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Canoes build new lifestyle for couple

July 12,2016 05:20

Five years ago, Bruce and Sue Peterson were looking for a lifestyle change. Bruce was CEO of a hospital in Rochelle, Illinois, and Sue was a teacher in Aledo, where they had a home. “We passed each other on the weekends," Bruce said. "I thought there's ...



Five years ago, Bruce and Sue Peterson were looking for a lifestyle change.Bruce was CEO of a hospital in Rochelle, Illinois, and Sue was a teacher in Aledo, where they had a home.“We passed each other on the weekends," Bruce said. "I thought there’s a better ways to spend our time than that.”
Sue found the answer online: Navarro Canoe Co.It was a big leap for the couple, but now they're building canoes from a shop on 3rd Avenue in Rock Island."I’ve worked with my hands before, small wood projects, but never a canoe," Bruce said.The business started in the late 1970s in California, named for the Navarro River in northern California where the canoes were being built.The company had good reputation, Bruce said, but its canoes could not be produced as cheap as they were being sold for. The company eventually was sold to a partnership in Minneapolis, but that quickly dissolved into a lengthy legal battle between the partners. That’s when the Petersons found it.The purchase included a manual laying out the steps involved in construction, and one of the previous owners spent 30 days working with them to help them understand the process.The canoes are not mass produced, he said.
“I can have multiple canoes in some stage of production at a time, but from beginning to end, it takes about six weeks to complete each one,” Bruce said.The ribs are always made from black cherry, but customers have to make decisions about other wooden pieces, hull color, style and materials to be used in construction.“No two are alike," he said. "You have a hundred different options.” And customers can come up with unusual requests. Recently, a customer wanted his canoe decks to be made from cherry wood to match the cherry mantle above his fireplace, because that's where the canoe would be displayed during the winter months.
Sue Peterson said the change has been a good fit for the couple."Bruce had some experience with building things, and we both grew up around water, outdoor activities, and we enjoy the healthy lifestyle,” she said.Part of the challenge for the Petersons is the company's history. When production stopped before they bought the business, customers thought the doors were closed for good."It takes a lot to get the word back out since the company was down,” Sue said. “We have to re-educate people that we’re still around.”Now, the Petersons are taking orders from across the country and even Japan. This also is their biggest year for sales from inside Illinois, and it's keeping the couple busy.“I’m busier now than I’d like to be,” Bruce said, laughing. “I’d like to have some time to play and paddle.”

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