“We’re not dying, we’re fighting!” is a sentiment shared by Republic County Economic Development director Jenny Russell last year which really sums up the attitude of many not only in North Central Kansas, but throughout America who still believe life in a rural town is valuable.
I finally decided on a focus for this blog. I feel I’m uniquely positioned to deliver insights and comparisons on rural and small town living, reports on culture and the arts in rural North Central Kansas, and on what the people of this area are doing to hang on to their identities and communities amid continued urban out-migration.
I’ve learned over the past nine years quite a bit about making the transition from city life to rural-town life. Attitude really is everything. Some of what I’ve learned came as a big surprise to me, but over time it began to make sense.
Here is a little about me, and how I came to live in a rural town in North Central Kansas.
In 2003, I made a radical life change.
I grew up and lived in the Denver Metro area, and was a SAHM of three children. Sitting in the drivers seat of the mini-van for hours on end in the daily quest to get from home to store, park, school and home again was getting to me.
I moved to Concordia, a rural town in North Central Kansas, 500 miles from family, with a plan to purchase and manage a handful of rental properties, start a business and raise my kids. My friends thought I’d lost my mind, moving to a place where the nearest Target store was over 50 miles away and the nearest Starbucks over 100 miles away. There were no private schools or charter schools within reasonable driving distance. At the time, there were no movie theaters within a 50 mile radius either.
My family, on the other hand, was supportive. We’d taken several drives in the country when I was a child, and often we’d talk about what it would be like if we moved to the country. None of us really understood what life would really be like, I learned later, but we were intrigued.
In June,2003, after purchasing three fixer-uppers, I loaded up the minivan with the kids and the dog and what tools and belongings I could pack in, and we drove to Kansas intending to spend a month staying at and working on the one that needed the most work. In the mornings, I’d let the kids play and we’d go for walks to explore our new town. During the hottest part of the day, we’d stay in and watch videos in the air-conditioning. In the evening, we’d go down to the public pool and swim to cool off, have dinner and then I’d put them to bed. That’s when I stripped wallpaper and cleaned mold off walls, peeled off floral “walleeze” from cabinets and wood trim, cleaned cigarette smoke residue from all surfaces, and scrubbed and polished and painted everything I could to bring the house to a habitable condition.
One month turned into the whole summer. Soon, it would be time to head back home to Lakewood, and get the kids ready for school. Over that summer, I reflected, I’d come to be friends with my Kansas neighbors, something that eluded me back home where front-of-the-house attached two-car garages allowed most of my neighbors there to avoid contact with one another. In our small town, the kids and I could walk to the library, the store and the park. Back home, it would take us the same amount of time to get in the van, travel out of our subdivision and onto the highway we would need to take to get to similar destinations.
I decided then, that we would make our move permanent, and I enrolled my kids in the Concordia school system.
Since then, I’ve owned a few businesses, survived a divorce, and began my new career as a reporter for The Belleville Telescope, a weekly county paper. I travel back to visit family in Denver several times a year, and as much as I love seeing my family and experiencing great restaurants, after a few days of sitting in traffic to get to these great places, I can’t wait to get home again.