Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Music of Christmas in Atchison County

It’s Christmastime in Atchison County, which means it’s more awesome than normal. Storefronts are alight with sparkly wonder, Main Streets display red and gold and green, homes and trees are strung with lights…even without my beloved snow covering the ground, Christmas is here.

In Atchison County, the music of Christmas isn’t restricted to choirs and congregations on Sunday mornings. School children sing Silent Night and Away in a Manger and Santa Claus is coming to town. The county courthouse plays hymns and carols on the hour. I live in a place where O Holy Night and Santa, nativity scenes and reindeer, Linus telling the Christmas story and the Grinch and his heart, are all welcome and celebrated.

Take a moment to consider how blessed we are to live here, where we can raise children who honor the divine miracle of the first Christmas AND believe in the wonder of Santa and his elves.

It is my hope and prayer that your heart is full this Christmas season. In case you need some help focusing on the wonder and goodness of this most wonderful time of the year, I’ll share this song with you that has been played in my vehicle approximately 47 times this month…

The Music of Christmas
Steven Curtis Chapman

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With th’ angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

There’s a man who stands in the cold wind tonight,
And he greets everyone passing by with a smile and a ringing bell;
And the song that he’s playing, is his own way of saying:
Love is here, it’s the music of Christmas.

And there’s a lady who sits all alone with her thoughts,
And the memories of all that she’s lost, when she hears a sound at her door,
And a song comes to find her, as a gentle reminder:
Love is here, it’s the music of Christmas.

So listen, listen with your heart
And you will hear a song in the laughter of a child.
Oh won’t you listen for the sound of hope,
And you will hear the music of Christmas,
For the music of Christmas is love.

So light the fire, tell the family to gather around,
And the walls will echo the sound of memories that are and will be;
And their voices, like a chorus, will sing it so sweetly for us;
Love is here, it’s the music of Christmas.

Long ago, a baby was born in the night,
And as He let out His very first cry, the sound was bringing hope alive.
Stars were shining, angels singing; All heaven and earth was ringing:
Love is here, this is the music of Christmas.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Part 2 of 2: Band Aids, Babies and History

(Read the first post if you haven't at Part 1)

Government changes, technological additions, the coming home of physicians like Dr. Burke and the passing or moving away of other long time physicians, have defined the last 20 years at CH-F. In 2010, a new facility was built and the hospital moved away from the building that had been home to 60 years of healthcare in Atchison County.

The supporters of CH-F are a dedicated and loyal group. Just in the last five years, a capital campaign was established to support the new building. The goal was 1.5 million and donations were last reported to be nearing $2.2 million.

Despite a history of devout support, small town hospitals face many challenges. There is often the feeling that everything is better an Interstate’s drive away. Somehow, the nurses, techs and family practice physicians know more if they work in a 3 story building. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this beloved hospital called a band aid station or an ambulance stop on the way to the place where you can get “real” care.

Having spent five days a week in this building for the last 3.5 years, I can testify to the heroes that make up the team of rural healthcare providers that take care of me, my family and my community. Rural healthcare is a specialty. Not one of the techs, nurses or physicians I work with show up to work and take care of one kind of patient each day. On any given day, an RN in this building can help deliver a baby, respond to a code on a heart attack or take care of a port for a cancer patient.  Our physicians do not send our patients to the next building over for c-sections or scopes. They do not call the ER doc when an emergency arises. They respond and save lives.

Just like your local grocery store, we can’t do everything in a cost effective manner. Our goal is not to be the Mayo clinic, but instead to provide the most services we can in a safe manner. Just this month, we added a digital mammogram, scoped our first knee and added a radiological group that will bring many new procedures to Fairfax.

Beyond the services, I am often struck by the enormity of the responsibility on the shoulders of the healthcare providers in this building. I can say with certainty that I can’t imagine being the person responsible for so many lives in a completely healthcare isolated area. Thankfully, the team of healthcare providers in this hospital knows when to take care of someone and they also know when they can’t. That knowledge gives me the confidence to put my life, that of my children and family in their very capable hands knowing that they’ll do the best for me.
The best endorsement a hospital can get is from the community it serves.  I’d say that 60 years of support from a community that knows a good thing when they see it is…well that is pretty much ringing isn’t it?

So there you go. If you didn’t get enough bragging in your mailbox today, read this. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Part 1 of 2: Band Aids, Babies and History

 This week's post is split into two parts. I hope you will humor me as I recount a bit of history this week and tell the "rest of the story" next week....

I enjoy writing Christmas letters. I try not to brag too much about my perfect husband (yes he does the cooking and grocery shopping), my exceedingly good looking and talented children (yes Aaron is so good at math that he started balancing my checkbook, Lizzie is so social she can make friends with a lamppost and Josh is talking so much he nearly gave the sermon at church last Sunday), but…well, you can tell that putting a limit on my boastfulness is a bit of a challenge.

In all the letters I’ve written over the last 10 years, I usually spare a sentence or two for my job to let my friends and family who couldn’t believe I majored in Political Science know that I am gainfully employed. I doubt I will write a Christmas letter this year, but if I did I think I would write this about my job:
I work at Community Hospital-Fairfax (CH-F.) It is an 18 bed critical access hospital located in Fairfax, MO. CH-F was established in 1949 by a group of community members that sold $100 shares to their friends and neighbors to establish a hospital.

November 29, 1946 Fairfax Forum announcement on front page: local group seeking $110,000 to build a hospital in Fairfax. Shares will sell for $110 a share. Volunteers canvas city and county asking for subscribers and promising 8% return. Subscribers are asked not to consider just financial gains, but to consider it an investment in the health of the county. A meeting is held at the school on November 29 where $83,600 was raised.

By December 13, 112,530 had been raised. Article reads “so popular was the idea of building hospital in Fairfax, that many subscribers invited solicitors to call back if more money was needed. Petty differences were forgotten and all worked for the success of the drive.” By December 20, more than $115,000 was raised. By Dec. 27, an attorney was hired, articles of incorporation and bylaws were drafted.

Petty differences were put aside...pretty cool, huh?

November 7, 1949, Fairfax Forum: Fairfax Community Hospital, a 34 bed facility, opened for service November 7.  Some twenty-five persons and organizations furnished rooms with donations.  Three thousand people attended the Open House. 

The good times rolled at CH-F. 900 babies were born by the 5 year anniversary, Dr. Bare, Dr. Carpenter, Dr. Humphrey, Dr. Neidermeyer and Dr. Wanamaker were mainstays on the medical staff and in 1964 the hospital announced that it was entirely debt free despite several major additions since its opening in 1949.

In 1970, changes in the way that healthcare payments were made quickly changed the financial situation at the hospital. An emergency plea was made and residents of the local community pulled funds together to raise $123,000 in a few weeks. The January of 1971 addition of the Fairfax Forum details a community meeting:

 “President Ralph Hackett called the meeting to order. Days of strain and weeks of sleepless nights showed in his face, as he took the floor to give an account of the situation…..He frankly stated that the institution could not continue operation unless money was raised to pay outstanding bills and retire part of the indebtedness against the new addition opened in Sept. 1969…..His voice cracked as he related how one widow woman came to him following the meeting and said she wanted no pay for the month, she was willing to contributed that. Her job is her only means of support. Others have expressed similar intentions”

So strongly did the community feel about saving the hospital that the Fairfax Forum actually ran a front page article threatening to print the names of the people who owed the hospital money on the front page! The community again rose to the occasion raising the funds to keep the hospital operating and by the late 70s early 80s another addition was completed for the hospital and Dr. James Hunter joined the Medical Staff.

In the 1984 35th Anniversary Edition of the Fairfax Forum, Dr. Neidermeyer is quoted as remembering “One of my most vivid memories of an emergency situation caused by the rupture of a pregnant patient’s uterus. This rarely happens and is frequently fatal to mother and child. In this instance, we did an immediate emergency Caesarean Section, and saved both mother and child. In 35 years of serving people in Northwest Missouri, I’ve been increasingly aware of the subtle differences that can influence health or sickness and even life and death.

Stay tuned for next week.......I know you are on the edge of your seat!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Years Challenge - a little early

According to my calculations, we’re almost 6 months into this blog dedicated to sharing stories about our corner of Missouri, stories that celebrate the awesomeness of living in Atchison County.

Ann & I have enjoyed coordinating and writing so far, and we look forward to many, many more months. As rewarding and worthwhile the process is for us as regular contributors, sometimes we struggle because ideas that seem great to us feel a little clichéd. Small town customer service is the best, harvest is beautiful, neighbors are friends…many of the topics we’ve posted so far could be fodder for the next cheesy wonderful Hallmark movie. But while every day isn’t sunshine and puppies around here, and while we are aware of our challenges, the fact is that the positive spin on our stories isn’t spin at all – it’s the truth. There is good to be found in Atchison County, and by purposefully focusing on what’s worth celebrating, we find ourselves celebrating more.

There’s a lot of love and encouragement ‘round these parts. We get positive feedback about this blog from church ladies, family friends we bump into in the grocery store, buddies who live states away, and, of course, parents and siblings, the most biased of all readers. We appreciate every response, and we are touched when something that comes from our collective ‘pen’ resonates with you.

Recently someone said that the blog inspires her, a comment that has come to my mind numerous times as I’ve read back through our conversation. I thought about it when I read Ann’s post the other week about the women who taught her how to be a leader. I thought about it when I read comments about Doug Summa and the impact he’s had on our community and county. I thought about it when I read the posts by a couple of beloved pastors. I thought about it when I read the stories of professionals returning home to live and work and lead. I thought about it again when I read a recent post from Julie Hurst’s blog about church ladies, and her critically important question: who will replace them?

Things are good here because of the people we are surrounded by, those who lead groups and model values and actively participate in this county. I’m asking myself this question even as I am asking you: what are you doing to contribute to the good of Atchison County? How are you passing on what you learned from your grandparents, parents, Sunday School teachers and Scout leaders about integrity and leadership and kindness to the next generation?

One of the benefits of living in such a small county is that it's not difficult to find an opportunity to do good or leave a legacy. So, go enjoy everything this most wonderful time of the year has to offer, but in the meantime, spend some time considering what you love most here or what you'd like to see made better.

And in January, rather than swearing to eat celery and grapefruits the rest of your life, make a commitment that will last longer, maybe even a generation or two. Get involved. Do something. Ready, set....go!


