Taken to Task

Below is a blog post from August of last year. I made it during a road trip through central and eastern Nebraska. Not long ago, I received a message on Facebook from someone who had shared this post and received a very stern reply from a local who took umbrage with it.

I am resharing this post, with the comments from the criticism included in their respective places. I do this not to ridicule the very valid criticisms or even to apologize from my original post. What I want to do is to draw attention to two things - first, the pride of the residents of a community; and second, the valid observations of "fresh eyes" to a community. I invite you to read and to contemplate how you see your hometown, and how others might.

August 9, 2014

We headed north out of town and took the Broken Bow cut off. When we got to Highway 2/92, we turned north, so didn't actually go into Broken Bow. We followed the BNSF tracks past the tiny community of Merna with its Anselmo-Merna consolidated school on to the community of Anselmo.
The aptly named "Cathedral of the Sandhills" - St. Anselm's Catholic Church.

Fortunately, the doors were open and we got to enjoy the stunning interior.
The first sight that caught our eye is the "Cathedral of the Sandhills", St. Anselms Catholic Church. It makes sense that a community named Anselmo could be named after St. Anselm, but it doesn't sound as if this is the case. Anselmo is the name of the founder of the town, and the Cathedral - built in 1928 - followed. 
The rectory.
None of that takes away from the magnificence of the church, though. Fortunately, the doors were open and we could venture in for photos. There is a book inside with the history of the church. Sadly, there weren't any brochures or pamphlets to take away. I would gladly have dropped some coin in the collection plate to be able to have the info with me.
The parish hall - the original church.
Next door is the parsonage, and further west from that is what I took to be the original church, though there is no signage whatsoever to confirm this theory. Wikipedia confirmed this, and we also learned that the entire complex, consisting of four buildings was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

Where to start ... we appreciate the positive comments about our church. It is a beautiful building and we are very proud of it. Our priest is currently in the process of reordering brochures ... we DO have them. The hall was recently repainted and yes the book at the church explains its history. Most people that visit this property, stop into the church first where they learn of these things. 
Anselmo centennial mural
Downtown Anselmo has seen better days. Though a mural celebrates its centennial, its glory days are definitely behind it. The Masonic Temple/post office does sport new Anderson Windows, but since the stickers are still on them, it doesn't look as if it is in regular use.

The negative comments about the other places in town are simply just rude. Small towns do not have the population or tax support that lets them fix anything they want. Small towns struggle just to survive. Our community is full of very hard working people and everyone tries to the best of their ability (and resources) to keep buildings in operation. Our buildings may show some wear and tear, but there is a lot about our town that you will never know or understand. Have you ever heard of the saying, "it's what's on the inside that counts"?
Post office and Masonic Temple
According to the University of Nebraska history of Anselmo, rather than being founded by early settlers, Anselmo was actually founded by the railroad, which needed another point for water and coal. Might this explain the lack of civic pride in Anselmo? Or is the state of the community simply a result of the depopulation of this area of the Sandhills?
Anselmo street view.

I believe this is the grocery store, but it wasn't open.
The Anselmo Market IS a grocery store, the sign was being fixed and looking in the window would make the contents obvious. You obviously must have been in town on a Sunday, as this is the ONLY day they are not open. They will open for "emergencies" on this day and all it takes is a quick phone call. The owners of this store have also invested in a local rental property to offer housing for people that move in/out of town along with running the local bar, so that a restaurant is available to people. They have pride and love for the people of Anselmo. 
A necessity in a rural Nebraska community - the Volunteer Fire Department
I'm very glad you snapped a picture of our fire department, as they own several newly purchased pieces of equipment and have approximately 40 volunteers (one of the largest fire departments in the area). 
The former bank, and a former restaurant.
The former bank/restaurant was in operation until the late 90's when an elderly couple passed away. It is full of Christmas decorations that fill the yard of a local couple (and daughter of former owners) that put up a MASSIVE display during the season every year. People travel from many miles away to see this display. The building serves as great storage for all of these treasures. 
An historical display in the downtown park, This is possibly the opera house, also included is a sod house and the original jail - all in a very bad state of disrepair.

