact the station can and does make in the community – and the way for us to give back, and tell the story of our communities,” Schmitt said. She wants to fill the business manager job ASAP. The former educational coordinator, Michael Carton, left for a teaching job last August.

2021 marked the 51st anniversary of PBS nationwide providing outstanding programming through affiliate stations throughout the country, like WQPT PBS.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Mary Pruess, the former station general manager, stepped down from that job in December 2018.

For WQPT PBS, 2021 marks the 11th year in partnership with WIU. While WQPT is entirely self-funded through generous donations from viewers and sponsor support, and some federal grants, WIU provides in-kind support. WQPT PBS is nationally recognized as a model affiliate station within the public broadcasting network, according to its website. Like the old PBS KIDS program “Thomas the Tank Engine,” WQPT PBS is like the “little engine that could.”

Doing a lot with not much

 

“It amazes people to hear how small our staff is and what we actually produce,” Adams said of the mix of local and national programming. “We get that a lot. You produce this weekly show; you do these mini-docs. And when you say now, people shake their heads and they say, ‘What are you taking?’”

“I think we probably are the smallest PBS staff in the nation right now,” Schmitt said.

“I think we’re very lucky in that we have so many people in the community who know we’re there to help,” Adams said. “Right now, we’re going to write an RFP, to deal with our initiative on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), and continue to reach out to every corner of our area. That’s especially with Dawn, that focus is laser sharp. That’s what we are here for – we serve everybody.”

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The entrance to WQPT’s offices at WIU’s Building C, 3300 River Drive, Moline.

“There’s a lot of diversity in this region and we need to celebrate it and highlight it,” Schmitt said. “We’ve always programming on that has diversity to it, but now we’re focusing on it, working with our programmers and asking for specific programming. Not just highlighting, it’s a special month for something.”

“It’s not just a token one or two programs, but there’s a real focus on what we’re doing,” Adams said.

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With Henry Louis Gates’ “The Black Church: This is Our Story. This is Our Song,” last February, WQPT interviewed local Black pastors and highlighted their stories, Schmitt said. “We had an in-person and virtual component, where we talked about their programming and how it impacted them.”

Adams was an intern when she started with the station at Moline’s BHC. The very first Q-C production of “The Nutcracker” was done in 1988, by a precursor of Ballet Quad Cities called City Ballet. WQPT taped one of those performances at Davenport’s Capitol Theatre, and she was a co-host.

“We would produce stuff and we had no money,” Adams said of the early years. “That’s one of the things too, you can’t rest on your laurels. We’re known for thinking out of the box. We’ve had to.”

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Tammy and Kelly Rundle, who run Moline-based Fourth Wall Films, are longtime partners with WQPT.

Kelly and Tammy Rundle, owners of Moline-based Fourth Wall Films, have a longstanding partnership with Adams and WQPT.

“WQPT-PBS is unique in its commitment to airing programming with a focus on local and regional history,” they said Friday. “This focus has allowed Fourth Wall Films to partner with them on projects like the Emmy-nominated ‘Letters Home to Hero Street.’ Because of this association, ‘Letters Home’ and specially-prepared lesson plans and resources, are available via the national PBS LearningMedia website for teachers throughout the country.””

“We are grateful to have WQPT as our broadcast premiere partner,” the Rundles said by e-mail. “Those broadcasts provide free access to our Midwestern history and ecology documentaries, and it has allowed our films to receive nine Mid-America Emmy nominations and a recent win for ‘Over & Under: Wildlife Crossings.’

“Other public broadcasters in the region have noted that WQPT continuously ‘boxes’ above its weight,” they added. “They are amazed at what a station WQPT’s size is doing. We should never take for granted the fact that we have our own local PBS station. It means we have a station that places a premium on local needs and interests.”

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The co-production “Letters Home to Hero Street,” which was released in 2015, was filmed at WQPT’s old studio and earned a regional Emmy nomination.

They have enjoyed working with Adams, who the Rundles called “an exceptional producer and filmmaker,” and a “number of other talented people at WQPT, since we relocated our production company to Moline in 2007. Their work in and for the community is important to the success of our Quad Cities region,” the Rundles said.

