I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eyes as I walked out the door of the Center for Rural Affairs on August 30. It was my last day.
My heart, however, has not left the Center. After 37 years, it will always be a big part of me. And I will always be indebted to the supporters and citizen leaders who have helped make it the nation’s leading force fighting for the rural and small town way of life.
I first set eyes on the Center on a summer Sunday in 1976, at the age of 21. It was based in an old, one-room storefront with high tin ceilings on Main Street Walthill, Nebraska. It was led by the balding and brilliant 29 year old Marty Strange and the grizzled and thoughtful 32 year old Don Ralston.
That day changed my life. And that organization has changed the course of history in rural America, with a lot of help from you who share its commitment to creating a better future.
Together, we have upheld the value of strong communities with responsible citizens, genuine opportunity for all, and stewardship of the land and water.
Together, we have opened doors of opportunity to beginning farmers, small businesses, and new leaders. Together, we’ve fought important fights in Washington and state capitols to support family farms, small business, small towns, and care for the land and water. We’ve even won our share of those fights.
Now, the Center has reached a critical point in its history. Leadership change tests the mettle of organizations. Some fail. The strongest organizations thrive by growing their own leaders to step up when needed.
Marty Strange and Don Ralston tutored and nurtured me, before I took their place. I’ve tutored and nurtured Brian Depew, who has taken my place. Brian is deeply rooted in rural America, hailing from a Laurens, Iowa, family farm.
After working alongside Brian for seven years, I know he is prepared. I ask each of you who has been there for the Center under my leadership, to be there for Brian and the rest of the Center’s excellent staff.
This is a bittersweet time. I have invested my entire professional life to date in the Center. I care deeply about its board, staff, and supporters. I am fully invested in its mission.
I am proud that I answered my call to this work and assured in knowing that others will take my place, enabling me to go on to an exciting new challenge. I know the Center will march into the future with its supporters, allies, and citizen leaders, as a strong champion for small town and rural people, small communities and the values we share.
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