People living in a small town don’t expect every amenity taken for granted in larger cities. They may have only one restaurant, gas station, one grocery store, but are quick to say small-town life offers comforts more important than shopping malls and entertainment venues.
Residents prefer a strong sense of safety when living in a small town, where children can play outside without supervision and neighbors know each other, quick to help when needed. You can’t get that living in a large city, according to area residents who participated in the News Monitor’s 2019 civic survey.
For the most part, those who participated in this year’s survey are satisfied living here, many lauding how their community pulls together to help its own during times of crisis, welcoming newcomers with open arms.
Common themes surfaced during this survey:
• People living here are happy and satisfied with their living choices. They say small towns may not have all the options found in larger cities, but they choose to live here because they like being part of a community — their community. Their city strongly resonated with them and the vast majority were quite proud to live where they do.
• Only one resident failed their community, saying all people do in Lidgerwood is talk and there is no follow-up. Even those who pointed out areas in which their communities could improve — Wyndmere streets, Lidgerwood’s lack of a grocery store, few housing choices in Fairmount — residents still graded their communities with typically no less than a C-minus.
• Younger respondents graded higher than older residents. Their average grade was a B, while older residents had an average grade of C.
• Hankinson is the only city that received a majority of A’s from residents.
Emerson Johnson is a seventh grader at Wyndmere Public School. She lives in rural Wyndmere and graded her city with a B-plus.
“This is a good city. We have what we need — gas station, restaurant, school. Our roads aren’t good though, and it would be helpful to have a walk-in clinic so we don’t have to drive so far to see a doctor,” Johnson said.
Mikel Kern was not raised in a small community, he said. His impression of Wyndmere is how clean and neat the community is, although the roads are a little “bumpy,” he said.
“This community really gets behind the school, like when we had a toy drive for Jessy’s Toy Box. I had toys piled up in my office and we had only been doing the drive for three days. This city is very supportive of what the school does,” Kern said.
Three big areas topped the wish list for Wyndmere. Housing is the top need. Apartments and single-family dwellings are needed here for young singles, families and the elderly who no longer want to live in a big house.
No. 2 on the wish list is streets. It is difficult to excite someone about living here when the streets are in such disrepair that it is difficult to drive the speed limit in many areas, they said.
The third area was an expanded business district. Including Dollar General improved people’s lives as they no longer have to drive elsewhere to purchase groceries and other items, many said. They still want more, especially considering this city used to support an outdoor movie theater, department stores, multiple restaurants and a grocery store.
Lidgerwood epitomizes the zeal of small-town life. It has a golf course, swimming pool, restaurants and expanded business district.
John Popp moved here in 1976 to take over Popp Hardware. While this store has been a staple on Wiley Avenue the past 74 years, today large for sale signs line a window leading into the store filled with items like paint, tools, sundry items and more. Popp is looking to sell his store because he wants to retire.
“Based on the retail businesses we have in town, I would grade Lidgerwood with an A,” he said.
A grocery store is the city’s biggest need, Popp said, after Lidgerwood Market closed a year ago after a fire. The lack of a grocery store has hurt his hardware store as fewer people are coming to town, he said. He points to the city’s clinic, pharmacy, dentist and strong retail sector as being great indicators of the city’s health and continued vibrancy.
Three big areas topped respondent’s wish list for Lidgerwood. First and foremost is the proposed grocery store that people today are trying to raise funds to build. It is expected to cost $1.4 million. Once — and if — this store is built, people here are worried the desire to use it will slack off, causing problems once again for downtown.
Civic involvement was the second need among respondents. The creation of the Lidgerwood Community Club a few years ago has bolstered this city and created civic awareness. Flowers now grace downtown during the summer and Santa Day during the holiday draws hundreds of people. But more is needed, especially getting younger people involved in their city, many said.
Cleaning up the dilapidated lots in town was the third most common theme among those who responded to the survey. Many lots already have been cleaned up by the city, but there still are homes in disrepair that can be torn down.
“We do have lots here in town, but no one wants to build an expensive home next to a dilapidated house,” said Dawn Anderson, a lifelong resident of Lidgerwood, who scored her community with a B.
Hankinson has a strong sense of community. It is the people who keep this town thriving, respondents to the survey said. The most common theme among those who responded to the News Monitor survey was people here work together to keep their small town thriving. Grade after grade was an A or high B among respondents.
“We are progressive. We pretty much have everything we could use,” said Ron German, who graded Hankinson with an A. “Other than a hospital or doctor — which is never going to happen — we aren’t lacking really in anything.”
Three big areas topped the wish list for Hankinson. Continued growth was the first common theme. While residents here graded Hankinson with an A on its business community, they still would love to see more growth, especially getting Post Hardware operational after a fire last month.
A medical clinic was the second item people want here. While Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy Inc. has a clinic in Hankinson that provides physical, occupational and speech therapy, having a medical doctor would be the next logical step in bolstering the city, many said.
The third area was for residents to continue their civic involvement. Volunteerism has done everything from building the Hankinson Community Center to offering community events like Polka Fest and Oktoberfest. People here want to ensure these events and traditions carry on, hoping younger residents will become more engaged in their city.
“There is so much here compared to other small towns, so much so that the elderly really don’t even have to leave town. Hankinson has people here who want to be successful,” said Laura Dotzenrod, who owns Serenity Salon and gave Hankinson an A.
Fairmount is anchored by three services — Farmers Union Oil of the Southern Valley, Fairmount Locker Plant and Fairmount Public School, survey takers said.
FUOSV encompasses this city’s southwestern corner with multiple buildings, including an agronomy center, new business offices and C-store that provides everything from snacks, to daily food specials and gas. Survey participants by far pointed to FUOSV as being the most important business in Fairmount, supporting virtually all aspects of life here.
Tim Campbell is a lifelong resident of Fairmount. He said points of pride are the city’s cleanliness and strong sense of family. “We are there for each other. Like all families, we may not always get along,” he said, grading Fairmount with a B.
While there may not be many services here, the city has what it needs, he said while pumping gas at FUOSV after a morning deer hunt.
There are three big areas topping resident wish lists for Fairmount. No. 1 was the need for more amenities. People can grab a hot lunch at FUOSV or have a meal at the bar — beyond that there aren’t many options. A more formal restaurant is needed here, many said.
Housing was the second concern. There are few apartments or houses for sale that people would want to buy, so people wanting to move here would have few options.
More people was the third area, which ranked fairly close to the No. 2 wish of housing, so much so that either could have been interchanged by those taking the survey. Respondents talked about a close community, but said they would love to see even more people moving here.
For a bedroom community, Fairmount still has a strong sense of community, where people help people, they said.