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OSD: A day for settling an old score

As surely as this weekend’s Old Settlers Day will again be the “best ever,” our reporters will scurry in search of stories through cadres of kids playing in the park and gaggles of gabbing oldsters marveling at how much weight has been gained or hair lost by former classmates.

We’ve been covering Old Settlers since well before it became a Day:

— In 1881, when it was a just picnic for people who arrived in the 1860s.

— In the 1890s, when it became a countywide affair, staged largely in Peabody.

— In 1912, when it was revived and made a formal affair in Marion.

— In 1965, when it was moved to the fourth Saturday in September.

To us, it isn’t just another community celebration. It’s the celebration of our community and of the spirit that created everything good about it.

This year, it also coincides with our 150th birthday, making us even more time-honored than the event itself.

Old Settlers Day isn’t just a time to watch a parade and share food and fellowship in beautiful Central Park. It’s a time to reflect on how things we value in our community — including some we may not appreciate but should — came to exist.

Marion’s history is one of self-sacrifice and willingness to give back.

If you’re a regular reader of the centerpiece feature of our Memories page each week, you know the hardships old settlers endured and the vision they had for our community.

Countless of our forebears invested time, effort, and whatever fortunes they could amass to create something not just to make life cushy for themselves but to try to make our community a place worth celebrating years, decades, and even a century or more later.

In modern times, faceless and soulless corporations have robbed communities such as ours of some of what historically were their most important features — businesses owned and operated by people with deep roots in the community.

Far too many of our local businesses and institutions have become mere links in regional, national, or multinational chains — chains that may offer greater glitz and slightly cheaper prices but, in the end, weigh us down with a heavy price of contributing very little to anything other than distant corporate coffers.

It’s not just businesses. It’s individuals, too. Savings that could have funded local businesses that might do more than just exist within our community too often are invested in anonymous mutual funds, stock portfolios, and other distant schemes that line the pockets of overpaid CEOs we will never even meet while giving little more than pocket lint back to the communities they exploit for sales.

Look around Marion and you’ll see notable examples of people with local ties who have returned to Marion and made investments in the community or tried to start businesses that serve the community rather than leech off it.

If Old Settlers Day and, indeed, operations like this newspaper are to survive for another century and a half, the pioneering spirit of these modern old settlers must be celebrated and mimicked by others.

If just one out of every 10 people coming home for Old Settlers Day would consider moving back to town in semi-retirement or shifting just a bit of whatever nest egg they have accumulated into restoring a building, starting a business, or investing in an existing one, Marion would have a future as worthy of celebration as is its past.

Those of us whose lives were made what they are by the superior schooling, human values, and small-town traditions we were blessed to grow up with now must become the next generation of old settlers willing to give something back to the community that gave them their start.

In today’s economy, Marion is every bit the fledging pioneer outpost it was when original old settlers arrived here more than 150 years ago. Whether it thrives and grows now as it did 150 years ago depends not on what some amorphous “they” might do.

We are today’s old settlers, even if we now reside somewhere else. Marion’s past made us who we are. Marion’s future will be made by how well we follow the original old settlers’ example.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Sept. 27, 2019

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