Friday, November 25, 2011

So Much to be Thankful for in Atchison County

I'm feeling blessed during this Season of Thanks, how about you? To honor that lovely feeling, thought I'd jot down a few more reasons why I'm so thankful to live in Atchison County.
  • I rarely go into a store or office around here without finding someone to hug. In the first two days of this week: Coach Palmeiro, Mrs. Lee, Vicki, and Lee Eddie.
  • When I take my visiting Boston-native Mom-in-Law on a few errands, I am immensely proud of the people I get to introduce her to.
  • McDonald’s has a latte machine.
  • So many of the businesses I encounter in my job are owned and operated by good-hearted, high-quality people.
  • Calvin at Hy-Vee will order whatever very specific chips you want (just ask my hubby).
  • FC Foods sells chicken breasts the size of Milwaukee.
  • So many of the men and women in my generation who choose to come back home lead civic groups, church groups, and school activities.
  • Going to the store the day before Thanksgiving isn’t painful like it is in bigger places I’ve lived. It’s fun. You bump into former Board Member Steve and yap about the Tigers for a bit; Missy, a dear friend from school, with her troop in tow; the Aeschlimans, wandering around as a family, including their grown boys who used to hang out at your Mom’s day care.

Suddenly I’m seeing this post as more food-themed than thanks-themed…must still be in a turkey coma.

Regardless, you see my point. So many reasons to be thankful to live in this beautiful, bountiful region of ours. I hope you take some time today to consider how blessed you are – especially if you are lucky enough to live in my county!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time to Dance

Miss Josie Crow reminds me of so many of us small town kids. As High School Seniors, we appreciated our experience growing up in our respective hometowns, but could not wait to move on! Many of us realized 5, 10 or 15 years down the road that this county offered us a wonderful life, and still does, and we chose to come back. (Don’t tell Josie, but we secretly hope that she [and many others!] will leave Atchison County, spend several glorious years in the hallowed halls of Mizzou [I mean, wherever they choose to go :)], gain some experience in her field, and bring her awesomeness right back home!) Without further ado, here’s a little peek into the life of one dynamic Atchison County Senior…

Rock Port was not my first home, nor will it be my last. I have lived here for around five years, now, and by the time I leave for college at Mizzou next fall, it’ll be six years. I loved Rock Port at first—the idea of a safe, friendly, small town was appealing to me at twelve years old. I still loved it for a long time. However, I have grown to realize that the small town life just isn’t for me. This does not, by any means, mean that small towns aren’t great!

First of all, since Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, I would like to start by saying thank you: for graham crackers and frosting, for Ibuprofen, for boys, and for all the opportunities I’ve been given here (among other things).

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Josie Crow. I’m a senior at Rock Port High School. I’m Student Body President, I was captain of the Flag Corps, I am currently captain of our minute dance team…and I just cut my hair because after five years of growing it out, I needed a change! So, I would like to start off with my newspaper story, to illustrate what I currently love about this small town, and all towns in Atchison County, that is. Opportunities. Oh, I mentioned that earlier? Well, I’m mentioning it again, now.

I lived in Kirksville, Missouri, until seventh grade, which is a fair-sized town. If you wanted to play sports in high school, you picked one and you focused on it. Maybe two if the seasons weren’t too close together. If you played basketball, you couldn’t be a cheerleader. If you played football, there was no way you ran cross country! I am so thankful we moved to Rock Port, though, because if we hadn’t, there is no way I could do as many things as I do here! The sky is the limit!

If you can’t tell, I also love to write. I would write all day if I could! When I was five, I would read Nancy Drew books and dream about being a famous author. At five, I could just see it: the mystery novel would have a heroine, and she would be beautiful and smart and funny and have the cutest boyfriend…

Well, I’m no award-winning novelist, yet, but I’m getting there! I work at the Atchison County Mail office at the front desk. I do odd work; a cut-line here, an article there, and a lot of filing and answering phones…and I’m totally okay with it. I love that job. I would love to work at a small paper forever. Why? Because you get to dabble in a little bit of everything. You want to make an ad? Go for it! You want to learn a new picture program? Go for it! And on and on like that. It’s awesome.

Moving back to the school aspect of this little writing bit I’m making for you to read, I love that I get to dance every day during my study hall. I get to be creative and show my stuff. I get to get my groove on! I’m considering taking a Zumba class in St. Joseph, actually, and I’m very excited about it. Dancing has always come naturally to me. No, I can’t do the splits (not even close!), but I can keep time with music and my body just follows where my heart wants it to go. So, anyway, before I got side-tracked, I was going to touch on how, had I grown up in Kirksville, I would never have known I loved to dance. I hate basketball. I didn’t know this until my freshman year, but I really do. I have no passion for the game. This strikes most people as unusual because my mother is a coach and played basketball at KU and UMKC for a time. I hate it. As hard as I try, I just can’t get the danged thing in the hoop (it’s smaller than it looks). I don’t have the weight to throw around as a post, and I’m not fast. At all. Like, put me in a race with a snail and the snail would win nine times out of ten.

Okay, so, if I had stayed in Kirksville, I would have probably tried out for the basketball team. I probably wouldn’t have made it, been crushed, and continued on about my miserable life with no sports to throw myself into. Besides that humiliating fact would have been that my mother was the assistant coach! Can you say ouch? And I definitely would never have even considered trying out for the dance team. It would never have been on my radar. Now, of course, I realize how happy dancing makes me. It lifts me up. I get the chance to express myself!

So, there is a plethora of opportunities in small towns. Everything is open to everyone. If you have some talent with graphic design, go to the yearbook. Heck, while you’re in the yearbook, if you want to, you can go out for track. It all works in harmony. And maybe that’s what I’m getting at. Harmony. Small towns make schedules flow. Less stress, maybe.