The Burlington (BNSF) still passes through town regularly.
BNSF does still travel thru town quite frequently. A recently added second track makes way for trains about every 10 minutes. Some of which make a stop at the new Andersons Grain facility just out of town (which is an annexation of Anselmo). They sought out our small community because of its commodity potential. It has been a huge success.
The Anselmo community hall. It might still be in use, but is pretty dilapidated.
Our community building is NOT in use due to the enormous cost that it would take to make it comply with government regulations. It is a sad situation but one we have no control of due to rules that we do not have the power to change. 
One of the saddest sights of all. A large collection of classic cars, in a building whose roof is caved in.
The "saddest site" building with all the old cars does need some work, but the owners of the building and it's cars have struggled with health issues for the last several years and medical trips consume most of their time. They are two of the dearest people that live in this town.

The Catholic church is definitely worth a visit, and exploring some of the other unique buildings on the main street is worthwhile, but it won't take you very long.

 I apologize for the length of this response but I DO NOT apologize for any of the explanation. Those who live here ... love it here, and as you can tell we are very defensive when someone makes judgements that are very unjustified. I'm sure you will never understand the meaning of these things addressed, but I would just ask that you be more careful in choosing your words when you describe other people's possessions. 

Comments from the person that shared these criticisms with me

Recently an article you wrote about Anselmo NE resurfaced on Facebook.  I reposted as I was born and raised their and am very proud of my church.  Was a bit disappointed about the rest of the article but, regretfully now, did repost it.  

An individual (who I do not have permission to name) responded to the post with the following letter and I believe that you should be exposed to this viewpoint.   Dig a little deeper when you write, especially as someone who is promoting tourism.  Please avoid tearing down a good community you never took the time to truly know.

Thank you for your time and I hope that you will be a bit more kind with your words in the future.  I have a public relations/journalism degree and I see no true purpose of your rhetoric.  You did a wonderful job describing the church.  If you wanted to write more about the town, as all good journalists know, investigate without assumption please.

My Response

Thank you so much for forwarding this comment on to me and for including your own observations. This is exactly the dialogue I hope to inspire with my posts.

I understand you and the other local resident coming to the defense of your community. That is as it should be. However, after reviewing the original blog post, I stand by what I wrote. You have to understand, I do not attempt to be a journalist, and to some extent don't even strive to promote tourism, though I do like to pique interest.

What I do is to give my observations as a visitor with "fresh eyes," describing how I see the community as someone new coming to town.

I very much understand the challenges faced by rural communities in Nebraska and throughout the Great Plains and Midwest. If you follow my facebook feed, you'll know that I am always sharing articles about these challenges and examples of how some communities are overcoming them. Yes, there are reasons communities become worn down, but there are also communities who overcome these problems. Sometimes it takes hearing the observations of an outsider - describing just what they saw - to realize just how bad things are.

It's great that there are usually brochures in the church - on the day that I was there, there weren't. The owners of the grocery store sound like perfectly wonderful people, but on the day I was there (which was a Saturday, by the way), it was closed, and because of the signage problem indicated in the response, a quick drive-by observation couldn't determine whether it was still a going business or not. 

The downtown bank/restaurant is pretty much just as I describe it in my post. It's great that it is used as storage, and great that the owners put on a fabulous light display during the winter. But it would be a lot more wonderful if it were still some kind of a going business.

The building with the antique cars is very much in danger of collapsing entirely. I understand the aging populations of our rural communities and the health, time and financial problems that they face. That doesn't make my statement of the endangered building and how sad it is any less true.

No further investigation is needed to observe and decry the dilapidated state of the buildings. Not all is rosy and prosperous in rural Nebraska, and a true observation will describe both.

Further thoughts

It pains me that I insulted people and made them feel badly. I am very pleased that, in a roundabout way, I learned about the pride people have in their community and that they, very eloquently defended their town and pointed out the truth behind the facade.

I did learn from this encounter, and I will try to be more sensitive and thoughtful in my posts. I will also continue to be truthful and share what I observe during quick drive-throughs (which is what most tourists do) of Nebraska's rural communities.


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