When this big city gal fell in love with her country fella 40 years ago, I didn’t realize I’d fall in love with his small town of Byers, with Clay County and the rural way of life. But I did. I fell in love with the people, their sense of community, the lifestyle that focused on family and faith and hard work and respectfulness. Where everybody waved to everyone else along the road. Our town of 500 has survived change for 109 years, because its people seem to have a good hold on what doesn’t change – things based on self-sacrifice, community spirit, and love.
One of the best parts of small town life is how the townsfolk love their school. Byers turned out in droves with vigorous “school spirit” for everything from games to banquets to livestock shows. It seemed the town’s identity was tied up in the school, the children and their success and education. But as the school’s enrollment dropped, Byers had to make another change – consolidating with Petrolia. Many alumni wept when those doors, which had welcomed kids for a century, closed for good. But the people knew it was best for their kids. And nothing is too big a sacrifice for the children.
Sadly, small towns, their values and the perceived importance of the rural way of life are taking a back seat to growing cities. And because our state government and politicians’ confusing “funding formulas” favor larger, wealthier districts, small schools are in a struggle for survival. Now the Petrolia Consolidated School District, after cutting costs as far as it can, has been forced to ask for a tax hike, a request that voters have rejected in the past. If it’s rejected again, the school won’t make it.
No one likes to pay more taxes. But instead of a tax, I’d like to suggest that this is an investment. An investment in the children of Byers, Petrolia, Charlie, Thornberry, Dean and surrounding areas as well as an investment in the sense of community pride that comes from having a school which has achieved an Exemplary Rating as well as the award of a Blue Ribbon school, one of only 25 campuses in the state to receive it. Petrolia Elementary and Junior High also achieved the honor of becoming a National Distinguished Title I School. Petrolia won the state championship in football as well. Sure, a town might survive without a school. But what will happen to that community pride and loyalty and all the best things about this way of life?
Things are changing, like it or not. But one thing has not. One vote still DOES make a difference in small towns. A big difference. And I vote for the children. I vote for the future of rural, small town, home-grown America.Marjorie Parker Byers