What kind of community are you from?

Deb Hadachek – Telescope Editor

There’s an illustration that often gets resurrected about a stranger who comes to town and asks a man sitting outside a gas station “What kind of people live here?”

The local man asks “What kind of people live in the place you’re from?” and the stranger recounts the hateful, bitter, small minded people that live in his hometown.

And the man says “That’s pretty much what you’ll find here.”

A second stranger comes along and asks the man the same question. And the man says “What kind of people live in the town you’re from?” And the stranger says “They are wonderful people. Helpful, progressive, gracious and kind.” And the man says “That’s exactly the kind of people you will find here.”

I thought of that story again recently when I stumbled upon a Facebook exchange in a group titled, “You know you’re from Belleville Kansas if ….” I joined this group because it often contains entertaining history and photos and stories about people who lived here in days gone by.

But inevitably, someone jumps on and starts waxing eloquent about how “sad” they are because everything doesn’t look like it did in 1962.

Folks, I go to Kansas City on occasion and have been surprised that the bright shiny malls that looked so appealing in 1980 are now abandoned skeletons of buildings with grass growing in the cracks in the parking lots. — I have a love/hate relationship with alumni. I had a wonderful conversation with one man at my banquet this year who has been involved with big projects on a national level, and he credits his high school teachers in Republic County who started him on the path to a successful and interesting career.

But there are also people- -both those who have moved away and those who still live here–who seem eager to make disparaging remarks about their hometowns. Times change, and so do we. Businesses have come and gone on our main streets- -and there are also plenty of empty store fronts in the cities. The hot thing in urban areas today seems to be to build new strip malls that look an awfully lot like the old buildings on a small town Main Street.

It’s a lot simpler to make new construction look old, than it is to make 150 year old buildings look new.

We have a number of businesses in Republic County that have capitalized on the “boutique and unique” style of shopping that regularly attract customers from a wide region.

Internet shopping is not just the bane of local stores, but also to major national old-time retail mainstays like JCPenneys and Sears that are closing stores by the dozens.

Yes, it’s true our population is about half of what it was 50 years ago. That is for two reasons: people have smaller families, and agriculture today is a technological and scientific wonder in which one or two people can farm the same amount of land that used to support several large families. Unfortunately, the profitability of farming has not kept pace with the times.

Fewer people means less demand for clothes, cars, groceries, furniture– which explains why there are not more competing businesses remaining in county.

It is in the power of every person to make our communities better in two simple ways: Shop in small towns, and speak an encouraging word to small business owners when you see them.

Anybody with little energy and imagination can say anything they want on Facebook with little effort and a few taps of the keys.

It takes a real investment in time and money to make changes for a better future.