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.