Student Spotlight: Ryan Nolasco

One little building stands out on the corner of Ottawa’s downtown strip. Strangely, though, it is not a restaurant, or a shop, or one of the city’s many historical attractions. It is the Ottawa Visitor’s Center (OVC), the very place people go to find tourist hotspots and explore the city along the I&M Canal. For Illinois Valley Community College student Ryan Nolasco, it is also the place he works to pay for school.

Nolasco is a freshman this year, and is still deciding on his major. Whichever path he takes, Nolasco wants to be socially involved with his community. He is leaning toward a career in journalism, or possibly anthropology.

It is easy to see how either of those interests would have influenced Nolasco to apply for the OVC position in mid-October. The Visitor’s Center is not only a place for promoting Ottawa’s historical significance, but also all aspects of the city. This includes family-owned stores and restaurants, local bakeries, bookshops, antique outlets, and more.

The Visitor’s Center also works with these businesses during holidays and events, such as the Chris Kringle Market and the Art & Wine Walk. “We sell collectibles for [those events]… and figure out the specifics of who’s going to do what, where,” Nolasco said.

The pandemic may have slowed in-person attendance at these businesses, but the OVC continues to support them online, with posters, and through social media. For example, Nolasco is in charge of the OVC’s Instagram account. On it, he shares photos of sights to see, often with a caption denoting the history of such places.

“I like the General Wallace mural. That painter did such a good job. I could look at some-one’s cheekbones… or their facial structure, and then be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this painter got these guys to a T,’” said Nolasco.

One of his favorite parts of the job is filling out “Information Requests.” These packets are handed out to tourists who want to know more about the city. Nolasco includes travel guides for LaSalle County, current event catalogs, and information on hotels, shops, and places to eat in the area.

As a consultant for so many tourists, it is only natural that Nolasco has some first-choice sights and scenes of his own.

The Reddick Mansion, for instance, is one of his favorite historical buildings in town. He believes the mansion’s owner, a philanthropist of the 1800s, was able to pursue what so many call the “American Dream.”

“You can see a story in it of someone who succeeded,” he explained.

When people are hungry for lunch, he points them to B.A.S.H., a restaurant selling Japanese and American cuisine. He also recommends the Cheeseshop, a deli, for its decor and rustic atmosphere.

Kallie Cantlin, who also attends IVCC, once made an inquiry at the Visitor’s Center over the phone. She said, “When I called, Ryan answered the phone with a cheerful attitude. He helped me figure out the issue I was having.

“He’s very nice to talk to. I always make sure I stop by to say hi,” she added, referring to seeing Nolasco on campus.

Whether he is on the job or at school, Nolasco is sure to dedicate himself to his work. Interested in learning more about Ottawa? Ask him on campus, or visit the OVC Instagram page, @pickusottawail.