Exploring Small Town America

by: EJ on 09/17/2009
Posted in: Community

Over the past two days I have had the pleasure of visiting a couple of small towns in Oregon - Mt. Angel and Silverton. It has been a truly inspiring and insightful visit. Some people may have heard of Silverton when they elected their latest mayor, Stu Ramussen, the first openly trangendered mayor in the United States. I met Mayor Ramussen by chance in the local bakery, where he held the door open for me and welcomed me to Silverton.

But it wasn't just this experience that made me want to write about my trip. This small agricultural settlement has more lessons about real community than a shelf full of New Society Publishers' books! Electing Stu Ramussen alone demonstrated their open-mindedness, but my friend also shared a story about the recession.

A local business in town was very hard hit and could not pay its staff. It announced in a letter to local paper that it would shortly have to close its doors. In my jaundiced view of cut-throat American capitalism, I assumed that was the end of the story, but it was not. The community rallied around the business owner and lined up to take volunteer shifts to keep the business open. And this was not the first time they had done this - another business woman who had been recently widowed also found people volunteering to keep her shop open while she got back on her feet.

In near by Mt. Angel, the town was preparing for its annual Oktoberfest, a celebration of its German heritage which swells the town population of 3000 to 100 times that amount. But as I walked through the busy preparations, past the Bavarian Haus restaurant, the loud speakers attached to the lamp post were blaring out a popular Mexican tune! 30 percent of Mt. Angel's population is Hispanic.

Next, I turned my head just in time to catch sight of two nuns zipping past in a Prius. In addition to German and Hispanic heritage, Mt. Angel is home to the Mount Angel Abbey, a Benedictine monastery and school, which was moved permanently to Mt. Angel in 1884.

I found this mix of religious, political, social and cultural beliefs and the tolerance it generated to be really quite amazing. But I think, increasingly, this is what small town American will become - less insulated and prejudiced and more open-minded and accepting. It is something I think we could all be better at.

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