Among the Chaos, Kansas remains America's Heartland, and Russell is Home.
Turn on the news, read a paper, or scroll through social media and it won't take long to realize the world has changed. Bipartisanship, once demonstrated by great American leaders, such as Senator Bob Dole, is being lost to polarizing partisanship from the inability of the two major political parties to compromise. The hostility in politics in Washington D.C. has led to disrespect and folks who've become unreceptive to new ideas, opinions, or beliefs different from theirs. Take a step back, and you will likely see that this division, exacerbated by partisan national news media and social media, has led to deep cultural, historical, and regional divides.
When did we start referring to each other as red and blue states? And what Oaf came up with "fly-over states?" Since the birth of transcontinental flight, we've all become fly-over states. We are a federal republic of fifty states made up of native Americans and immigrants from all over the world, known as the United States of America. Most people recognize "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" from President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg address. Others in American history have used similar tenets. In a speech to the U.S. Senate in 1830, politician Daniel Webster said: "It is, Sir, the people's Constitution, the people's Government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people."
In Kansas, folks still believe in democracy – a government where citizens exercise power by voting and deliberation; civil, respectful, and informed deliberation. The great chasm of division on the East and West coasts has not fully enveloped the Great State of Kansas, at least not yet. One might have observed this behavior in Topeka during the pandemic. Perhaps, it still lurks around the corner. If it does, it won't survive. We are Kansas, and like much of the Midwest, we have faced some harsh realities since numerous American Indian tribes moved to the area in 1830 and 1854 when the Kansas Territory opened to settlement and as recent as the Great Depression or over the last fifty years: jobs moving overseas, consolidation of farms, generational migration to urban areas, and decreased influence of rural communities in state politics. Each time we have faced difficulty, the pioneer spirit stands tall, espoused by Benjamín Pratt, the colony's (Russell) first president, in his letter back to Ripon, Wisconsin.
"If you have energy and some means and desire to live in an industrious, moral, and temperate community and can contribute something in character and influence toward boiling up such a community, we shall greatly welcome you to our colony. If your purpose [is] to hang around and grumble at real and imaginary difficulties…we do not want you".
You can find the same spirit embodied in the City's vision statement:
"We will continue to be a community dedicated to family, friends, and neighbors, where generations care for each other. We are One Russell, building a self-reliant future. This is home".
Yes, people and their values have changed over the last few decades. Yet you can still see that grit and determination in the oilfield, farming, industry, retail, and public service.
We often hear of rural decline, which is true in some areas but not all in the rural Midwest. Listen to the conversations; some folks believe that rural decline is inevitable, with the belief that as older generations age and pass on, the younger generations are moving to big cities. In some instances, this is true. Take a closer look, and you see the younger generations returning to rural Kansas. Whatever their reason, it is a spark. Something or someone has drawn them back home, back to where their values and beliefs were formed, and are still alive and well today. So rather than talking about everything wrong with the community, rural life, or Kansas, let's celebrate the progress our community and rural communities across Kansas have made despite being viewed as a relic of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Russell and other rural communities have made great strides in improving their quality of life. So often, our team quietly goes about delivering services, implementing policies, sometimes without funding, mitigating potential crises, never seeking the spotlight, and deflecting praise to "that's what we do." Time has changed the perception of public service, and what we do daily impacts every resident, business, and visitor to our community. The reliance on our services magnifies even the smallest error. We must stop hoping that making public improvements will increase community pride.
On the contrary, we must continue to make improvements and have confidence that this will give the public reasons to care, and pride and engagement will follow. Many folks like you and me care about the community and seeing our rural values and beliefs preserved. To do so, we must look to Russell's past and see that coming together, working together, and being forthright saved the day when faced with adversity. Our ancestors have faced pandemics – the 1918 influenza pandemic was traced to Camp Funston, now Ft. Riley - the great depression, and multiple wars. What kept the Greatest Generation moving forward can keep us moving forward - personal responsibility, integrity, work ethic, a sense of responsibility, service, and kindness.
Despite the chaos in the world, we have a bright future in Kansas. Take a moment and look around; there is no better place to call home than Russell, Kansas. Kansas has many great communities; I'm a bit biased towards Russell.
Always remember the words of so many of the founding fathers, eloquently stated by Daniel Webster in 1830, "It is, Sir, the people's Constitution, the people's Government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people." This belief, service to others, and kindness will move us into the next century.
Ad Astra Aspera – "through hardships to the stars."