Lanark’s Discussion of the ‘Rural Brain Drain’ Continues
By TOM KOCAL | Prairie Advocate News
LANARK – Prompted by a proposal last winter by Successful Farming magazine for a Community Book Read of Hollowing Out the Middle–The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America, Lanark’s Penny Lauritzen spearheaded the reading project for the Eastland School Distrtict communities of Lanark, Lake Carroll and Shannon.
The first discussion of the book was held February 28, and attracted 20 people who had read the book.
To recap the purpose of the community book read, Hollowing Out the Middle tells the story of the husband & wife team of sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas, who moved to Iowa in 2001 to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America’s countryside. Many articles and books seem to celebrate the migration of highly productive and creative workers to key cities.
Like Carr & Kefalas, these 20 people from NW Illinois are addressing the reasons why many small towns simply aren’t regenerating, and why its educated young people are leaving in droves.
Carr and Kefalas identified the working-class “stayers,” trying to survive in the region’s dying agro-industrial economy; the high-achieving and college-bound “achievers,” who often leave for good; the “seekers” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and the “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns.
Of the 20 people attending the first meeting, there were 6 “stayers.” Seven are “achievers” or “seekers” who left the area, but then became “returners.” The other seven are “outsiders,” who moved to the area because of family and/or work opportunities.
The group discussed how the community sometimes plays a role in the decline of the community by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave, and by under-investing in–and under-estimating–those who choose to stay, even though these young people are their best chance for a future.
“The school’s role is NOT to educate to evacuate,” said Lauritzen.
Businesswoman Rosemary Flikkema, owner of The Special Touch, a transplant from the Chicago area, added that it is difficult for the schools to offer more vocational classes because the state & federal funding dollars aren’t available. “We can keep it positive with the schools, and help them change their mindset.”
Bed & Breakfast owner Norm Standish is an achiever and a seeker. Born and raised in the home that is now Standish House B&B, Norm left Lanark to get an education, then got drafted. He had a great career, and an “adventurous” life.
“I learned how to interact with people in a good way from my small town roots,” Norm stated.
He and his wife, Ingrid, an outsider, converted the old family home into a B&B, but hired a manager to run the operation while they lived out-of-state.
It wasn’t until later in life that they made the conscious decision to move to Lanark permanently, after their long-time manager decided to move out of the area.
“But the ‘Shop at Home’ concept was a directive to our manager, and one that we have always made a conscious decision to practice,” said Ingrid.
“For some, the perception is that it is better for a child to ‘move on’ and become successful somewhere else,” said Karen Kromer, an outsider who married a returner (Jack) from Mount Carroll. “They are looked down upon for staying. I think just the opposite! There is nothing wrong with staying if you can improve your life and make a good living,”
Other comments included the observation that an “entitlement mentality” is negatively affecting the work force that remains in NW Illinois; the work ethic is fading.
“Why do we not address the simple things in education?” said Ann Viglietta, an achiever and returner. “Why do some young people not know what a time card is for? Their seems to be a disconnect between their knowledge and application skills.”
The Hollowing Out the Middle discussion continues Thursday, March 21 at 7:00 pm at the Heritage Center in downtown Lanark. One of the points to ponder for those who wish to attend is to “be realistic.” Those planning to attend Thursday’s discussion are asked to bring 5 ideas for the community. Also, what one occupation would you like to see set up shop?
Jared Sauer, and outsider who works in Freeport but chose to live in Lanark, said, “Ask yourself, ‘Why do I live here?’”
Copies of the book are available at the Lanark Public Library or you can e-mail Penny Lauritzen at Lauritzen@farmestate.com to add your name to the waiting list to join in the Community Book Read.