Brandt, Quad Cities economic development pioneer, dies at age 90

Helen Brandt, 90, a longtime community advocate, pioneering economic development leader, and catalyst for change in the Quad Cities, has died.

Services will be 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, at First Lutheran Church, 1230 Fifth Ave., Moline. Visitation is 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home and Crematory, 3030 Seventh Ave., Rock Island, with an Order of Eastern Star service at 7 p.m. She died Friday, Jan. 21. Memorials may be made in care of Telecom Pioneers or First Lutheran Church.

Ms. Brandt worked for the Illinois Bell Telephone Co. for 37 ½ years, starting out as a junior operator and retiring as community relations manager in Rock Island, according to her obituary.  After she left Bell, however, she didn’t really retire. She launched a new career in economic development, working for Augustana College and then Northern Illinois Development Corp. in LaSalle, Bureau and Putnam counties before returning to the Quad Cities.

“She was a project manager at the Quad City Development Group when I started working for the Illinois Department of Commerce in 2000,” said Janet Mathis, former CEO and president of Renew Moline. “Helen was trailblazing. She was the first woman to hold a regional economic development role in the Quad Cities area and definitely one of the first, if not the first, woman economic developer in the area.”

The late U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., also saluted Ms. Brandt on her second retirement in 2021. “The Quad Cities Development Group, an umbrella organization for economic development for the major cities in my district, has been the catalyst for attracting over 14,000 new jobs and over $1 billion in new investment in the Quad Cities in the last 10 years,” Mr. Evans said in comments in the Congressional Record. “But an organization is only as good and only as effective as the men and women who give it its energy and life, and Helen Brandt has certainly been a dynamic force for enhancing the quality of life in the Quad Cities.”

Mr. Evans said Ms. Brandt “brought jobs and investment to the Quad Cities area,” including by  traveling to Washington to lobby for regional issues and by marketing the John Deere Classic golf tournament. In May 2016, she was named a JDC Community Hero, and donated her $1,000 award to the Telecom Pioneers for the “All Children Shall Have Shoes” program.

“Helen is one of those rare persons who can successfully accomplish all these work-related tasks while still finding time to volunteer in many professional and community groups,” Mr. Evans said.

Among the organizations she championed were: Friends of Trinity Medical Center, AT&T Pioneers, DHCU board of directors, Illinois Valley Business and Professional Women, Illinois Valley and Rock Island-Moline Zonta Clubs. 

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