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  • Last modified 13 days ago (June 7, 2018)

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The truth about rhinos

Simple pleasures often are the best, yet sometimes we don’t recognize them for what they are.

One of the joys of being a tenured professor at a Big 10 university for eight months, then spending the rest of the year here, practicing what I teach (albeit on a small scale, with no financial reward), is that I often get to use real-world examples from here in my classroom there.

Seeing what mainly suburban Chicago students and an increasing number of international students, now numbering one-fifth of our student body, think of Marion County can be eye-opening.

While most end up learning more than they ever wanted about a place they never planned to hear of, there’s one universal reaction.

Chingawassa Days, especially when it features nostalgic crossover acts, simply amazes urban 20-somethings who wouldn’t know modern country from Slim Whitman.

They can’t believe a community this size undertakes such a huge endeavor annually.

They don’t care whether buttons are expensive or whether the original resort had one “s” while the festival has two.

They may not be able to envision life without daily sushi, hummus, vaping, and vegan fare. And any store that isn’t part of a chain seems more foreign than their international classmates. But they recognize that Chingawassa and events like it are popular draws that their much larger, politically correct hometowns with gated subdivisions and beaucoup d’ strip malls can’t accomplish.

What they don’t see is yet another reason, cited by a regular Chingawassa vendor. She and her husband come back each year because of something bigger events like Wichita Riverfest can’t offer: a family-friendly environment in which children don’t have to be guarded and can roam free, enjoying events on their own.

This community pours thousands of hours of labor and tens of thousands of dollars in underwriting into Chingawassa Days each year. And it’s just one of many undertakings that impress even hard-to-impress students two states away.

The annual Kapaun pilgrimage this past weekend and Bluegrass at the Lake in a week and a half also make students take notice of what otherwise would be a fly-over flyspeck of a community somewhere beneath them as they jet between Chicago and the coasts.

We obviously owe thanks to the organizers and donors for all these events, but we don’t want to overlook unsung heroes who recognize that such events aren’t just about creating a day or two of good times for locals to enjoy.

Events like these, not some quasi-governmental body that seems forever mired without clear objectives, are what will provide impetus for economic development.

Getting someone to locate a business here is a key challenge. But that challenge typically requires more financial inducements, a better work ethic, and a larger trained labor force than we possess. Or it means accepting businesses that might not be good neighbors.

In economic development, just as in recruiting a new news editor for this paper, the first, most necessary step is getting someone not from here to want to live here. And our summer of events, starting with Chingawassa, is one of the best ways we have of doing that.

Removing Marion County’s light from beneath the basket of bureaucratic and personality conflicts that often seem to obscure it is a vital goal that will help ensure that more than just a handful of cars parked along Main St. during future Chingawassa Days have letters other than MN on their license plates.

To that end, we especially thank forward-looking businesses that helped sponsor the award-winning Explore Marion County section in last week’s paper — a special effort not just to let local customers know of businesses’ support for Chingawassa but also to persuade out-of-town visitors that Marion County has more to offer than just a couple of days of music and games.

Honestly, we lost money on the section. Too many advertisers apparently were tapped out by the festival itself to be able to afford to leverage the festival into something that could bring people here for more than just a day.

We probably should have done what a rival publication did, forget creating original content, and just shovel whatever ads we could sell onto a single, jumbled page. But that wouldn’t fulfill the obligation we feel not just to report all the news, good or bad, but more important to do so as a way of helping our hometown rather than padding out-of-county bank accounts.

Chingawassa isn’t just some super-sized backyard party for us locals to enjoy. Much more than any quasi-governmental corporation constantly pleading for tax dollars, it and things like it are what will make or break Marion County for the future.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified June 7, 2018

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