Sunday, March 25, 2012
On Hatteberg's People, viable small Kansas towns are rare. Many main streets are lined with empty buildings where the people long gone and the streets quiet and dusty. The exception is Tipton, Kansas in Mitchell County where people like Fred Smith came back from the big city to make a difference in a small one.
Smith calls Tipton "a beautiful little town, nestled on the Carr Creek, in the valley of the Blue Hills. A farming community, A Christian community, a piece of Americana."
Smith is a former suburban Chicago police officer. Today, he and others are the backbone of Tipton. He runs the local newspaper, the grocery store, the restaurant and even a car wash.
"You take away certain businesses and you lose the town. I want to quote from my own editorial and I don't even have it in the paper yet. 'But this country needs small towns like Tipton. We are the last vestige of what this country was founded upon. Tipton is a living tangible picture of what it actually means to be an American,'" said Smith.
And Norman Rockwell could not have painted it better. Everyone loves even the town cat.
"He has three or four names. Most people call him Murrer because someone asked him once what his name was and he said 'Murrer.' Yeah, he's an institution in this town."
But keeping a town going isn't easy. A new school building was built when Tipton was threatened with consolidation. Tipton was going to lose its school. The town said no.
"The school is the cornerstone of the community. It's the veins of the community. Kids are the blood that runs through us. You take that out of our town and you have a corpse. It will die."
So they built this private school for primary grades and this school for the high school. They made enemies, but they saved their town.
"I wanted to try and figure out how many people have moved back here in the last five years, since we got our school thing resolved. There have been a total of 55 people who have moved back to Tipton in just the last five years. They've come home... and this is 35 of them."
A town can't be without a grocery store. When the old one closed, Fred took it over.
"The reason a small town is going to survive is because of leadership. And leadership has to come from everybody. It can't be just one or two, there has to be a whole community that wants to survive."
"I went from being a police sergeant to a bag boy in my grocery store."
And every small town has to have a gathering place, a restaurant. When it faltered it was Fred who stepped in to keep it going.
"For six months we didn't have a restaurant and you could tell the difference. We had no place to go. And when word got out of what we were doing, there were 44 people who came forward to help us do it."
"It's home, you have to take care of home."