All who work to build a bright future in rural America can draw inspiration from the pioneers, who carved farms, businesses, and communities on the prairies more than a century ago.
The relevance of their story to rural leaders today was stated eloquently by Paul Hosford of Albion, Nebraska. His story is excerpted and slightly edited below to fit this space. The full essay appeared in the Feb 1, 2010, Omaha World Herald.
The pioneers were, of course, people just like us, good and bad, skilled and unskilled, successful and unsuccessful. But in looking back at those who succeeded, certain qualities become apparent that not only created successful communities, but also can help revitalize them today.
Not to romanticize, but the successful pioneers were courageous. They persevered. They made sacrifices to realize their dreams. The pioneers were builders, innovators and entrepreneurs. They built farmsteads and dry-goods stores, mills, roads and bridges. They used the latest technology everywhere they could.
The pioneers cared about community. They created organizations that brought people together to quilt and to husk, to sing and to pray. The pioneers weren’t afraid of diversity – people from vastly different places, with vastly different customs and languages, worked together to settle the Plains.
The pioneers didn’t just farm and raise livestock – they were at the same time carpenters, teachers, politicians and planners. The pioneers were visionaries. They could see in their hearts what the future could be and understood that through hard work and focus, they could achieve their visions. The pioneers were optimists – they didn’t let the challenges of rural life dissuade them.
Imagine if more people in rural areas could once again be as inspired by a vision of what the future holds, as reluctant to let challenges stop them, as open to new ideas, as willing to do what has to be done as their predecessors were.
We’d still have farms and ranches, but we’d also have more green spaces, cleaner air and safer water. We’d still have co-ops and sale barns, but we’d also have a wide range of businesses utilizing technology to do business globally.
We’d include more women in our decision-making processes and seek to recruit and retain entire families instead of just businesses. We’d recognize the vital importance of bringing people together and thus do more to incorporate the arts and humanities into the development process.
The pioneers proved that people with vision and determination can reshape life on the Great Plains, something we desperately need to do again today. What they failed to teach us was that reshaping is a never-ending process.
By reclaiming the best of our pioneer heritage, by applying past lessons to the future, we can, like the original pioneers, make rural areas prosper. Read more about Pioneers Still Relevant for Today’s Rural America