Fremont County, Iowa

Small Town Success

by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of November 30, 2009

The ground breaking ceremony for the new Rodeo Museum was October 31. With a short four day notice, over fifty people attended to celebrate. They were from all parts of Fremont County and represented several different groups, all brought together because of a common interest in telling the Rodeo story.

Three years ago in the fall of 2006, the project began. There are still months of building and exhibit construction before the doors open. The grand opening will be when the newly renovated existing museum, Rodeo museum and Gathering Place open as one unit. October 31, signaled there will be success.

Living in Fremont County, the progress of the project can seem to be at a snail's pace. It is easy to loose sight of the many volunteers, who have already given time and money. But we need to take the time to realize we are living in an area that is going forward without a large population and large towns.

Some small towns seem to make it while others don't. Why is that? What is it about towns, or the people who live there, that make some places thrive and others fade? The Rural Sociological Society meets annually and for a few days its members talk about the research they've been doing in rural communities over the last year. Daily yonder published on the internet www.dailyyonder,com reported on findings from the 2009 meeting in Wisconsin.

Terry Besser at Iowa State University, who has been studying the characteristics of thriving small towns, asked people to assess their communities. She found that more jobs and higher incomes "do not translate into higher quality of life." Areas where residents believe their community is thriving have more participation in local groups. In these places, there's a sense there that people would get behind projects and get them done. Besser said her research had found that community involvement was essential for people to think of their town as thriving. And community involvement rose as towns became more remote. "You may have less income if you're more remote, but you will have more connections," she said.

Thriving places were more remote. They weren't exurbs, close to metro areas. As a result, the places where people were happier had lower average incomes. " Besser said. She went on to say that towns of 5,000 residents seem to do best.

For Fremont County, Besser's findings have significant implications. The more we do in the County, the more people will believe and more projects will be completed. Each new success leads to others. Currently, our largest towns have 1000 residents, the County has 8000 residents, yet there are many examples of a lack of people not getting in the way of progress. Tabor has proved it with the Todd House. Hamburg has revitalized the Colonial Theater. Randolph recently opened the Depot. Imogene maintains the Catholic Church. Riverton maintains an original Chautauqua pavilion. All of these projects thrive because of volunteers. The biggest event in the county, Iowa's Championship Rodeo, is an all volunteer operation. The Historical Society project is an all volunteer endeavor. It is time to celebrate a can do spirit.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau