Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Small Town, Big Heart

I had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of a local chamber of commerce where my company is a member. It is a chamber that I have been involved with for a number of years with my previous and current employers. This particular chamber (or town for that matter) is often overlooked by many. I have seen the eye rolls and heard the snickers when I mentioned this particular chamber membership in the past due to the size of the town. Having a population close to 4000 people, it is seen by some as not much of a big deal. I would beg to differ.
The little town I am referring to is Sleepy Eye, MN, located in south central Minnesota. It has a fun history as it has actually been around long enough to have a real history. (I'll let you do the research on that.) I had even heard of Sleepy Eye back when I was a kid down in Texas watching Little House on the Prairie. Sleepy Eye was the "big town" the Ingalls family would go to on occasion from their little hometown of Walnut Grove. (For the record, Walnut Grove is still here as well and puts on a Little House re-enactment each summer.) The history of the town and the "fame" of being mentioned a few times on a tv show is not what makes this little town so great. It's the people that do that.

The small town life is a lot like a family. You know (or at least recognize) just about everyone you see. You know the good, the bad and the ugly about everything and everyone. Some may find that a bit uncomfortable, but in the end, it's rather comforting. You all know each other's strengths and weaknesses. You know who to go to for help with a particular issue and who could use your help with their issues. Like a family, you will have the occasional dispute or disagreement, but in the end you stick together and help each other out.

This point really stood out to me tonight during the awards ceremony when the Sleepy Eye volunteer fire department was recognized for their volunteer activities to help the community. Volunteering comes in many forms, but few compare to the volunteers that literally put their life on the line to fight the fire that is trying to destroy your home or business. They are there giving aid at the scene of an accident or during a natural disaster. They are the people you probably don't notice during a time of need....unless you live in a small town and know them on a first name basis. I particularly enjoyed (and appreciated) the mention of the employers who accommodate their valuable employees who are members of such a noble volunteer group.

It doesn't stop there. During my years of working in this community, I have seen numerous neighborly acts that I had previously thought extinct. I've seen everything from offering a ride to someone who got caught out in the rain to a bunch of farmers joining together to plow the neighbor's fields because they had a situation that prevented them from being able to do it themselves. Small town families look out for each other and take care of each other. There is a lot of value in that.

Hailing from the great state of Texas (the friendship state), I have experienced both extremes of "being neighborly" or friendly. I have lived in neighborhoods where you can live next door to someone for years and never learn their name. I have also lived out in the country where your neighbor a mile away is hurt because you haven't stopped by to say hello and introduce yourself. A small town rarely has that problem. You get to know everyone pretty quickly and you are almost "forced" into the family right away. It may be unnerving for some, but for those of us who love people, it's a great feeling knowing you have a new neighbor ....whether they live next door or a few miles away.

I've rambled on enough for tonight. Think about this tomorrow when you're out and about in town, How many people do you recognize? How many people do you at least offer a smile or a hello? Even better, how many people can you name on sight? I bet you'll be surprised by how many people you see on a daily basis, but have no clue who they really are. Until next time....