So, yes, I see why parents willingly raise families here. It’s safe and there is no door closed to their children without another one opening. Here’s to opened doors and beautiful scenery!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Bit Frayed Around the Edges

My husband’s relatives visited this summer. Between our two families, we can’t travel in one vehicle so they followed us home from our evening destination. I chose the route carefully. Down this street, turn this way, then that way. I looked in the rearview mirror. Darn it. I lost them.

Left on their own in Tarkio, they could easily find their way back. But what they might see of our little town….well let’s just say we don’t always put our best foot forward.


Tarkio has had a rough 30 years. The beef packing plant which hired in the thousands closed first, followed closely by the burning of the Mule Barn (our own historic and theatrical landmark). Just a few years later, Tarkio College, a small liberal arts college, closed its doors taking with it several hundred students and its highly educated staff. Just when things seemed to have stabilized, Tarkio Academy, the youth correctional facility that made its home in the empty campus, pulled up stakes in 2005. An economy built around these mainstays crumbled. The aftermath…an empty college campus, empty stores on Mainstreet and close to 100 empty houses in our city streets.

Missouri winters and summers didn’t take long to do their work on those abandoned properties. Paint peeled, shingles blew away and weeds grew. Soon our little Mayberry started looking a bit frayed around the edges. The hardships of the last 30 years could no longer be hidden. We had a problem on our hands.

In some areas of the world, tickets are written, court appearances made, contractors called and buildings demolished. There are rules about house color, dumpster spacing, bush planting and parking. A quick call to the zoning board, homeowners association or city council will take care of your wayward neighbor. Soon your problem will be fixed and your property value protected.

Small towns are often labeled as being intolerant. Slow to change. Yes. Intolerant? Hardly! You see, we can’t ticket that house. She just lost her job. He is disabled and they won’t be able to paint. He’s owned that business for 30 years. She is storing her late Grandma’s antiques in that old family home. They are working on that house, but there’s no money. His house is a mess, but he is a member of my church….like family.

Don’t get me wrong, we take pride in our town, but we also take pride in our neighborhood. Being a neighbor means sacrificing your own wants for the needs of others and putting yourself in their shoes before passing judgment or writing tickets. As a result, we look a little shabby and we might for quite a while. But I’ll take a dose of neighborly compassion sprinkled with some tolerance any day over privacy fences and 5 colors of beige.

We are dealing with our issues in the most neighborly fashion we can. We’ve started a non-profit which collects donations for the removal of dilapidated and dangerous buildings and sponsors beautification projects. We move painfully slow waiting for someone to volunteer their property and ask us to help, but we have been successful. Over 25 properties have been cleaned up. New land has been added to the City Park and we started a program where we offer FREE LOTS for stick built homes.

We have a long way to go, but we are proud of the progress we have made. A few new businesses have located here in the last 6 years and a few new coats of paint have made their appearances. We move slowly, we consider the person first and we work as team to make our community a better place. It’s not quick and we may never be Mayberry again, but where we fall short in perfection we make up for with compassion and tolerance.

So if you are a local, make a donation to Tarkio Renewal and help us make a difference. You can read how to do that in the Tarkio Avalanche this week and next. If you aren’t, the next time you drive through my small town, put a name and story to each one of those homes with or without the picket fence or paint job. You can be assured that we have.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shepherds and their Sheep, Part 2 of 2

This second post in our pastoral series comes from another of Atchison County's beloved Shepherds: Pastor Rusty Smith. Rusty is the kind of person and leader we like to celebrate around here. His demeanor (and his commentary, as you'll see below) demonstrates the fact that he always looks for the Good. We are thankful for him, his family, and all others in our county who share their unique, challenging, and critical calling. Thank you for all you do!!!

Serving God in Atchison County is a blessing I have fun friendships, a dear church family, awesome colleagues in ministry, kind neighbors and schools filled with community servants who provide my children with a quality education. I am grateful that my family and I are able to love and be loved here. Since coming to pastor in Tarkio and Westboro nearly five years ago, I have said a statement time and again: “for such a small community, there sure are a lot of people.” What I mean by saying that is it seems I am always meeting people I have not met before. I also recognize there are those in my midst whom I find myself knowing by sight but not by name. I have noticed when local people wave at me, greet me, smile at me, or even simply acknowledge me, it does not necessarily indicate they know me. It is simply a manner and grace interwoven in the fabric of our community. I am always humored by the reaction Carla and I get when we share this relational hospitality in some other communities. Most people love and welcome it. Some are surprised by it…and, well, a few times I feared we had triggered some gang violence…it is still worth sharing.

Too often I hear our community defined by what it is not, or by what it used to be. The greatness of our past is honored best when it leads to the greatness of our today and to the hope of our tomorrows. It is the heart of my hope that the character and strengths of our community can be recognized more and more. If we look around and grab hold of the greatness of our midst, we will be the better for it. I know that such forward-thinking is envisioned by the two founders of this blog, and many others all around us. Being a pastor in our community gives me the opportunity to encourage others to learn from and cherish one’s past. For our past made us who we are today, to make the most of today as a gift from God, and to hope for the best that is yet to come! That is my hope for our community as well.

