Community in action

There is a culture in the Midwest that is not common on the two coasts of our great land.  I call that culture Americana.  What do I mean?  Its hard to put you finger on. It is an attitude, a manner of living.  It is going to a high school basketball game even though you have not been in High School for several decades.  It is leaving your keys hanging in the ignition when you go into a store or even a restaurant.  It is having neighbors who respect your property and look after things when you are out of town.  It is a place where the whole community works together to achieve common goals.  I experienced two clear examples of Americana in the last week.  They occurred in small towns over 150 miles apart.  Each is significant, each tells a story of what I call Americana.

The first town is Freeman, South Dakota.  Freeman has a population of about 1300 people.  By South Dakota standards, while it is not big, it’s not a “small” town.  In Freeman is a Christian school, the Freeman Academy.  Each year the school holds an open house with a banquet and stage play.  People come from miles around and even from out of state to enjoy this wonderful “Schmeckfest”.  It is a bit of “old country” culture done American style.  The open house includes demonstrations of all kinds, crafts, skills and, of course, the making of many kinds of foods.  There is even a museum open to the public at no cost that holds a vast collection of antiques.  There are two highlights to this event.  One is a meal served for over 1500 and the other is a stage performance (with orchestra accompaniment) of a popular musical.  This year is it was The Sound of Music.

“Ok”, you say… “So the school holds a fund raiser….  Big deal.”  Let me remind you that the population of the town is only 1300.  It takes almost the WHOLE town to bring this off.  Volunteers are needed in all areas, from servers, to cooks, to dishwashers, to demonstrators, to actors, to ushers etc.  This is truly a community effort.

Now to the second example of Americana.

Last Thursday I went to dinner in a comfortable country restaurant located in a unique building.

About 190 miles north of Freeman is Northville, South Dakota.  With a population of about 190 it is a small town in the true South Dakota description.  In the early 1970’s the population got too small to support it’s own public school so the school district merged with the one from a town nearby.  That left the old school building vacant.  The people of Northville didn’t want to loose that old school building.  That building held memories from almost every Northville resident. What to do?  The town decided they could keep their building if they could turn it into a community center.  That’s just what they did.  They rented out retail space where they could and relied on donations for the rest.  Today the “Community Center” houses the Post Office, the American Legion Hall and that great restaurant I mentioned.  The eatery is in the old school lunch room.  The Gymnasium is still open to the public for the kids to use and the other spaces are available to the public on request.  Once again a small community had to rally behind an idea to make it work.  Unlike the Schmeckfest in Freeman, there is no fan fair here.  No hype or hoopla, just a community doing what it thought was right to save an historic building.

There are examples of this kind of community all over the central United States.  We here in South Dakota do not hold an exclusive.  I only wish that this sense of community would be more prevalent on our two coasts.

Published in: on April 5, 2008 at 10:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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