We all have stories – a finite number of stories that convey meaningful moments and symbolize larger truths in our lives. I have been telling one such life story during recent meetings with community leaders about Sauk’s concept of a tuition-earned program for high school students.
This story is going home to my high school reunion, looking across the hall at my impossibly old high school classmates, and knowing I had lost touch with nearly all of them decades ago. The larger truth symbolized in that story is a sad truth to me: my hometown is no longer my hometown.
My family has lived in Greensburg, Indiana for five generations – ever since Eberhard Hellmich emigrated from Germany in the 1850s. He put down roots, and the next three generations grew those roots deeper and deeper – living and dying within miles of where they had been born.
My generation, the fifth, pulled up those roots – living in far-flung areas across the country, including Illinois’ Sauk Valley. My siblings and I left behind the roots of our hometown to go to college because there was no local equivalent to Sauk Valley Community College. Leaving home was the only way to get a college education.
We were lucky we had the opportunity to go away to college. Even though our parents had not gone to college, they believed in the inherent value of education and preached that value to us. Even though our parents were poor, they raised us to be good students who qualified for sufficient scholarships to be able to pay for college degrees.
As fortunate as I was to be able to leave home to get a college degree that led to two graduate degrees, to have a rewarding career in community college education, to meet and marry a wonderful person who grew up thousands of miles from my hometown, and for us to have created our own loving family ... I still miss the roots of my hometown.
In a more perfect world, Eberhard Hellmich would have kept traveling west and settled in the Sauk Valley. I would be a fifth-generation Sauk Valley-ian (and, thus, maybe accepted as a local), I would have begun my college education at SVCC and would have returned to SVCC to be an English professor, and our daughters would be raising their children as our seventh generation in the Sauk Valley.
A more perfect world – a world with opportunity and with roots – was not available to me and my siblings in our hometown, but it is available in the Sauk Valley.
Community and business leaders in the Sauk Valley are concerned about the exodus of younger generations out of the Sauk Valley, some of the Sauk Valley’s best being lured away by the glamour of a 4-year college or the bright lights of big cities, never to return to the cornfields along the Rock River.
This concern is real and is justifiable.
A counter to this concern is equally real, and I see it being played out more and more often.
That counter is the younger generations understanding all their Sauk Valley hometown has to offer: a Sauk college degree preparing them for gainful employment or transfer for a 4-year degree; career opportunities in fields as vast as agriculture, business, entrepreneurship, health care, and manufacturing; and the pace and quality of small-town Midwest life that is perfect for peace of mind and raising a family ... in short, the ideal soil for opportunity and for growing roots deeper and deeper.