Striving to make the most of it,
Pastor Rusty Smith

Tarkio AND Westboro United Methodist Church

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shepherds and their Sheep: Part 1 of 2

October is pastoral appreciation month. At my church, its a month long celebration. As we have expressed gratitude for our special pastor this month, I've thought often about the unique role a pastor plays in a small town.  Counselor, social worker, spiritual guide, friend, adopted parent or grandparent, advocate, sports fan, volunteer chaplain, coffee drinker.....the list goes on and on. We have pastors in our community that have served their congregation for generations, attending births, deaths and marriages over the span of their parishoners' lives. And we have had those that have spent just a few years in service to our churches and yet they have left a lasting impression on the church and community.

Over the next few weeks, we thank the pastors that have served in the most specialized of fields, the small town. Whether you are a believer or not a believer, I think we can all agree that pastors of small towns serve in what I suspect is a pretty challenging role and SUCCEED in modeling a true heart of service. Thank you!

Thank you to Rachel Lancey, Pastor of Tarkio's Presbyterian Church for her special contribution this month to the blog and her greater contribution to our community.

          My friends warned me.  “Small towns don’t do women pastors,” they told me.  “They will not welcome you,” they said.  They were scared for my life.  Of course, I found this ironic since many of them lived in places that showed up on the list of the most violent places to live.  But, still, they warned me.  I have to say, they got to me just a little bit.

            “Don’t go to a small town,” they warned.  “It will be too hard there.”  They were worried.  They had heard the horror stories.  Of course, I have heard them, too.  The young pastor moves to the small town and suddenly the fishbowl is brought out.  There were stories where people just wandered in and out of the pastor’s home without knocking or caring, even, if the pastor was dressed.  These, in case you do not get to hear the stories I hear, are tame compared to some of the others.  On top of all that, throw into the mix the idea that I was going to this small rural town as a single, young, female pastor. 
            I truly expected the worst.  I grew up in a small town.  I expected the snide remarks and the sideways glances.  I expected that people would watch my every move and things like social boundaries would be hard to instill and maintain.  But, when a pastor is called (as we say) to a ministry, they go.  There is no questioning (okay... well... there are some questions, but God always wins in the end), you just go. 
            What I did not expect... was the love.  Even from those who are open about the fact that they do not approve of a woman minister, there is something there.  I truly believe that I can call up any of the people I have met since moving to this small community and ask for just about anything and I would get it.  I believe that the hearts of this community are larger than life.  Sure, there are still a few small-town stereotypes that are very much a part of living in Tarkio.  But, nothing compares to the experience of walking through the grocery store and being able to talk to people in every aisle.  Nothing beats walking down Main Street and waving at the passers-by.
            Not everyone in Tarkio likes the fact that I am a pastor.  Most of those who do not like this woman pastor being in town think they are hiding it fairly well.  Some are not trying to hide it at all.  But, generally, people are respectful anyway.  This, I believe, is the difference between life in the city and life in the small town. 
In the city, people do not care who you are if you do something with which they do not agree.  In the city, people get into your face and sometimes things can get ugly.  In Tarkio, people look first at the person.  In Tarkio, I have found that even those who believe and think completely different than I do are still able to see me for who I am.  In Tarkio, we find commonalities first and learn to disagree politely. 
            I am not naive.  I know that the sideways glances and some of the remarks are still out there.  I have heard a few and I have seen the looks.  But, this town supported me during a very rough first year when I faced a challenge much deeper than whether or not someone agreed with my theology.  People reached out to me and hugged me in a way that I never expected. 
            I may always be the “new girl”.  I may always be the “woman pastor”.  Even with all of that, I have found a home here.  I have found a family here.  The best part of serving a wonderful congregation in the middle of rural America is that I can love these people for everything they are and for everything God created each of us to be.  And I know that this community really cares about each other.  It is the greatest blessing we have.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Customer Service, Summa Pharmacy Style

My favorite magazine has an annual essay contest, and this year’s question is, “When did you first understand the meaning of love?” I haven’t arrived at the precise answer to that question yet – too many examples. But if you were to ask me a simpler question, like when I first understood the meaning of customer service, that I could answer: Summa Pharmacy, Tarkio, Missouri.

Customer service is almost a buzzword these days, and the companies who most frequently banter it about are often those who practice it the least. Most small businesses – especially most small TOWN businesses – survive chiefly because of their superior customer service. But nobody calls it that around here. I don’t recall anyone at Summa Pharmacy reading a book or attending a seminar on “Improving Your Customer Service.” And yet, by the ripe old age of 15, by spending my teenage Saturdays and available after school hours at Summa’s, these are the tacit rules I knew to be important:

  • Call everyone by name. (Yes, in small towns, this is a relatively simple task. But it’s a big deal.)
  • Smile, be nice, say hi, look people in the eye. (So simple, and yet, so uncommon, especially in big box stores.)
  • Ask how the customer is doing. (Then listen to the answer.)
  • Underpromise and overdeliver. (Might be one of those silly clichéd sayings created by a guy in a suit in 1973, but as far as I’m concerned, Doug created it and it’s brilliant. )
  • Treat everyone the same. (Cranky, kind, fancy, unkempt - doesn’t matter.)
  • When a mistake is made, fix it. (Customers might not always be right, but if it’s within your power to make things better for them, do it.)
  • Order and stock what your people want and need. (Special order what you don’t.)
  • Let your neighbors up the block come watch your TV, and play quarters with them when you have time. (This has nothing to do with customer service, just something I remember as being highly entertaining and neighborly.)

