The Gift of Communities

I got to go to New Glarus last week. This may not sound like a big thing but I am a rural guy who does not get out much. I was asked to go to a community event with the thought that it might be replicated in my neck of the woods. Kind of like I was a UN observer, but on a smaller scale, of course.

New Glarus is a great community in Green County, and although it has all kinds of things to do and buy and eat, you will often get a single-word response when you ask people what they know about the Village: Swiss!

Very Swiss.

The event was an annual Gift of Community celebration, and it was superb. It reminded me of the power of appreciation – the kind of community-building that occurs when we take a little time to recognize the folks who make our places better places. All nominees for various awards were cited, and it struck me that, even though there were winners, there were no losers. It was fun. It made people feel good. It charged human batteries. I got a free dinner.

Interloper that I was, it took a while to get acquainted with folks at the table. I was made quite welcome, but there was one little worry in the back of my mind. A question I anticipated and feared. Our conversations grew warmer and more personal and then it happened– the dreaded query was unleashed: “So………are you Swiss?”

Not a head turned nor an eye glanced my way, but I felt every nearby ear sharpen in anticipation of my response. Mom had not prepared me for this kind of stress. Mustering what I could, in fear of instant alienation, I squeaked my response. “No, I’m German.” I felt myself turn pale.

But I lived. Actually, I continued to be warmly accepted, and the conversations got more cordial and went every which way. I met new friends, and even heard someone remark that a neighbor of theirs had met a German once, too. He wasn’t such a bad egg.

Rural communities can be a lot like urban neighborhoods. They have unique identities–art and culture unique to their people, to their location and their history. A community’s uniqueness is a welcome sign. Come be part of us for a while.

So thanks to the good people of New Glarus for the lesson learned. I, too, received the gift of community, and I was reminded how neat it is for us all when we take the time to shine the spotlight on the neighbors whose everyday contributions are the bricks that build big, figurative edifices of warmth and inclusiveness.

I hope my little community and arts organization can do something like this soon, too. How about yours?

Ricky Rolfsmeyer

Executive Director, Wisconsin Rural Partners

Hollandale WI (pop. 283)

6 Responses to The Gift of Communities

  1. Ron says:

    I enjoyed your entry. I grew up in a small village, and later a small town, out on the Dakota prairie and I agree with your observation about the similarities of rural and urban communities.

  2. Gary Becker says:

    Great essay, Ricky – and very true.

  3. Sue Bronson says:

    Thanks, Ricky, for the inspiration, and the reminder of how wonderful a small community can be! Keep up the great blogging!

  4. Jim Salter says:

    Thank you for such a nice review. I am glad you enjoyed it. I have attended many events at a cabin near Hollandale at the Peterson farm but never knew you had a community and arts group. I would be happy to help you start one – I have met a few of your volunteer firefighters at the gas station. I have always felt welcome visiting. Jim

  5. Ricky,

    I am so glad you enjoyed the gift of community event. As Donor Service for the Community Foundation of Southern WI, I have worked with the New Glarus Community Fund now for 7 years……and have been amazed every year how well this event goes and what great spirit the New Glarus folks have! I have found such spirit w/the Blanchardville/Hollandale Fund folks that are the newest fund I work with. I could see this event spreading into many small communities. The silent auction @ the New Glarus Event was fabulous – such interesting items, many handcrafted/art items…..and I agree the arts are so important to community flavor. Take Care … keep doing what you are doing. Linda G

  6. […] good friend Ricky Rolfsmeyer is a contributor to this group blog. Check out his great post, “The Gift of Communities,” and be sure to add the blog’s feed to your […]

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