Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
Like in the game of golf, it was all in the timing for Dr. Susan Rector, DDS. As the 2023 John Deere Classic tournament chair, the head volunteer could not have imagined 10 years ago when she accepted an invitation to join the JDC Board of Directors that she’d rise to the helm of the board. Nor could the Davenport oral and maxillofacial surgeon have pictured leading the dedicated volunteer force in a year when all the stars would align for the Quad Cities only PGA Tour event. She has reigned in a year that will go down in the annals of the Quad Cities tournament as the year of the “Caitlin (Clark) Effect;” the rollout of the Concerts on the Course with country music legends Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton; potentially, a new attendance JDC record; and a slew of other new improvements – large and small. Each and every change, she said, is aimed at elevating the game of golf, the JDC’s title sponsor John Deere, and above all, the Quad Cities as a whole. “It’s humbling to be making it to this role, and representing the 2,100 volunteers and 40 board members is amazing,” Dr. Rector said while traversing the TPC Deere Run course in Silvis earlier this week. She talked excitedly about the week, the changes and the people who all unite to convert the golf course into a magic city for the JDC week. “The board and staff have worked all year long to make this happen,” she said. “We really do have the best sponsor on tour, John Deere. They are great. They’re so giving.” She credited the addition of the Saturday and Sunday night concerts to the financial support of the global equipment maker, whose Moline headquarters are not far from the tournament course. “Volunteers are the lifeblood of this operation,” she said, stopping her golf cart regularly to greet a spectator, thank a volunteer and just check to make sure things were running smoothly. For Dr. Rector, the JDC is a family affair and a three-generation tradition. That includes her husband Bill Rector, a Moline attorney, who previously spent nine years himself as a JDC board member and was working admissions this year; as well as her father, Ron Sovey, a second generation Deere retiree and a 30-year JDC volunteer (who was back this year); and her daughters Lucy, 20, and Kate, 18, (who worked as standard bearers one day this week. She also is the sister of Mara (Sovey) Downing, who, as John Deere’s vice president of Global Brand and Communications, leads a team focused on shaping the company’s messaging. In her 25-year professional career, Dr. Rector has been an oral maxillofacial surgeon and with her partner, Tom Hueser, they own and operate Mississippi Valley Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Davenport. She joined the surgery center in July 2000 after completing her oral and maxillofacial and surgery residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and became an owner in 2005. Born in Moline and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, she earned her B.S. in zoology in 1991 from Iowa State University and completed her dental degree in 1996 at the University of Iowa. As she drove a QCBJ reporter around the course inspecting many details, Dr. Rector’s most commonly overheard sentence was “Hey Sue, I have a question for you … ” “Every five seconds it happens,” she said. “I’ve found I can’t get from Point A to Point B very quickly.” But answering all those questions – big and small – is part of the role and she couldn’t be more pleased to be at the JDC and surrounded by her JDC family. “It is really, honestly, my favorite week of the year,” said Dr. Rector, who takes vacation from her practice every tournament week. “This is a great community event, I’m so honored to be a part of it,” said the chief volunteer, who expected to devote at least 12-15 hours each day at the course. Asked to describe the chair’s job, she quickly replied: “I describe it as organized chaos. You have to try to have a handle on all the tiny, little things.” That, of course, would not happen without the army of volunteers – a record 2,100 this year – who handle all the chores on the course and, as she points out, are the envy of the PGA Tour. “We are so fortunate to have this (PGA) stop,” she said. “The general population doesn’t understand we are the smallest, by far, stop they come to… In general, people don’t understand how lucky we are.” In addition to John Deere’s continued title sponsorship, she said it is also the volunteers and the board leadership who make the difference. “It’s really a working board,” she said of her fellow directors. “We’re tasked with trying to help out anyway we can during the whole year.” She’s also very thankful for the skill sets and time of the legions of volunteers and the 100 committee chairs. “We are so fortunate (to have trained volunteers). A lot of tournaments have to pay for things such as laying electrical (service), signage … all the things we have volunteers and the board to do.” The talent pool, she added, “is really rare. We’re an anomaly. I think it is the Midwest nice thing… But we really have figured out how things should work.” With volunteers carrying the load, she said JDC is able to give away more money to charity because volunteers keep down the tournament costs. “We could never do what we do without John Deere and the John Deere Foundation,” she said. She credited their $325,000 seed contribution to Birdies for Charity as well as sponsoring the brand new Concerts on the Course as well as a jet to take the pros to their next tournament, the Scottish Open. “They view this as their premier event,” she said of the corporate title sponsor. The 2023 season also brought the addition of many new enhancements for fans, volunteers and the players alike. She rattles off a lengthy list of what’s new from new venues on course, new fundraising initiatives, and smaller corporate hospitality venues -- to open up the tournament to smaller sized companies. But one of her proudest changes is the addition of healthy food options on the course and the volunteer tent. In addition, Dr. Rector was pleased by the Pro-Am Day crowds, which saw double the adult attendance and too many youth to count (as they were admitted free that day). The day also produced triple the concession sales of a normal Pro-Am. “Thank you Caitlin,” she said of University of Iowa women’s basketball standout Caitlin Clark’s Pro-Am appearance. “We call it the Caitlin Effect.” She is hopeful that kick start to the week and the sold out Saturday and Sunday tournament days will ultimately result in more dollars for the JDC's Birdies for Charity. “We have a big goal – $14 million (raised for charity),” she said. “It’s a stretch goal, it is.” The 2022 tournament raised a record $13.9 million, which was distributed to more than 500 charities. To help the JDC reach the lofty goal, she said the board launched new fundraisers including a 50/50 raffle and a new chair rental program – Chairs by Mastercard. “So you can get a chair for $10, put it on the 18th green for the concerts and come back later – and all that money goes for Birdies for Charity too.” But per tradition and like all the volunteer chairs before her, including her predecessor Pat Eikenberry, Dr. Rector entered the week well prepared for the post. She recalled how in her first five years on the board she worked through a number of volunteer jobs from carts to player ambassadors and even trash pickup. Those who go on to the executive committee then commit another six years to the board – working their way through the various key committees including finance/information, player services, and operations. The operations committee, she said, was the busiest one so far. “That was completely out of my wheelhouse – it was everything from staking electric to water distribution. I had to be a jack-of- all-trades, master of none.” Although her predecessor Mr. Eikenberry’s civil engineering background served him well in that role, she said she had a lot to learn last year when as vice chair, she was his right hand. “I learned I can be a hard worker, complete the task, go on to the next task and not know how I did it,” she said. This year, her “go-to” person is Kevin Rafferty, of Moline, and owner of Rafferty Funeral Home, who will be the 2024 JDC volunteer chair. Despite the long hours and being pulled in many directions, she struggled to find anything she could say that she doesn’t like about the JDC. But she was quick to share how nervous she was about the tradition of the chair playing in the Pro-Am, which put her in the group with 2022 Champion J.T. Poston. In addition, she played with Take the Tee winner and John Deere engineer Kieren Samarakoon, now of Austin, Texas, who had Deere Chairman and CEO John May caddie for him. “I was completely dreading that and it was probably one of my best days out here ever,” said Dr. Rector, who leaned on her own golfer brother and caddie, Brett Sovey, for support. Under a regimented process by the JDC board, she will serve one more year on the executive board – as immediate past chair. “Then I’m going to have to find a place to go (to volunteer at the JDC),” she said. In fact, it is her hope to create a strategy for exiting board chairs. While she’s searched for other tournaments for a best practices example, she said “I couldn’t find one to model after. We are unique in that most of our chairs want to stay on. But my goal is to find a way (to keep them engaged).”