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!
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?
Executive Director, Wisconsin Rural Partners
Hollandale WI (pop. 283)