At my family’s Thanksgiving gathering this past weekend, my father told me a story about my grandparents and the role they played in promoting community gatherings.
At the end of World War II, my grandparents purchased and operated nine drugstores in northern Utah, eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. Most of the stores were in small farming communities, and they served as a gathering place for the members of the community.
People would drop by, often on a daily basis, and sit at the soda fountain bar and order a soft drink (even an IronPort or a Sarsaparilla) or a malt or root beer float. While they sat, they discussed the events and issues of the day. The business of the community was often transacted at the soda fountain. At our family gathering, we commented about the need for the “soda fountain” in our communities.
No one can doubt that, over time, communities in our nation are continuously undergoing dramatic changes. Before the days of the soda fountains, ours was an agrarian-based society, where the needs of the population were met by individuals and their families. Goods and products needed to sustain life were produced by hand in the home.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, the creation of goods shifted from hand and home to production by machines and factories. During these times, our communities further changed as a result of population shifts to urban areas, which resulted in an increase in interaction among people in society.
In the mid-1800s, Frenchman Alexander de Tocqueville came to America and commented positively about the vitality and significance of the association of people in townships in American society and concluded that local communities are what made the American society work.
According to Wikipedia, “Tocqueville thought that through associating, the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both in public and private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning according to political and civil laws of the state.”
Since the 1800s, the structures in our communities have continued to change. Today, community institutions that once were vital to the workings of the American nation and, according to Tocqueville, allowed people to overcome their selfish desires, are eroding.
Author Marc J. Dunkelman in his book “The Vanishing Neighbor” argues that postwar changes in technology and in new routines of everyday life have led to dramatic changes in how people interact one with another.
Dunkelman suggests that “The disappearance of these once-central relationships – between people who are familiar but not close, or friendly but not intimate – lies at the root of America's economic woes and political gridlock. The institutions that were erected to support what Tocqueville called the “township” – that unique locus of the power of citizens – are failing because they haven’t yet been molded to the realities of the new American community.”
“The Vanishing Neighbor” suggests that we need “to adapt yesterday’s institutions to the realities of the twenty-first-century American community.”
As the managing editor of Iron County Today, I have been intimately involved in the Iron County community. I have met with county commissions and city councils, inter-faith religious organizations and school-based organizations. I have come to the conclusion that the communities that are served by this newspaper are unique in that, while these communities have changed to deal with changing routines and technologies, they have preserved the structural integrity of the community organizations that provide an opportunity for people to engage in debate and the exchange of ideas and solutions to issues that are raised in this community.
I like to think that Iron County Today serves as a symbol of the strength and adaptability of the Iron County community. Newspapers across the nation are weakening and some are failing, yet Iron County Today remains a viable part of this community and acts as one avenue for the exchange of ideas that make our community vibrant.
Thanks for letting me be a part of your lives and for continuing to share your ideas and stories with me and the rest of our great community.