Every time a bright-eyed, friendly high school kid helps me out with my groceries or looks me in the eye and makes conversation in the check-out line, I remember everything Summa’s taught me, and I’m so glad to see that those lessons are still being passed on in local businesses today.

In a business sense, Summa’s taught me that in small towns, every single customer matters. If there aren’t alternatives in your town or county, there are certainly alternatives in bigger communities nearby. In Atchison County, your store matters simply because you exist, but it is successful when you treat customers with kindness and respect, offer them what they need, and let high school classes paint your windows during Homecoming.

I was a painfully shy kid; truly, if it wasn’t for Summa’s, I might never have learned to talk to people. And despite the kindness and love I was shown in my home, many of the lessons I learned at Summa’s were the ones that taught me how to treat people in my life as an adult. My genetics and general awesomeness (and humility) are from my folks – but without the influence of Doug Summa and the lovely ladies who worked there, I wouldn’t be who or where I am today.

So thank you, Douglas, first of all, your willingness to hire a shy teenager in the first place. But, more importantly, thank you for training her (and others) to treat the public with kindess, respect, friendliness, humor and professionalism. You taught me more in the first 30 minutes in your store than any silly seminar ever could.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Harvest in Atchison County

For those of you who aren't fortunate enough to live where you get to see this every day, or for those of you (like me) who can't gawk enough at combines, Megan McAdams let us share her pictures for this little tour of harvest in Atchison County...

All kinds of lovely. Who doesn't want to bear witness to this every fall?

These guys spend serious amounts of time taking care of business. And the combine fellas don't do it alone. Somebody drives the grain truck. Somebody helps move the operation from field to field. Somebody (who really loves them) delivers food.

Early in the season, in years like this one, it's only a little dusty.

Emptying so they can hit the road, er, the field again.

Remember that dust at the beginning? Soon, it's a lovely memory.

Back, and forth. Back, and forth. Methodically reaping what was sown last spring.

Oh, the dust. Excellent for sunsets. Unfortunate for keeping your vehicle clean. Oh well. It's harvest. Dust on your ride is how you know you're even a tiny part of the event.

I haven't been in a combine since I was small enough to press my little self up against the glass and watch the corn be eaten up below me, but even for me,
[forgive me, exhausted farm families, for waxing poetic for a moment] there's something almost spiritual about this time of year. Something about living among these fields where farmers toil, sun up to sundown, and oftentimes beyond. Where hours, days, weeks of tending and planting and praying and fixing and sweating all culminate in this beautiful pattern of accomplishment.

Plus, there are there big beefy awesome machines everywhere you look that should have their own Transformers movie!

HAPPY HARVEST everyone. Farm families - God Bless You and keep you safe this season!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Woman Before Me

This post was supposed to have a picture of my sweet little girl and her corn shuck doll. Apparently the corn shuck doll went to pre-school and stayed there..stay tuned for pictures should she be found..the corn shuck doll that is...not the 4 year old.

Yesterday was one of those days. The baby learned to climb the stairs and fall back down them (twice.) My four year old decided to practice her scissor skills creating the blizzard of September 2011 in my dining room. My 2nd Grader is practicing the piano, practicing his spelling words, practicing his vocabulary words while practicing his outside voice…inside.

Just another day at the Schlueter household, except that there was 9 pounds of hamburger to be browned for the school dinner the next day, material to be ordered for Sunday’s youth group, dinner due to the field and a landscaper to be contacted to finish the latest project on Main Street. While cleaning the dog’s contribution to the evening off the carpet, I had a thought….wouldn’t it be nice to live in a community that didn’t need me so much? A community where someone else could brown hamburger, teach youth or attend city council meetings?

Entertaining these thoughts, I headed to the field with supper.  As I arrived at the bin site, I could feel my brow unfurrow and my shoulders relax. I followed the kids out to the field where the stocks were newly shorn. Searching for the perfect shuck, I began to show Lizzie and Aaron the art of corn shuck doll making…..a skill I had learned some 20 years before from my Grandmother.

On the drive back into town, I began to remember the reason why youth group lessons and city council meetings are so important to me. I do them because just like that corn shuck doll there are some things worth passing to the next generation.  So forgive me this post as it is a little about keeping me motivated and a lot about those women before me.

Church Ladies: You said it was ok when I forgot a change of clothes on Baptism day (we dunk). You taught me about gossip when you wore a brown wig to GAs and asked me the following week who I told that you dyed your hair. You gave me handmade Christmas ornaments as a child and wedding showers and casseroles as an adult. You showed me I mattered.

School Moms:  You organized a haunted house to raise money when our school was failing and sold napkin after napkin. You organized pep rallies and helped with chemistry. You were proud when we won and even prouder when we accepted defeat graciously. You knew just when to be our advocate and when to back off and let us made our own decisions.

4-H Leader: Mud boots and craft projects, personal appearance day and demonstrations, a jack of all trades-that is what a 4-H Leader is all about. When I think about the patience it took to “teach”, I am in awe.  It was never glamorous work, but the practical skills you taught are priceless.

Civic Leaders: Halloween parades, reading groups, swimming lessons and rodeos, you put the “quality” in life in small towns. If there is a need, you fill it often without recognition and always without pay. Your motivation is your cause and your passion abounds.

Some communities are hinged together by threads thin and delicate, easily torn by a disregard for duty, a sense of anonymity and “freedom” from being needed.  In my town, the ties that bind are strong. Just as I am bound by the generation before me, I bind the generation after me.

 Just as I received from the women before me so shall I give.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photography in Atchison County

Introducing Megan McAdams, one of our county's most talented photographers. You can find her pictures on ACDC's website, on this blog, and in the Tarkio Avalanche, where she spends her days as Reporter & Photographer. On any given weekend or evening, you can find Megan tromping around our county, capturing life and beauty as only she can.

Most know me as Megan at the Avalanche, but I didn’t always have a camera glued to my hand. Like most of us growing up in Atchison County, our first image-capturing device was our View Master (the children's toy that with a click of the button, would provide images from a Disney movie, etc.) and our first real cameras were disposable. In today’s technologically advanced society, cameras have not only become readily available, but also affordable. We’ve upgraded from cameras you throw away (along with most of your pictures when you get back dark, fuzzy images whose compositions are unrecognizable) to cameras as sleek and shiny as a new penny
that slide just as easily into your pocket when not in use, or big, powerful, fast action beauties with detachable flashes and zoom lenses.

My trigger finger fills up the memory card five times faster than most and my wrist aches from constantly being tilted to hold onto the camera, but man is the pain worth it! Atchison County’s beauty and ever-changing sights (yes, I said “changing”) keep my camera constantly at the ready.
Our rolling hills, luscious fields, crazy wildlife, and adventurous town folk attract my eyes to their sights so that I may capture the view. I (and others like me) not only take in these spectacular visions with our own eyes, but capture the image for the eyes of others. The priority isn’t just seeing, but stopping time and absorbing the view to be able to share it with others through pictures. I am “Photographer” – Hear me click!

Most people just see things for what they are: a smile, a sunset, a nursing calf in the field, a man playing his fiddle, a car traveling down the road. What I see is: a chubby faced cherub with chipmunk cheeks and a toothless grin exploring the wonders of life with the excitement of new discovery radiating off his or her face; streaks of blue, purple, and orange splashed across the sky with a burning orb of gold laying itself beneath the cover of the horizon while illuminating the fields and enhancing the color tones of everything in sight; a baby growing fat with the gift of life from its mother, content to suckle all day and without thought of the dirt and dung caked on its hide; hands so refined that the sounds of angels pour through their fingertips and enter the ears of the listeners, while the musician’s face shows immense devotion to releasing his soul through the bow and strings; and a step back in time as the rare classic, whether dulled with rust or shiny with sunlit polished paint, relives its glory days daring eyes to take another look.

Atchison County provides some of the best scenic views in Missouri. Tarkio Prairie, located east of Westboro, is one beautiful place that most people don’t realize exists. The prairie grasses, trees, ponds, wildflowers, wildlife, and walking trails provide miles of scenic views from dawn to dusk. The trails are always maintained so that hikers may take in the beauty that surrounds them, while not having to cut through weeds to do it. Another gorgeous spot is Charity Lake, located in the northwestern part of Atchison County. Wildlife is quite abundant in this area and almost every time I visit the lake, I see a deer or two, as well as the occasional turkey. I’ve even seen bucks fighting, hitting their antlers together to win a doe. One time, I took a picture of what I thought were beautiful trees and a clearing along Charity Lake’s southern border. Once I downloaded the photo and took a closer look, I realized that I caught a bow hunter standing on his tree stand waiting for a deer to wander past. The bluffs along Rock Port’s western edge also provide some breathtaking views, while looking towards Nebraska, and chances to see wildlife. A person doesn’t even have to travel two miles out of any Atchison County town before they have the chance to see beautiful, tall crops being harvested by gigantic machines occupied by local farmers. Nor does one have to travel far to see old barns that are many, many years old, but have withstood the test of time. Even grain bins, when set in front of the setting sun for example, provide gorgeous shots.

Within the last few years, the landscapes surrounding Tarkio and Rock Port have changed and are now dotted with wind turbines or what most of us call windmills. Though sometimes man-made machines in scenic views create an ugly landscape, these gigantic towers always seems to result in a magnificent portrait of the past and present, especially when a farmer’s old windmill is incorporated in the same photograph with a new wind turbine.

Even fence lines along fields provide great photo opportunities when sunflowers and other wildflowers grow up along their posts or Atchison County birds such as hawks, buzzards, and smaller birds perch on their posts and wires. The MANY creeks, streams, and ponds that weave through the countryside and dot the land provide opportunities for good-eye cameramen/women who spot a blue heron wading for a fish, or a
muskrat swimming to its den, or a turtle sunbathing on a branch sticking out of the water. These are also places that provide a chance to see a deer or coyote that has stopped for a drink. And, let’s not forget our farm animals. Some city folk go their entire lives without ever seeing a cow grazing in a field or a rider sitting atop a horse trotting down a country road. We rural residents tend to forget that we are blessed with these sights of farm life and these animals never cease to provide beautiful and sometimes hilarious photographs.

Tarkio, Westboro, Fairfax, and Rock Port are filled with great shots, such as historical buildings and spectacular homes that have played a major role in our county and have housed over a century of family generations. In Tarkio, the Tarkio College campus, the Manse, the Walnut Inn, the North Polk one room schoolhouse, and many houses that are nearing or are over 100 years old and yet still look good as new. The churches have been around a long time and are some of the most beautiful, rural churches I have ever seen. And one doesn’t have to find a building or house in pristine condition to create a great photo. Dilapidated homes and buildings can capture the change of time (such as Tarkio’s old train depot). The golf course in Tarkio provides great scenic views (as long as you stay clear of golf balls flying through the air) with its many ponds, rolling green hills, white picket fences and beautiful trees. And as crazy as this may sound to some, our cemeteries are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen and also provide some spectacular shots, especially when you capture a photo of one of the oldest tombstones lit by the sun, standing as tall as it did in the beginning. During Memorial Day weekend, the cemetery roads are dotted with the Stars and Stripes and also provide some great views.

