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Eckland brought energy, committment to LG



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February 25, 2014 | 05:02 PM
Grace Eckland promises that, since she's retired, she's going to take things easier.

Maybe.

Eckland officially retired after 17 years as marketing and public relations director of the Lake Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau on Dec. 31.

But retirement didn't start until she was absolutely sure her work was done, according to Darien Schaefer, president of the Lake Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce. Eckland is not the type to just cut and run, he said.

When the holidays and a medical issue interfered with work, Eckland came back after Dec. 31 to complete tasks and make sure transition to the new chamber president was smooth, Schaefer said.

"I think she really cares about the Lake Geneva area," Schaefer said. "And she's really concerned about the chamber and how the Lake Geneva area is represented."

"She's well-rounded," said Nancy Russell, Walworth County Board chairwoman and former Lake Geneva alderwoman. "I got closely acquainted to her when I was on the city council and I was assigned to the beautification committee."

Russell also worked with Eckland on the Black Point Historic Preservation Board putting together a marketing plan for the new historic site.

"She was dedicated, generous and very accomplished in her work," Russell said.

Although Eckland lives in the town of Linn, she has contributed mightily to the city of Lake Geneva, said Russell.

"She's not afraid to tackle tough jobs," Russell said.

In a recent interview, Eckland, who appears timeless, refused to discuss age.

What's known is that she has a son and a daughter, both who are in business and both who have families. And she has four grandchildren between ages of 7 and 10 on whom she dotes.

She retired because she wants to make sure they see their grandmother early and often, she said.

Eckland said she spent more time with the convention and visitors bureau than she intended. But, she added, she enjoyed her work with the bureau.

"I believe in the potential of Lake Geneva. It was a great deal of satisfaction to me. It was supposed to be a part-time job. Hah!" she said.

Eckland said she grew up in a small town of 1,100 near Springfield, Ill., the daughter of Franklin Samuel Coplan and Hannah Elizabeth Brubaker Coplan.

Her father was a school superintendent. Her mother was a music teacher who also taught piano.

Eckland said her family's connection to the Geneva Lake areas started with her mother, who spent several summers working at George Williams College.

Growing up, Eckland said, her focus was on music and singing.

She went to UCLA intending to get a degree in opera. However, she said she later realized that a five-year degree in opera wasn't necessary to sing opera.

So she switched to business administration and earned an MBA through an experimental program that integrated all of the functions of management into one course.

Still attracted to performing, Eckland went to New York City to sing on Broadway. Eckland said she loved performing, but she realized she did not like the New York lifestyle.

"It's not what I wanted," she said.

And still, she loved singing, and performed with two world-renowned chorales, the Robert Shaw Choir and the Roger Wagner Choir. But her heart is now in the business world.

Eckland took a job with IBM in Chicago, where she became the company's first female salesperson. She said she also learned that there is a lot of similarity in aptitude between music and computers.

The IBM "boot camp" that all sales people had to attend, was one of the best computer training programs in the world, Eckland said.

She's used that education to start at least one computer company and to work as an information technologies consultant. While in Lake Geneva, Eckland developed an online reservation software that was picked up by a riverboat gaming company.

The gaming company eventually bought out Eckland's software company.

Eckland said she was with IBM for nine years before she married Robert Eckland, a banker. She then settled down to raise a family.

Eckland said the bank her husband worked for transferred him to Lake Geneva in 1978 to take over the local branch. She said the timing was perfect. Their two children, a son and a daughter, were still young and Lake Geneva was an excellent place to raise a family.

The two Eckland children attended Woods Elementary School and Badger High School.

Both have since moved on, and, they're now old enough to wonder why they wanted to leave the Lake Geneva area, Eckland said.

Eckland's management and computer skills were also known outside Lake Geneva. In 1994, she was asked by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson to take over administration of the state's lottery.

Eckland was director of the state's Division of Lottery from December 1994 to August 1995. She left when the lottery was moved from the Wisconsin Gaming Commission to the state Department of Revenue.

And about that time, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. With her husband sick, Eckland said she wanted to stay in the area. Robert Eckland died in 2001.

Shortly after leaving the lottery, Marcus Hospitality got in touch with her about starting a convention and visitors bureau to help market the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, which was formerly the Lake Geneva Playboy Club.

"I've always been a career woman and a mother," Eckland said. "I felt it was time to get involved with the community."

During Eckland's tenure with the convention and visitors bureau, Lake Geneva received the signal honor of being named a "distinctive destination" in 2009 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In addition to the convention and visitors bureau, Eckland's accomplishments in Lake Geneva has been nearly endless.

Among the boards and commissions Eckland has served on, or is still serving on, are:

The Committee for the Beautification of Lake Geneva, which she chairs. Under her guidance, the nonprofit committee arranged for master stone artist Joe Lisenby to create the entry sign on the east and west entries to the city on Highway 50 in 2010. Lisenby donated materials and time for the project.

In 2007 the committee also helped raise $40,000 to renovate the Three Graces statue in Flat Iron Park. Erected in 1916, the statue and fountain had been in disrepair for years.

Eckland said she's not done with the beautification committee. The next project is the performance pavilion at Flat Iron Park. The project won't cost the taxpayers a dime, said Eckland. It will be financed entirely through donations.

n Gateway Technical College, where she taught computer education. She is still on the foundation board there.

n Winterfest, where Eckland fundraised for 16 years. Eckland said she worked so long at Winterfest she earned the nickname "Snowma'am."

When the snow carving teams showed up, it was Eckland who made sure they were kept warm and fed. Eckland said she would cook up her "killer chili" for them, made with dill, red wine, pork and beef.

n Black Point Historic Preserve, where Eckland helped the historic site's board of directors develop a marketing plan. She said the historic site turned a quarter million dollars in profit over when the state Historical Society took over in January 2013.

"It was almost impossible to make that a success," Eckland said of the historic summer home. "Only 47 people are allowed into the house at a time, the only access is by boat and visitors have to climb (more than 100) steps to get to the summer house." Eckland credited the Geneva Cruise Lines with an excellent job of marketing the Black Point excursions.

Eckland also serves on the Horticultural Hall board of directors and the Walworth County Workforce Development Board.

"I've always had a love of accomplishing things," Eckland said. "I've always been an extreme optimist. I would rather go through life with my glass half-full."

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