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Trying to keep a small town alive

August 7, 2016
Chuck Hunt - Register Editor ( , Faribault County Register

I wasn't always planning on being a newspaper editor, you know.

Nope, I once had plans on having a much more noble career. Teaching. Specifically, being a high school English teacher.

However, it was while in college at Mankato State University that I was turned to the dark side. Journalism. Specifically, publishing newspapers in small towns. (And, yes, I know it is called Minnesota State University, Mankato. But it wasn't back when I went there, so get over it. I like the old name better anyway.)

Maybe you noticed an obituary in the Mankato Free Press last week about a former journalism professor at Mankato State passing away at the age of 101.

Her name was Gladys B. Olson. And, her obituary was huge long. And, no wonder. According to a story in the Free Press about Olson, she wrote the obituary herself, years before she died.

And then, in typical fashion for a journalist, she continued to edit and re-edit her obituary for years after that. We all do that. It was one of our first assignments in journalism class; write your own obituary. Newspapers even used to have obituary editors. Now funeral homes assist families with the obits.

But I digress.

Buried in Gladys Olson's obituary (pun intended or not? You make the call) was a tidbit about her newspaper career before she became a professor at MSU. It seems she and her husband were both editors at the Worthington Daily Globe.

Then they purchased the two weekly newspapers in Winnebago, Minnesota, and combined them into one paper and ran that Winnebago newspaper for several years.

What? There were two newspapers in Winnebago? And now there isn't even one?

It seems so. Quite a few small towns, Blue Earth included, had two competing newspapers for many years. Some, like Slayton, Minnesota, still do.

Times were different back then. Small towns were different. There were many, many businesses in these small towns; two or three grocery stores, hardware stores, drug stores, auto dealerships, men's and women's clothing (and shoe stores), furniture, several gas stations, cafes and bars, and, well you get the idea.

Newspapers, even two in a town the size of Winnebago, found enough advertising to support themselves. That is not so true today. While there are still service-oriented businesses such as insurance, banking and medical retail businesses are getting to be fewer and farther between in our small towns.

It has just become too easy to hop in the car and drive to that larger city to shop for everything you need. Better selection and cheaper prices, people say. And then they lament when that hardware store, grocery store, restaurant or drug store goes out of business in their town.

And nowadays there is a new threat to local shopping. The Internet. Sit at home and shop for everything you want with just a few clicks of the mouse, a credit card, and bingo your purchase is on its way to your doorstep with free shipping, maybe. Too easy.

But again, I digress.

I have said it before and I will say it again. If you want your town to survive and thrive, then you have to patronize the businesses that are there today. Because, if you don't, they won't be here tomorrow.

I know, I know. You can't get everything you need in a small town. But, it is important that you make the effort to shop and dine as much as you can locally.

Why? Well, besides supporting the local newspaper (if there still is one in the town where you live) with their advertising dollars, small town businesses pay their employees who are your neighbors, they pay taxes that support your city, schools and county and that helps lower your property taxes, actually. And, in addition, they make plenty of donations to everything from school activities, Boy and Girl Scouts to every fundraiser around and everything in between.

The business people are often the leaders in many organizations in a small town.

They support you and your community, and your town, in so many ways. So I urge you to support them as much as you can, too.

Please shop locally. In your town, or in another town in your county. Our community is now more than each individual small town, it is the whole county.

Shopping at home can make a huge difference in the future of your community.



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