Last, but certainly not least, we can’t forget our townsfolk, the peanut butter that holds our county (the bread) together. We create some of the most hilarious and spectacular photos of all, with our daily happenings and our numerous community events. Our townspeople are strong-willed, strong of heart, entertaining individuals who provide the spices of life to our rural environment. We have raised extremely caring individuals, many of whom have made their mark not only in local society, but around the world. Our businesses hold Customer Appreciation Day events and open houses; the Tarkio Chamber of Commerce holds ribbon cuttings for new businesses; and local organizations donate food, clothing, shelter, and support to those in need. Even when a resident is suffering and in need of money to pay medical expenses, our communities come together to raise funds for that person, as well as to raise hope. In this last year, our county residents have shown their immense strong will and determination when fighting floodwaters and having to deal with flood ravaged homes, businesses, and crops, and many volunteered hours and hours to fill sandbags and help flood victims relocate.

I’m so blessed to have grown up in Tarkio and am so proud to say I’m a Tarkio, Atchison County, MO, resident. There are not words to describe how much I enjoy photographically capturing our rural way of life and I look forward to discovering more of Atchison County’s hidden treasures.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It’s funny how differently you define concepts throughout your life.

neigh•bor [ney-ber] noun
  1. a person who lives near another.
  2. a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans: to be a neighbor to someone in distress.
From 5th grade on, I lived ‘in town’ on Main Street in Tarkio. It’s hard to decide what comprised my neighborhood then. Obviously, it included Bob & Maurice, whose backyard bordered ours, who were neighbors in every sense of the word. Bob was retired and wouldn’t let us ladies touch the lawnmower; literally, he almost pushed us out of the way every time we tried. I don’t know what we did for them in return, aside from giving them hugs regularly, but they were one of my earliest examples of neighborly kindness. Surely our neighborhood included the family who shared a driveway with us. One of our greatest forms of entertainment was watching the dad as he would fly into the driveway each night after work, only to stop abruptly right before he hit the garage door. Because Mom had a daycare, our home hosted a revolving door of traffic – it often seemed that everyone in Tarkio was our neighbor.

In college I lived in Lathrop Hall for 3 years. It was definitely a community, and my neighbors were my friends, my extended family. We leaned on each other, entertained each other and literally lived in each others’ one-room “homes.” But once I left the dorms, neighbors became those people who happened to live around me, who were loud from time to time or parked near my vehicle, and were friendly enough in passing, but ultimately just occupied a shared space.

When Keith and I got married, we bought a house several miles north of Columbia. Although it was sparsely populated all the way to our road, our home sat in a random subdivision of 9 houses. We moved in during the winter/early spring, and for months we thought we were surrounded by aliens because we never, ever saw any humans outside the houses. Technically we had neighbors then, but even though there were people living a yard away, I never felt like I was connected to anyone.

The year we lived in Maine was the first time since leaving Tarkio that I felt it again – a connection with others who lived in my general vicinity. We had neighbors on our dead-end street in town, but unlike Columbia, but we shared a driveway with an elderly couple who were friendly and caring, in a classic New England way. They rarely initiated contact – in fact, I don’t recall them ever coming to our door – but they were thrilled when we visited them, invited us in with open arms, plowed our half of the driveway when it snowed, and gave us a place to check in when there was an emergency. I will always be grateful to them for their kindness…but it just wasn’t the same as home.

Today, we get to live in a big old farmhouse in northern Atchison County – on a Century Farm, how cool is that. We get to be a part of this house’s history, and in that history are a host of families who have called this Farmers City neighborhood home for decades. Our two closest neighbors are a mile away in opposite directions. I grew up with one of those families, and the other has shown kindness that only comes with sharing a road in the country. Out here, my neighborhood is not contained by a road or a couple of blocks. I’ve never mapped the exact parameters, but I’d estimate that it goes at least 4 miles in any direction.

I’ve spent some time analyzing the difference between life here and life on our little road north of Columbia. Are the people in rural Atchison County innately more kind than those who lived on Tracy Court with us? [My totally unbiased opinion is, um-OBVIOUSLY! ;)] Not necessarily. But, they were different. We did have cows in our backyard there, but I’d venture to guess that our Tracy Court folks weren’t there because they loved the land. More likely, they were there because (like us) they didn’t want to have neighbors quite so close. And that translated to a kind of indifference – we didn’t need each other, we weren’t friends, we had our own lives and this is where our house happened to sit.

This is the thing unique to rural neighborhoods – we are few, we are far between, and we need each other. Sometimes it’s for little things like a cup of sugar (because driving 10 miles back to town when you forget something is ANNOYING). In the winter months, we keep each other company (even over the phone), dig each other out after storms and discuss road conditions. Our remoteness makes it that much more enjoyable to drop off a plate of cookies and sit for a spell, or be a part of the Christmas cantata at the church up the road. I suppose community happens in all kinds of neighborhoods, but out here, it seems to be more of a sustainer than a byproduct. Out here, we really do need each other – and I love it!