Vandalia Leader

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Apathy: The killer of small towns everywhere

Posted on Thursday, January 9, 2020 at 11:56 am

“We are looking to move from central Illinois to this area of Missouri. Can anyone give me an idea of job availability, community involvement, just information about this town? So far, what we have seen and read, we are liking Vandalia!”

By Clay Coleman

VANDALIA—I read this letter online from a young couple wanting to know my thoughts about them moving to Vandalia. I suppose they’ve been reading my stories where I write about our residents doing something notable like helping the community, or sacrificing for the sake of others. Yet, if you’re familiar with what I write, I don’t write about the actual town much.
What should I tell them about downtown? Should I describe the old, antiquated storefronts, where the plaster is falling off, or the roofs have caved in on themselves? Or maybe I’ll talk about where to live and how it seems like every third home in Vandalia is lifeless and abandoned. Walk down any street here, and chances are you’ll find a burned down shell of a house or an abandoned home with a tree growing out of the front door.
Maybe I’ll tell them about the lack of jobs in the community. About how they’ll be competing with other adults to serve ice cream and burgers in the town’s two fast-food restaurants. I could talk about the brick factory, once the leading employer in the city, that’s been slowly reducing shifts and personal for the last 20 years or so and a women’s prison, where Vandalia competes with larger municipalities like Bowling Green and Mexico for staff. Sprinkle a few businesses here and there that hire a handful of friends and relatives, and that’s about it.
As far as the people are concerned, it’s hit or miss. When you can find them, they are usually friendly and will go out of there way to help newcomers. I say find them because when you first arrive, you’ll think you’ve landed in a ghost town. Very rarely do I see people walking downtown. Even rarer, do you see families walking along the streets where they live. Most of the time, it’s eerily quiet. Even stray animals, the plague of many a small town in Missouri, don’t seem to want to stop here.
On the subject of people, apathy is a quality most predominant in Vandalia. When you’ve been knocked down repeatedly over the years, sometimes it’s easier to stay on the ground. The primary industry in town downsizes, wham, hit the ground. Businesses pack up and leave, bam, you’re back on the ground. Your children graduate and leave in droves, well, you know where you end up. To an outsider, it seems the people of Vandalia cant catch their breath and get up on their feet again.
It’s no wonder meth, and opioids play such an essential role in small-towns across America. First of all, the people who suffer from drug abuse are sick. They’re ill and need all the medical and psychological help we have to offer. We send them away to get better, then scratch our heads and wonder why they resort to abusing when they come home again. What do they have to go back to? No jobs, dilapidated infrastructure, nothing to do, and we dare to wonder why. As a town, we bare as much responsibility for their actions as anyone else.
I realize that’s a bold statement to make, so I’ll prove it to you. This year the elections are on April 7. Throughout our readership area, mayors, aldermens, and school board members are up for the vote in some capacity. The current deadline for someone to throw their hat in the ring is Jan. 21. Right now, almost half the positions are unfilled, or the person is running unopposed. We are quick to point our fingers and blame others for the woes that infest our community like potholes along our city streets, or our schools going to a four-day school week, yet we can’t find the willpower within ourselves to do something about it. We thrust our fists in the air and cry out for jobs, yet complain when the state throws us a lifeline and brings in a new industry, such as medical marijuana. To protest, yet do nothing about it, is the definition of apathy.
Here is the breakdown for voters in April:
Mayor up for election
3 Wards up for election
2 Wards up for election
2 Wards up for election
2 At-large seats up for election
2 Wards up for election
Van-Far School District
3 School board seats up for election
Community R6 School District
3 School board seats up for election
So what do I tell that young couple from Illinois looking to move here? When I initially read the letter, I thought about writing a “how-to” guide for the city. I have lived in towns where one minute they are struggling to survive, the next, the holiest of holies, a Chic-Fil-A, parks itself near the Walmart. I’ve seen cities where populations leave; businesses sell out, all hope seemingly lost, only to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. So what do I tell them? What do I say to our readers who look to their paper for not only news but inspiration and hope? It’s simple, and my guide is only one point long. I even included a photo with it. The picture above is not City Hall, nor a business, or even where a journalist writes tripe for a small-town newspaper, no Vandalia, that picture above shows where you vote!