Friday, January 27, 2017

NPR series looks at how town's shape people's identities, starting with Independence, Kan.

As part of a series called "Our Land," NPR reporters are visiting U.S. communities to find out how people's identities are shaped by where they live. Reporter Melissa Block recently was in Independence, Kan. (Best Places map), a town whose population has gone from 12,782 in 1930, to 10,030 in 1990, to less than 9,000 today. Independence has lost many businesses, including the shuttering of its only hospital in 2015. Despite having an uncertain future Block found that residents "remain proud of their town and its history."

She reports, "If you're from Independence, you wear that name with pride. People here are especially proud of their annual Neewollah Festival* held every October, the oldest and largest festival in the state. They're proud to be the hometown of playwright and novelist William Inge, who wrote 'Bus Stop' and 'Picnic.' Their hometown author is celebrated in the annual William Inge Theater Festival. It's attracted marquee names as honorees, Stephen Sondheim, Neil Simon, big city folks plunked down in rural Kansas." (*Halloween spelled backwards)

Independence is the type of town where most everything is "just a couple of blocks away," Block writes. The town has a community college and a local newspaper, the Montgomery County Chronicle. Editor Andy Taylor, who writes, edits, takes photos and even delivers papers, told Block, "We used to have a J.C. Penney department store over here. That's now gone. We had a furniture store, it's gone, a Hallmark store, it's gone. We had a clothing store, department store. It's gone." In October 2015 the town lost its hospital.

"The hospital and the oil pipeline company that shut down here in the '90s, these were pillars supporting the community. Philanthropy flowed through them," Block reports. "They sponsored events, pumped money into schools and churches. And the jobs - they were high-paying, professional positions."

Taylor told Block that no new businesses have come into town to replace lost jobs: "Once all that old money dies off and leaves town, then that's, that really hurts. Again, there's that old theory that when Grandma and Grandpa die, the funeral's at 2 o'clock; the family's at the bank at 3 o'clock, and they're out of town with that money at 4 o'clock. And I've seen that happen many times."

No comments: