Rural America may be slipping, but BV towns find key to survival
We've all seen them, small towns that have given up the ghost and died, with the only remaining vestige of a community a rusted railroad track leading to a pigeon-speckled grain elevator.
It's hard to see a town die. All the hopes, all the dreams of generations wither into decay. It seems, though, that just as there are a number of reasons towns die there are also a number of reasons town survive.
Newell Pride Days this last weekend showed how one town in southeastern Buena Vista County manages to not only survive, but thrive, amid similar influences that have destroyed towns in other areas. The close proximity of Storm Lake with its Super Wal-Mart, two supermarkets, and myriad restaurants has drained consumer dollars from small towns that have to make do with what remaining resources they have.
When small towns speak of survival, that survival seems to be underpinned by anchors like a grocery store, restaurant, or school. Newell has managed to hold on to its high school after consolidating with Fonda some years ago. State-championship-level teams in basketball and baseball may be a big part of the reason why Newell calls its annual celebration Newell Pride Days, the 135th of which was held this last weekend.
Despite the fact that it does not have a full-service grocery store, Newell does manage to offer some groceries at the Co-op Express and Sparky's convenience stores on Highway 7. The Co-op Express also offers a full-service deli that offers full meals and fast food from opening at 6 a.m. to closing at 10 p.m.
One look down Newell's Main Street this past weekend put new meaning in the words Pride Days. A 45-minute parade featuring fire trucks, antique cars and tractors, and horse-drawn floats with kids scattering to pick up candy showed true community pride.
Melinda Buchholz, Newell City Clerk and a key organizer of Newell Pride Days, said the Pride Days Committee served about 500 meals Friday night with 400 served Saturday night.
Newell is not alone among Buena Vista communities that have picked themselves up by their bootstraps.
Linn Grove is in the midst of a renaissance under the leadership of a cadre of volunteers of remarkable abilities. Beth Cathcart, who has a number of years doing promotions work for major corporations in the Omaha area, heads up publicity for summer and fall promotions in Linn Grove. Cathcart and her husband, Steve, are among a number of very talented artists who are well on their way to making Linn Grove an art mecca.
The Linn Grove dam and refurbished Linn Grove Landing located in the old Slagle Lumber and Coal building are photo destinations in their own right. Linn Grove also has a number of recreational trails and is located near Buena Vista County Park.
Just to the east, Sioux Rapids is doing a remarkable job of maintaining services that much-larger communities have lost. After its grocery burned down four years ago, the decision was made to rebuild its grocery. Current owner Rick Roberts later bought the store and Rick's Food Center continues to offer Sioux Rapids residents a full complement of groceries.
Sioux Rapids is also home to Sioux Central Community School District, a new K-12 facility that continues to grow through a whole-grade sharing agreement with Albert City-Truesdale.
The district covers northwestern Buena Vista and southern Clay counties.
Marathon has managed to hold on despite having lost a restaurant and lumber yard within the past few years. The annual Marathon to Marathon is becoming a nationally recognized event, and the Poland Township park on the northwest side of town is one of the most attractive parks in the region.
While there is no longer a school located in Marathon, the old Marathon School building is still is use as Marathon City Hall and Community Center. The school's auditorium features what is possibly one of the largest stages of any high school or college in northwestern Iowa.
Clay Rural Water recently held a free supper in Rembrandt where residents were hooked up to the water system. Rembrandt Enterprises, a poultry production facility, also offers jobs to Rembrandt residents as well as people throughout the region.
Like many school districts, Albert City-Truesdale has faced the challenge of dwindling tax dollars amid growing demands such as federally mandated programs. Albert City will continue to hold classes for preschool through sixth-grade students. Albert City is also home to the annual Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show.
Alta could be working itself out of the small-town category, due to its welling population with proximity to Storm Lake. Alta has retained its school, boasts several restaurants and is seeking a grocery.