Adams was happy to be part of Fourth Wall finally winning an Emmy for the short documentary, “Over & Under: Wildlife Crossings.”

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“I was thrilled for them,” she said. “I sit on their board for the new Truth First Film Alliance.”

In late October, Fourth Wall Films won a Mid-America Emmy for the 10-minute documentary, in the Environmental/Science category. The Rundles’ films have been nominated nine times altogether (including a best musical score one in 2020). “Our sincere gratitude for this important win goes to all involved in this production,” producer Tammy Rundle said then. “And a big thank you to Lora Adams and WQPT-PBS for the qualifying broadcast and their ongoing interest in our films.”

Focusing on programs of area interest

“Really what makes WQPT special in this area is that we are a PBS station, but we dedicate so much of our airtime to local productions,” Schmitt said recently. “It’s working with local producers. It’s also our ability – because we’re not a big staff, we can’t do big productions, but Lora has been really great about doing snapshots. It’s our opportunity to tell local stories.”

This past May, the station produced a six-minute snapshot of the I-74 bridge, as the new $1-billion bridge was taking shape. The original architectural firm, started by Ralph Modjeski (1860-1940), was the designer not only of the 1935 and 1959 twin spans of the old 74 bridge, but the 1896 Government Bridge. The firm that designed the new I-74 bridge stems from the same company.

Modjeski and Masters, as part of the Alfred Benesch design team, provided design services for the two basket-handle arch bridges, which reach 230 feet above the Mississippi River. The new bridge (which fully opened in early December) is more than twice as wide as the existing bridge, with four lanes in each direction.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Clifford the Big Red Dog stands sentry at WQPT offices.

“It’s kind of amazing,” Adams said. “And before they knocked down the old Moline depot, we got some footage and did a short on the Moline depot. There are all those stories.”

“We’ve been really lucky, like the people from Iowa City who did the George Stout documentary and came down to do the screening at the Figge – that was a piece, I just got an email one day,” she said. “They asked, have you seen this documentary? And when I saw it, I said you need to put this up for Emmy consideration. This is that good. And when I met him finally in person, he said, ‘You told me, and you were right’ and they did get an Emmy nomination for it; they didn’t win it. But they got a nomination.”

George Stout (1897-1978) was born in Winterset, Iowa, the subject of a 2019 documentary – “Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art.” It was shown for free on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2021, in the Figge Art Museum’s John Deere Auditorium. It was the first film to be screened by the newly formed Truth First Film Alliance.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The airy, light-filled lobby in Western Illinois University’s Building C in Moline, where WQPT is based.

Director Kevin J. Kelley and producer Marie Wilkes did a Q&A following the 81-minute film about the “Monuments Men” during World War II. This group, a military special forces unit, was assigned the mission of retrieving stolen art from the Nazis and was the subject of a major 2014 movie (“The Monuments Men”) directed by George Clooney and starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.

“Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art” tells the story of this art student from Winterset, who became the leader of “The Monuments Men” (Clooney played a fictionalized Stout in his film). The documentary also explores Stout’s pioneering efforts in the areas of art conservation, which elevated this discipline into the world of modern science.

A lot of filmmakers tell WQPT, “You give us the opportunity for our pieces to be seen by wider audiences,” Adams said. “Because of that, they’re able to put their pieces up for consideration for awards. That’s also part of our job. We belong to the public, so if there are pieces that speak to our public, I’m gonna do my darndest to get it on the air.”

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“Letters Home to Hero Street” was an unusual project, funded in part by the Illinois Arts Council. Adams heard about the leftover funding available for projects in August, and the film had to be done by late December.

She contacted director Kelly Rundle, who said they had World War II-era letters from Frank Sandoval of Silvis (killed in action in June 1944), and it was filmed in WQPT’s old studio. “We shot everything in that little, tiny place,” Adams recalled.

The 2015 documentary focuses on the personal letters sent home from one of the eight soldiers, who died during World War II and the Korean conflict—all of whom were from the same block-and-a-half long neighborhood now called Hero Street, USA, in Silvis.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Lora Adams, left, and Dawn Schmitt at WQPT’s front desk.

