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Local leaders learn to rewrite the rural narrative

Leaders from Grant County and several other communities around Indiana gathered at Ivy Tech Marion to learn how to overcome negative attitudes surrounding rural communities on Tuesday.

The Community Foundation of Grant County invited Ben Winchester, senior research fellow with Minnesota Extension Center for Vitality, to share how to overcome the rural narrative.

Winchester said his goal is to share U.S. Census Bureau statistics that help debunk negative attitudes shared about rural communities by metropolitan media and by rural residents themselves.

Just like the fields of corn and soybeans surrounding rural Indiana towns, the rural narrative has been cultivated for years, Winchester said. Common phrases like “brain drain,” “middle of nowhere,” “sleepy town” and “nobody locks their doors at night” all contribute to this narrative, he said.

Winchester said the narrative has been written for 80 years or more in some towns. A common reason for this narrative is that the community has had a perceived economic decline.

The fact that small towns don’t look the same is OK, according to Winchester. While businesses have closed and schools have consolidated, he said rural people are not necessarily at fault for these conditions because change is also happening in metropolitan areas. Changes have occurred in the past few decades because of restructuring in the global economy, a shift to regional business centers and a decreased birth rate, he explained.

“The reality is every time you hear about a hardware store closing in a small town, there is one that also closed in Indy,” Winchester said. “The only difference is that there are other stores in walking and driving distance in Indy.”

Instead of focusing on the fact that small towns are often no longer a living Norman Rockwell painting, Winchester said rural people should focus on things they can control like negative phrases and focusing on the future instead of the past.

“Our towns are not where we should be, so we want to look back and blame somebody else,” Winchester said.

A glimmer of hope for rural communities can be found in statistics; since 1970 rural population has gone up. A large reason for this, Winchester said, is the migration to suburbs, as 18 counties have reclassified to urban counties due to migration from the urban core of large Indiana cities. Over this time period, however, Grant County’s population has decreased by 5 percent.

A way to draw new residents, according to Winchester, is to change the narrative from “middle of nowhere” to “middle of everywhere.” Census and personal interview data Winchester has gathered indicates a regional approach to choosing a hometown. He said people are looking for homes in a three- to five-county area around where they go for work and entertainment.

To draw newcomers, Winchester said communities should play up safety, security and a simpler life and look at ways to keep housing prices low. He said data shows residents moving out of big cities typically bring with them additional tools to strengthen rural communities, like higher income, a bachelor’s degree and a family comprised of several children.

Because new residents are often educated, Winchester said “brain drain” is less of a problem than typically thought. While college-age residents leave, people in their 30s are moving in with their family and people in their 40s and 50s move in for a quieter life. Instead of brain drain, Winchester wants communities to think of these changes as “brain circulation.”

Winchester cautioned that communities should be watchful of how they refer to their community around children in order to maximize the chances they will return home.

“If all your kids hear is that there is nothing here for them, they are never going to be coming back,” Winchester said. “How you talk about your town matters and will matter even more when they are deciding in 20 years whether to come back.”

Dawn Brown, executive director of the Community Foundation, said she and Megan Matthias, the foundation’s community investment manager, hope to use ideas from this presentation to make better grant proposals in the upcoming years. Brown said she hopes others will be able to do the same.

“You guys are going to have a great day of learning and statistics,” Brown said before Winchester’s talk. “Megan and I fly our nerd flags high, so we hope you enjoy the statistics and learn how we can apply them to our community.”

Marion Rotary Club President LaRea Slater, who lives between Matthews and Upland, said for communities that want to see growth, a first step can simply be shopping local and thinking positive.

“When you live in a small town, you have to think about the positive, not just the negative,” Slater said. “One thing that I enjoy doing is supporting the new businesses that come into Upland. When there’s a new nail salon, I get my nails done there. ... You have to support those new businesses.”

Veterans get some puppy love

The 2020 National Salute to Veteran Patients Week is in full swing, and the recreation room of the Marion VA was full of furry friends on Wednesday afternoon.

VA representative Erica Jones said the program started decades ago as a way of showing appreciation for veterans around Valentine’s Day.

“It’s a way to say thank you, we love you and we support you,” Jones said.

According to the VA website, it all began with Ann Landers, who created a column called “Ask Annie,” which has encouraged people to send Valentines to hospitalized veterans.

Now the program has grown to include a series of activities, including visits from the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders and Miss Indiana.

Jones said an employee at the VA knows Mark Storey and his therapy dog Nero and set up the visit on Wednesday.

Mark and Nero, a black Russian Labrador, brought their pals from the Heartland Chapter of Love on a Leash, a group of therapy dogs, to spend a little time with the veterans.

“Pet therapy is a big hit here. … They love it. A lot of them miss their pets at home,” Jones said.

The visit brought back memories for many of the vets, like Jack Berg, who said he’s grown up with all kinds of dogs like pit bulls, chihuahuas and more, but he’s especially fond of the black lab he had named KC.

