DAVENPORT — A week of community support and hard work will likely be put to the test this weekend, as the Mississippi River has now swelled to within a few hundred feet of a downtown and riverfront area that includes the Quad Cities’ only LGBTQ-identified nightclub.
At Mary’s on 2nd, which opened in 2000, scores of volunteers have turned out every day this week to help fill and stack sandbags around the bar at the intersection of 2nd Street West and Warren Street in downtown Davenport. They’ve also been helping owner Bobby Stansberry clear out the building’s basement and position up to 10 sub pumps that will help remove water from the basement — and if necessary the main floor.
“I’m not one to ask for anything. It’s really hard for me,” said Stansberry, who was touched to be featured on not only local media, but NBC National News. “But I am truly truly thankful for all that I have received…. When people are in danger or hurting, the American people come through.”
What’s happening with the Mississippi River and volunteers?
The goal of Stansberry and the volunteers is to keep the creeping waters of the Mississippi from damaging the bar like they did in 2019, when levees along the waterfront broke, shown in this video just a few blocks from Mary’s on 2nd. A double layer of stronger temporary levees have been in place now for a few years, while the city begins a huge flood mitigation plan. But this year, the increased danger comes from historic snow melts upstream that are overwhelming the shores along the river.
In addition to 2nd Ave. along Davenport’s waterfront, River Drive on the Illinois side of the Mississippi is seeing flooding. Riverside towns such as Dubuque and Burlington are also facing concern, with some experts predicting the river could be at its highest in 20 years by early next week in many Iowa locations and farther south.
Volunteers have alreaady helped fill 6,000 bags of sand with 90 tons of sand provided by the city of Davenport. Volunteer Andy McNeil says plans are to fill another 1,000 to 2,000 bags with another 20 tons of sand over the next few days.
McNeil said he’s been part of the volunteer crew this week for personal and professional reasons. “As of right now, this bar is the only LGBTQ+ bar unless you drive roughly an hour or hour and a half in either direction. So that’s one thing, supporting the community.
“The second thing is, Bobby is a very good friend of mine. I’ve known him since 2013. I’m always here to help him.”
Mary’s on 2nd applying lessons from 2019 and previous crises
McNeil also helped Mary’s on 2nd make it through extensive flood damage in 2019. The basement of the bar at 2nd St. and Harrison St., just two blocks north of the waterfront Centennial Park, flooded. So did a few low-lying areas on the main floor, McNeil said.
“We learned some lessons from 2019 the hard way. So we’re going to use what we’ve learned from 2019 and try to make things a little less disastrous this time,” McNeil says.
That year, when the damage came from broken levees, local media captured Stansberry’s emotional moments as volunteers helped pack sandbags to keep the water from creeping into the bar itself.
Mary’s closed for three weeks to clean up. The year before, the bar also had to close temporarily after a car smashed through its front door. And in 2020 and 2021, the bar turned to the community to sustain itself through the pandemic.
Volunteer James Perez is also on hand this year after helping out with flood protection in 2019 for the Mary’s on 2nd building, built in 1880. Perez, who has attended Mary’s on 2nd since 2002, said one big improvement this year was greater “organization and efficiency” among the volunteers.
Perez helped coordinate a structured “daisy chain” to pass the sand bags from the truck to the wall, helping to spread the physical burden around among dozens. Sandbags were stacked without any gaps this year, following recommended criss-cross positioning.
“The biggest thing we learned is to work together,” he said. “In 2019, it was a little frantic… and a little chaotic. People were kind of doing their own thing. This year, we’re all sharing the weight of it. We’re all sharing the load.
“Even though the flood is a bad thing, it’s turning out to be a way for us to come together and show the community that the queer community can come together and are able to create something good. All that we’re hearing over the last few years is how the queer comunity is detrimental. This shows it’s totally the opposite. it’s about love, acceptance, tolerance and working together for a common goal to fix things that are wrong.”
To donate to the Mary’s on 2nd building fund, which is used for materials and also food and drink for volunteers, find the bar on Venmo @maryson2nd. Learn more about Mary’s on 2nd at its Facebook page, too, where Stansberry posts continuous updates.
(cover photo features Bobby Stansberry and Charlie, aka Cha Cha “when in drag,” and James Perez in inset. Photos courtesy of Stansberry and Perez)