Paul W. Barada
For the first time in years, this community has exceptionally good people in key places within organizations involved directly with helping make Rush County a better place in which to live! Just take a look around and you’ll see people like Sandy Fussner with the Rush County Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Mike Pavey, John McCane with the ECDC, Faith Mock with the Rush Memorial Hospital Foundation and Marianne Scott with the school corporation’s Legacy Fund. Five very good and very committed people doing five very important jobs.
Finally, we have local people or people with very strong local connections who have positions not likely to be used as stepping stones to similar jobs someplace else. That hasn’t always been the case. In the past, frankly, it made sense to do a full-blown job search for someone, for instance, with a strong economic development background for either the Chamber job or the ECDC job. As it has turned out, however, we’ve never been able to land just the right person for a variety of unpredictable reasons. So, turnover in some of these critical positions has been the norm. But not anymore!
The rules of the game have changed over the last half-century. When I first came back to town in 1972, the key people (or, technically speaking, the “opinion leaders”) weren’t as easy to identify as they are today. To find out who made things happen or prevented them from happening took some time to discover. In those days it wasn’t the person running the Chamber who mattered, or even the mayor, for that matter; it was people behind the scenes like Rushville National Bank president Arty Wilson or former mayor and jewelry store owner Manley Abercrombie or clothing store owner Fred McGinnis. They and a few others whom I can’t recall at the moment were the people who had to be in favor of any new proposal or project. If they weren’t in favor of what was being put forward, it simply didn’t happen. Those people were what are now called “opinion leaders.” They were the ones whom everybody went to for their opinions on any new idea that came along. Unlike the people who are in positions to help form public opinion today, in those days opinions were driven by just a few influential people; influential not because they headed a civic organization of held any public office, but because of their perceived stature in the community.
In an even earlier time, essentially during the 1950s, another generation of “opinion leaders” kept a lot of things from happening not just here, but throughout the state’s rural communities. The economy was strong, people had jobs, and “the powers that be” wanted things to stay just as they were. Well, nothing stays the same; and, for communities that tried to make then stay the same, time essentially stood still. But while time was standing still on Main Street, progress was being made in other parts of the state and nation. So, instead of maintaining that comfortable status quo, towns like Rushville and the other towns in the county were actually falling behind by standing still. Just look around at what’s happened to the smaller towns and villages that used to dot the countryside. Most have withered on the vine.
Although it’s difficult to believe, vestiges of that “we like things just as they are” mentality remain in some parts of Rush County. Folks don’t realize that, nothing remains the same; it either progresses or it falls behind. The reason communities make progress, which I believe they must, is the result of the people chosen to run organizations like the city and the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation and the school corporation’s Legacy Fund and the hospital foundation. People like Mike, Sandy, John, Marianne and Faith are the ones who make things happen with, of course, the support of their boards of directors, or whatever their guiding bodies are called. All of them have to understand that progress is essential.
Two other elements have to be in place for progress to happen. Both city and county elected officials have to possess a clear vision of the future and share a common understanding that progress is critical. No longer can this county have what I would call “reactive leadership.” No longer can we afford people in elected positions who say, “Well, if the roof leaks, we’ll find someone to fix it.” We need elected officials who are planning ahead and thinking, “What is our plan if the roof leaks.” Although that may seem like a subtle difference, it’s the difference between complacency and progress.
For the first time in my adult life, we finally have all the pieces of the progress puzzle in place. I’ve never seen more cooperation among civic organizations and local government than we have now. We’ve actually overcome the “city” versus “county” mentality that held this county back for so many years. Nearly everyone appears to understand, finally, that progress is critical to the future of this county. And with current city and county leadership, coupled with the leadership of people like Mike Pavey, Sandy Fussner, John McCane, Faith Mock and Marianne Scott, the future finally looks brighter for Rush County, Indiana.
That’s -30- for this week.