Deb Hadachek – The Belleville Telescope
Often something will happen and Fred and I will say to each other “I wish Merle Miller were here to see this.” or “I wonder what Merle would think about this.” No stronger have I felt that pang this week with the announcement that a Love’s Travel Plaza has a contract to acquire land on US81 to build a truck stop. Those of us who knew and loved former Telescope publisher Merle Miller the best knew he could be a relentless pest when he got an idea into his head. Perhaps his most famous example of that attitude is how he dogged Congressmen, federal and state highway officials, and anyone who stood still for 30 seconds about how US81 should be a four-lane interstate through Kansas.
One of his favorite stories was when one exasperated official asked him “What will it take to get you to shut up?” And Merle replied “Make US81 a four lane.” Merle told me one time he never drive on a four-lane US81, and that turned out to be a prophetic statement. The day officials came for the ribbon cutting in Belleville, Merle was already ill, and died a short time later. I thought then what a credit it is that an individual will fight long and hard for something he believes in, that he believes will benefit the greater good of the community– but not because he ever believed he would benefit from it personally, or see it happen.
It has been a disappointment of mine that trafficstopping businesses didn’t develop along the corridor as Merle imagined decades ago. But this week’s announcement remedies that situation. A truck stop in Belleville will be the only major 24 hour pull-off for trucks and travelers between York NE and Salina. Love’s officials are to be commended for seeing the potential here that appears obvious. It’s hard to imagine what impact this project will have on sales tax revenues and exposure to travelers who will now actually stop in Belleville rather than zipping through at 70 mph. Love’s told local officials that other development often follows wherever they build a new store. Following on the heels of the recent expansion of Reinke Manufacturing to Belleville, a truck stop is another dream come true. Merle would be very happy, indeed.