Speaking Personally - Special enough to stave off brain drain?

“Anyone with any get-up-and-go has got up and went,” said my friend recently over a cup of coffee. Brain drain from the Ozarks, or any rural area, is nothing new. It’s not mysterious. The best and brightest native sons and daughters look around, see limited opportunities, and almost all of them leave. It can be hard to make a living here.
 
Bright young people are “going places.” Literally.
 
As someone who lives here and has more than my fair share of get-up-and-go, I think about this a lot. Not one for hometown values per se, I do hope to make a case for this town and its values. 
 
In early June, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a group of bright and talented female athletes. They blew into the news office with fresh faces, beaming smiles, and a pretty consciousness of the loftiness of their achievements. As will always happen in interviews like this, the conversation veered into small talk. 
 
I forget why, but I mentioned something about having once lived in France. The girls’ reaction was memorable.
 
They sighed in unison as if I was describing a fairy tale. 
 
The prospect of being responsible for four new cases of Ozark brain drain reared up before me, and I hastened to describe what I love about Willow Springs.
 
“There’s something special here,” I concluded.
 
Staring into the middle distance in disbelief, one shrugged in frustration, “That’s what everyone says!”
 
As someone who once suffered ecstatically from wanderlust, I get it. The wide world of adventure beckons, and for the get-up-and-go set, going seems so necessary. 
 
Time and circumstances were not in my favor the day of that interview. I failed to make a convincing case for Willow Springs. I did, however, carry the conversation with me when I went to Toronto last month. There, in Canada’s largest city, I could not stop talking about Willow Springs. As I accepted an international journalism society’s highest award, I waxed poetic about this town, its people, and all it means to me. 
 
I was there, being celebrated a foreign city, precisely because when this little newspaper shut down and an unknown family bought it, the people of Howell County spoke with one decisive voice – they wanted their paper, and they would support us.
 
And you did. You still do. This award in my name could not and would not exist without this flawed, sleepy, beautiful, gritty, peaceful, storied, and cherished Ozark town.
 
Where else could a “foreigner” walk into any social or government meeting and find no shortage of people willing to help her understand the way things work here? Where else would the “good ol’ boys” tolerate with such good humor such a meddlesome reporter? Where else would a newspaper actually grow in 2024?
 
I simply show up, do the work, and try my best. In short, I choose Howell County every day. 
 
Perhaps you will forgive me, reader, if I have allowed my mind to wander over what kind of opportunities an award like the Golden Quill could offer me. A Missouri woman has never won this award before. I’m the first.
 
Where could it take me? What doors can it unlock?
 
It doesn’t matter. I’m not going anywhere. These musings can be nothing more than idle daydreams because there IS something special about Willow Springs. 
 
I chose it. It’s the choosing that makes it meaningful to me. 
 
I chose easy access to the sonorous beauty of these Ozark hills. I chose to live in a place where a packed stadium will fall silent for the national anthem, where we turn out by the hundreds for an old-fashioned Fourth of July parade. I chose a community where good manners matter, where I’m treated respectfully by even those who dislike me (mostly). 
 
The trick to fitting in in a small town is finding an outlet for that get-up-and-go. It’s about finding a niche.
 
As I said in Toronto, trophy in hand, “This Golden Quill seems an unfathomable achievement. Those who have won it before me have had storied careers, even Pulitzer Prizes. I am thunderstruck by the honor, but it’s not my only prize. This weekend I’m going home to Willow Springs, to a community that has faith in me, trusts me, and relies on me.  That is a prize I hope to keep earning it week by week.”
 
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