“I love dogs. I’ve had them all my life,” Berg said.

Berg sat and talked with the Love on a Leash group, especially Cooper, an Australian labradoodle.

“I’ve got me a new buddy,” he said when Cooper plopped down at his feet. “You like my feet, don’t you?”

Gary Joseph is another vet who had his eyes on a particular dog, lighting up when Onyx the German shepherd came to say hello.

Joseph said he grew up with German shepherds. His father worked with and trained shepherds while in the Army during World War II.

Like many veterans, Joseph said he was happy to see the dogs, affectionately petting their fur as they made their rounds.

“They take time out of their days to show us their animals and I appreciate it,” he said. “We don’t get to go and see them so it’s nice that they come here.”

Carol Mitchel, founder of the local Love on a Leash chapter, said she’s been in the group with Jack, who she believes is a mix of Cairn and Welsh terriers, for more than 8 years.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for service members,” Carol said, noting that her son serves in the Air Force. “Everyone relaxes when they see the dogs. (The dogs) make them smile, that’s what their main job is.”

Community remembers 'unforgettable' teacher, activist Nevada Pate

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the “Negro National Anthem,” rang through the hallways of the former Center School as members of the community came together to honor and remember the life of Nevada Pate.

“The Negro National Anthem is very important for us as a community. When I say ‘us’ I mean all of us,” said Angela Amos, Pate’s niece, before she led the crowd in singing. “She taught me about the fight for equality.”

The legacy of Nevada Pate is recorded in “African-American Oral History Of Grant County, Indiana (Voices of America)” by Barbara J. Stevenson. Still, her individual impact on friends and family was shared on Tuesday morning.

Pate moved to Marion when she was 6 years old when she joined Bethel AME Church. Pate attended Bethel AME from the age of 6 until she passed away on Aug. 24, 2004, at the age of 96.

Members of Bethel AME, many of whom were taught by Pate in Sunday school, shared their memories of Pate on Tuesday.

“There was a section in the weekly digest that was called ‘The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met,’ said Amos Randall, one of Pate’s former Sunday school students. “That fit Miss Pate right to the dot. Once you met her, you would never forget her.”

Randall’s wife Shirley said when Amos was 3 years old, he visited Bethel AME for the first time, and Pate taught him in Sunday school even though he was the only child to show up that day.

“To this day, he always talks about Nevada Pate,” Shirley said.

Many members of the church mentioned how strong and stern Pate was with children.

“Miss Nevada, who was not even 5 feet, that little tiny woman, ruled the roost and always had a large Sunday school class,” said Joselyn Whitticker, president of the Marion NAACP and mother of one of Pate’s former Sunday school students.

Shayona Funches said she witnessed Pate’s sternness and learned to behave around her.

“She was still a loving person, and you definitely felt her warm presence when she was around,” Funches said.

IWU professor Sarah Farmer read a short biography of Pate, including her experiences with the education system during and after the time of racial segregation.

Pate completed the Marion College (now IWU) teacher training program in 1931, the year following the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, both of whom were younger than Pate.

“Segregation was serious,” Farmer said.

After substitute teaching for a year at D.A. Payne, a private school for black children, Pate returned to her elevator operator position for 11 years.

Pate began teaching at D.A. Payne full-time in 1943 and received her bachelor’s of science from Ball State University in 1948.

When the schools integrated, D.A. Payne closed, and the children were integrated at Center School in Marion, and Pate was separated from her students.

One of the students separated from her when the integration occurred, Darlene Jones Horton, came to share her memory of Pate.

“Miss Pate was my teacher up until fifth or sixth grade. She taught up to six grades,” said Horton. “She also taught my mentally challenged son in the ‘90s.”

Kersten Priest, a sociology professor at IWU, said she believes Horton represents what happened to black children in Marion at the end of racial segregation in the school system.

“She was one of the students that went from D.A. Payne to Center School, right here,” Priest said. “I think that Ms. Horton wanted to be here to remember Nevada because her teacher didn’t get to come along with her to this school. She didn’t have that same right.”

Despite her qualifications, Pate was not allowed to teach at the newly integrated schools.

Pate served as the secretary for the NAACP, the only female leader in the organization at the time, and fought for the rights of black individuals in the community, Priest said.

“She experienced some harsh realities, and it did not hold her back,” Priest said.

In 1961, Pate won the right to teach in Marion Schools and won the teacher of the year award in 1968.

Rebecca Scheer worked as a teacher’s aide under Pate at what was called in the 1970s the Fremont School for Trainable Retarded Children.

On her first day, Scheer said she ran into “the elevator lady,” who she had thought was quiet.

“Well, Miss Pate was not silent in the classroom. She had a quietness about her, but had a spine of steel,” Scheer said.

Scheer was a young woman embarking on a career and said Pate scared her when they first met.

The two-classroom school with a small cafeteria and a little playground was located on Bond Avenue.

“I don’t think it was an accident that they were housed clear out on Bond Avenue. They had them isolated,” Scheer said. “That was early in the days of special education.”

Scheer said over time she began to understand Pate more and grew an admiration for her.

“She was firm and definite, but she was very committed. Miss Pate loved those children,” Scheer said. “She had great big eyes, and when she smiled with her eyes, you could see her heart.”

While some knew Pate as a teacher or churchgoer, Angela Amos knew Pate as family.

“She was truly an amazing woman,” Amos said. “She mentored me starting at 3 years old before I even got into school. I was at her house every single day.”

Amos remembered Pate feeding her spam every day and how she would spend three hours walking around the grocery store.

“She taught me that as a woman of color, I was going to have to work twice as hard. She taught me that I would not always be recognized for the work I had done,” Amos said. “She said you don’t do things for the recognition; you do things to learn and to help others.”

When Amos was young, Pate told her that she was different and that God had unique plans for her life, and although she would experience struggles, she should never give up.

Today, Angela Amos is a gospel musician and leads between 5,000 and 6,000 people in praise and worship at her church.

“God allows the gift that she told me that I had to touch people,” Amos said.

Amos closed the ceremony with a performance of her new single, “You are God.”

“Every time I sing this song, I think of her,” Amos said. “She always let me know that no matter what you go through, God is always there.”

MCS considering superintendent extension

MCS considering superintendent extension

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, Marion Community Schools board members held a public hearing about extending Superintendent Brad Lindsay’s contract.

According to a draft of the extension proposal, which can be found on the district’s website, Lindsay’s contract would be extended to July 7, 2022.

The draft states his annual base pay would remain the same at $131,600. Lindsay has been Marion’s superintendent since 2013.

During the public hearing, Will Carpenter, a concerned parent, brought up a few problems he’s noticed throughout the schools his children attend.

Carpenter brought up students’ lack of gym time, inconsistencies with discipline among the schools, holes in curriculum and high turnover rates among teachers and administrators alike.

Board members thanked Carpenter for taking the time to express his concerns, encouraging him to take a more hands-on approach to address them.

Board member Aaron Vermilion suggested Carpenter consider running to be on the school board, with Vermilion stating that he does not plan to run for re-election.

“We need concerned parents,” Vermilion said.

Marion Teachers Association President Scott Simpson said a number of these problems boil down to resources, especially state funding.

He encouraged Carpenter and other parents to help school personnel challenge legislators on these issues.

“Our students need and deserve all of those things,” Simpson said. “My children deserve better. We call them ‘our’ children and they are.”

Simpson also said that it looks like legislators will go through with the hold harmless year, which will prevent schools from being impacted by the less-than-stellar ILEARN scores they received after its initial roll-out last spring.

– Samantha Oyler

MCS creates immersive reading program

MARION — Leaders across the city are joining forces to promote literacy in schools.

Marion Community Schools (MCS) announced at a Tuesday night meeting that it will partner with a number of local organizations to create a series of immersive events rooted in themes from the book “The War That Saved My Life.”

The book, penned by New York Times best-selling author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, follows Ada, a young girl with a club foot who’s evacuated from London during World War II.

According to Kari Persinger, a librarian at Justice Thurgood Marshall Intermediate School, a committee of students and staff chose the book, believing its historical value and accolades would make it a good fit.

“This (book) just resonated with the students,” Persinger said.

Persinger said local leaders like Anthony Horton of the Boys and Girls Club, Alicia Hazelwood of the United Way of Grant County and Lisa Dominisse of Family Service Society read the book and wrote letters to the students at Justice, detailing their reactions to the book.

“I think each and every one of us deeply desires to be truly seen, heard and know we are good enough,” Dominisse wrote. “Like Ada, we play tapes in our minds that may tell us we are ugly, stupid, good for nothing and in her case ‘crippled.’ It’s just not true.”

In order to help students connect with the book even more, the school corporation’s Giant Reading Program has planned a five-day series of events around the city.

The Hostess House will kick off the events with a tea party on Sunday, March 14 at 2 p.m. The tea party will include treats and a brief etiquette presentation.

On March 16, the Marion Public Library (MPL) will host an exhibit on World War II photography and feature a talk with Kayleen Reusser, an author who has interviewed more than 200 World War II veterans. The event will run from 5:30-7 p.m.

“We are the place where literacy lives,” MPL Executive Director Mary Eckerle said. “We don’t want to lose what that generation has to say.”

The Purdue Master Gardeners will host a hands-on Victory Garden experience at the Boys and Girls Club on March 17 at 5:30 p.m.

Indiana Wesleyan University students and faculty, like John McCracken, will transform Goodman Hall into a series of escape rooms and historical information stations on March 18 from 5:30-7 p.m.

The events will finish off with a meet and greet with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley at the MPL at 5:30 p.m. on March 19

The tea party costs $5 per person and reservations are due March 6. Anyone interested can contact Kari Persinger at kpersinger@marion.k12.in.us.

All other events are free and open to the public.