The award-winning documentary “Letters Home to Hero Street,” produced by Lora Adams of WQPT-Quad Cities PBS and Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films, received a 2015 Mid-America Emmy nomination in the historical documentary category. The 25-minute film was partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council and received a Silver Eddy and the Audience award at the 2015 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival.

“At that time, when Frank went, their kitchen was below ground,” Adams said. “We found the kitchen at Deere-Wiman House, that same kind of thing. Because we were a nonprofit, we were able to go and film there.”

“It was meant to happen; it was fate,” she said of the film. “Because of ‘Letters Home, they’ve been able to continue with the other Hero Street pieces, on more of the soldiers.”

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

WQPT’s commitment to diversity has included airing Hola America programs.

WQPT hasn’t been co-producer on the subsequent films because they don’t have the money, Adams said. “There’s no extra money for us to work on those projects, so basically what we do, we get first crack at them, and as a result, they’re able to be put up for Emmy consideration. We air each of them.”

The Rundles have completed “Riding the Rails to Hero Street,” and “A Bridge Too Far From Hero Street,” and are currently in production on An Infantryman from Hero Street,” which tells the true story of Joseph Sandoval. The entire series explores the compelling true story of eight heroes: Tony Pompa, Frank Sandoval, William Sandoval, Claro Solis, Peter Masias, Joseph Sandoval, Joseph Gomez and John S. Muños.

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The series will combine interviews with family members, friends, veterans, community leaders and historians with vintage photos, film, and archival materials to tell an unforgettable story of American courage, character and perseverance.

WQPT in 2012 twice aired the Fourth Wall 2010 documentary, “Country School: One Room — One Nation.”

The film offered a new perspective on one-room schools in the Upper Midwest. It recently won a 2012 Telly Award for Excellence in TV Program/Documentary. These awards honor outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, and “Country School” was among more than 11,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents.

Documentaries from Savanna to Chicago

A new WQPT documentary close to Adams’ heart is “Havencrest Castle: A Very Special Place,” which premiered last month. Havencrest Castle in Savanna, Ill., 53 miles north of Moline — first completed in 1901 and quadrupled in size over the years – is the subject of the latest WQPT doc. A premiere screening took place on Dec. 6, at The Savanna Times Theater, free to the public. The film took much longer to complete due to Covid, Adams said, noting they interviewed owner Alan St. George several years ago and had hoped to finish the film that same year.

“However, it took an additional 18 months to finally get the chance to finish taping and to edit the documentary,” she said. The film covers the history of the house and the love story of Alan and Adrianne St. George, as they purchased the home known as Hillcrest and transformed it into Havencrest Castle. The film aired on WQPT on Dec. 8 and Dec. 12.

The Havencrest screening was “the most eclectic group of people I’ve ever seen at a screening,” Adams said. “It was a very large group. It was so cold and it was windy. But people showed up. It was just a very eclectic group and they asked a lot of questions afterwards, and a lot about the process, not just about Havencrest. Why did I tell the story the way that I did?”

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Havencrest Castle in Savanna, Ill., was featured in a new WQPT documentary that premiered in December 2021.

WQPT will air it again in April, partly because Havencrest re-opens for tours in May, just during that month, and again in October.

“There’s 63 rooms in that house. It’s not all air-conditioned,” Adams said. “You can’t really have tours in the summer. Since we finished it, he finished putting in the gazebo in the garden. That’s new and that’s a piece I would like to back and shoot and attach to the end.” She’s amazed at how few people know the place (set off from the main road) even exists.

Owner Alan St. George’s sculptures, paintings, and murals fill the castle, inspired by the love of his late wife, Adrianne Blue Wakefield-St. George. She always wanted to build a gazebo, for weddings there; she passed away on June 1, 2006.

“He said the St. Georges come and go, but I people love a house, it can be here forever,” Adams said. “So he has taken some steps to make sure the house is in trust and it can continue to have guests. It was wonderful meeting him, was wonderful working with him.”

WQPT also did a short video history of Hampton, Ill., which also aired in December. “To really go through the history of it, those sorts of things are always fun,” she said.

“There are so many stories in our area,” Adams said of documenting Iowa and Illinois subjects. “There are other things like – we have wonderful relationships with WTTW in Chicago; with WTBP, with WILL. So when they are doing pieces that speak to us – the Illinois River or the prairie – we reach out to them and see about getting it.”

One, a WTTW documentary about the Eastland tragedy on the Chicago River done a couple years ago, won an Emmy, and Adams plans to air it on WQPT in March. It’s called “The Eastland Disaster,” recalling thousands of horrified onlookers who witnessed Chicago’s most deadly disaster on the morning of July 24, 1915.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

Lora Adams, the station director of marketing and local content, is a 21-year veteran.

Warehouse workers along the Chicago River shouted, “Look out, she’s tipping!” Suddenly the fully-loaded passenger ship Eastland began her slow roll into infamy, killing 844 of the more than 2,500 passengers, according to a WTTW synopsis. That installment of Chicago Stories features underwater reenactment footage, graphic pictures taken moments after the ship rolled over, and interviews with Libby Hruby of Cicero, one of the last remaining survivors.

“There were so many people on the boat, they’re being tourists on the boat,” Adams said. “They never left the dock, and because it became so top-heavy, it literally tipped over and over 800 people died. There’s so much more to it, in terms of all the politics that went into it.”’

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“The documentary is really, really interesting,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been here as long as I have, in that there’s just so much – so many stories to tell that aren’t necessarily the big, huge ones. But the stories themselves are amazing.”

 

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The WQPT “Aspire Higher” campaign raised $1.4 million, and literally raised their broadcast antenna 300 feet and replaced the TV transmitter with a more powerful unit.

Another they want to do is on Cherry, Ill. (78 miles east of Moline), and its mining disaster. A 1909 fire in a coal mine led to the death of 259 men and boys. The disaster stands as the third most deadly in American coal mining history. “That’s one that is on our radar to do,” Adams said. “Who knew that Cherry, Illinois had one of these big mines and how many people there died? It’s one of the reasons there are child labor laws, because so many kids were killed.”

Another of Schmitt’s priorities is producing more local programming, she said.

Completing a capital campaign, next auction soon

The new GM is proud that she helped fulfill the station’s ambitious “Aspire Higher” capital campaign last year, raising $1.4 million.

The “Aspire Higher” capital improvements included two primary items: physically raising the WQPT broadcast antenna 300 feet higher on the tower in Orion, Ill., and replacing their TV transmitter with a more powerful, modernized unit. These new technology assets benefit viewers and both Iowa and Illinois. These improvements were completed in March 2021.

The new antenna increased transmission power, strengthened the signal and improved reception dramatically throughout the viewing area, expanding service to about 200,000 more viewers. “It also assures our eligibility for inclusion on local cable and satellite systems. In short, this clear, more robust transmission enables more regional residents to view our programming with the same level of quality as the signals received from other broadcasters,” according to WQPT.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

New general manager Dawn Schmitt at WQPT’s front desk.

In January 2021, because they couldn’t hold their in-person, main annual fundraiser, “Champagne on the Rocks,” WQPT went back to what they used to do in the ‘80s, “An Auction At Your House.”

“That gave us the opportunity to still have our auction, and allow way more people to be involved if they wanted to bid,” Adams said. “You can be anywhere.”

Last year, she got friends of St. Ambrose University to build a set for the auction during shutdowns, and they raised over $31,000, Schmitt said. Now this month, there are new lights and equipment in the WIU studio.

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“We had moved during vacation time last year, so we were able to do the auction in that space,” Adams said. “WQPT has always figured out how to do it, no matter what, on a shoestring. We just make it happen. That’s kind of us.”

Last year, she hosted the auction, with Schmitt and Wilson. “It was great, actually, to have a local show again,” Adams said. “It was great to have the auction and have a fundraiser at the end of January. We are a nonprofit; always have been, always will be. These are the things that help us continue what we’re doing. The fact that we were able to do it, was because we’re just like a dog with a bone. We’re gonna make it happen if it kills us.”

Back in the day, Spike O’Dell was one of the hosts for the old “Auction at Your House,” she said. “It was usually kids from Black Hawk in the broadcasting program who ran cameras. And on camera were a lot of folks people would recognize. Joe Whitty was on there and some of the original board members.”

People then would watch the auction on WQPT and call in bids on their (landline) phones. “It was the Stone Age,” Adams joked. “The opportunity now is, we worked with a company and you go on your (smart) phone, and while you’re watching television, you can be bidding using your phone. It doesn’t have to go to an operator; it’s all automated. It’s very slick.”

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Most everything, except for “fire sale” items, will end at 9:55 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28, when the bidding will close. The auction will open on Jan. 18 online, and people can bid over the 10 days.

“That is a way for us to still have an auction – obviously, you’re not having a lovely dinner somewhere,” Adams said. “You still have the auction; you don’t have to spend money on a cute outfit. You can sit in your jammies.”

O’Dell has donated three paintings he recently did, including of a delectable dish from Whitey’s. Last year, he did a Maid Rite painting that people went crazy over, Adams said.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The Moline studio backdrop for “The Auction Is at Your House.”

“They are just different items than in the past,” Adams said of the auction pieces, which include an Arizona getaway, St. Louis Symphony tickets, a Chicago Bear autographed football, local jewelry, and another Steve Sinner (Bettendorf woodturner) vase. “A lot of restaurants, especially last year, didn’t know when they’d be open, or hotels. You know, it’s a funny thing – this Midwestern nice that we have. People will help if they can. I wouldn’t say we were disappointed at all in who responded, but there were different people who responded, because we were in such a weird state.

“This year, we have a lot of stuff – everything from books and DVDs, to paintings, to overnight stays at different places,” she said. “Lots of golf and lots of wine. Apparently during Covid, you really need to drink.”

She prefers the online auction, since it allows so many more people to bid than an in-person auction.

WQPT has items from popular PBS shows “Masterpiece” and “Antiques Roadshow” in the auction. “It reminds people, too, that’s why we’re here and what we do,” Adams said. “It’s always fun to do.”

Marie Ziegler has shopped for several themed gift baskets (like an All-American basket) for auction. “I think she did 13 or 17 this year,” Adams said. “She does get carried away. She just goes out there – you gotta love a woman who likes to shop.”

“It’s really a fun time for us, to sort of yammer away, but certainly acknowledge the people who have done this,” she said of auction donors.

Jim Mertens still records “The Cities” through Zoom over the past two years. “He brings people every week information on Covid, or who’s running for office, all that sorts of stuff,” Adams said. “Everything has been Zoom and has been very focused on keeping people up to date on where they can find information to stay healthy, and get tested. It’s a public affairs show.”

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Schmitt’s favorite PBS show is “All Creatures Great and Small,” from Masterpiece, based on James Herriot’s adventures as a veterinarian in 1930’s Yorkshire, England. Season 2 is due to start this month.

Among its many outreach efforts, WQPT provides free children’s books to area Title 1 schools, having given out close to 10,000 books during the pandemic. Those are purchased by the station. Teachers come to WQPT offices to choose the books.

Adams co-owns Moline’s Black Box Theatre, and during the November Holiday Hop downtown, she gave away 300 books at that event, with goodie bags.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran

The five-year-old Black Box Theatre is at 1623 5th Ave., Moline.

“That’s another way for us to be out in the community,” she said. WQPT was out during the summer at Moline’s Mercado on Fifth, Schmitt said. “We had workbooks we gave out, that were bilingual,” she said.

 

The station site highlights its community connections.

“WQPT PBS relies on viewer input and suggestions—together you make us better,” it says. “Viewer input has inspired a variety of regional programming including Quad Cities Life and Times, Arsenal Minutes, Snapshots, The Cities with Jim Mertens, and Explore with Mr. Scott.”

Viewer ideas have also helped bring to life events, such as the original Imagination Station and its successful reinvention in 2015; plus a variety of engaging and purposeful mission-based educational outreach initiatives such as Embracing Our MilitaryVibrant Neighborhoods and our First Book Club. WQPT PBS’ Community Advisory Board provides additional insight, suggestions and ideas for the station’s continued success.

For more information, visit www.wqpt.org.

 

WQPT Quad Cities PBS Enters New Era With New Boss, A Station Veteran
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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