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Thursday, May 5, 2016

So, are we still an All-American city?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Time doesn't fly, my friends. It soars. And as proof, all we need do is check the nearest calendar and realize it is indeed June 2011.

That means it has now been 20 years since Greencastle basked in the glory of the All-America City competition in simmering San Antonio. Two decades since we rubbed elbows with President George Bush (as in the Herbert Walker variety) in the Rose Garden at the White House.

We were told then that being designated an All-America City would stand the test of time. Once an All-America City, always an All-America City. A little like being a parent, I suppose.

But after 20 years, the question remains: Are we still worthy of being an All-America City?

Before we tackle that question, we need to go back to 1991. The All-America City Committee had focused its narrative on the post-IBM recovery (the departure announcement, incidentally, came 25 years ago this November) and how the community had helped turn 985 lost jobs into more than 2,000 new ones. The sidebars involved the successes of the Greencastle Main Street project and the Opportunity Housing program.

Anyone on that committee can vividly recall how much that story meant to all of us and what pride the recovery effort meant to our town. But we were no Grovers Corners. We refused to die when painted with that broad "death-of-a-company town" brush the national media used on us in late 1986 and early 1987.

The committee called that recovery effort "The Story." Yet when we arrived in San Antonio to find the Gadsden, Ala., marching band trumpeting its hometown accomplishments and other cities and towns passing out big-time souvenirs or enticing libations, the committee suddenly had doubts about our place in competition (among 30 finalists for 10 All-America designations, as I recall).

After check-in, many of us adjourned to the Hyatt Regency Hotel bar -- to steal a line from Bill Wieland -- for "a shot of whimsy for our sanity." We eventually talked ourselves out of changing tactics, and stuck with "The Story."

And Saturday night, Greencastle All-America City Committee Chairman Bill Marley sounded like coach Norman Dale in "Hoosiers" when he told a packed convention hall gathering, "I accept this honor for all the small cities who ever faced economic disaster."

So Greencastle joined nine others as 1991 All-America Cities -- Gadsden, Ala.; Baltimore; Gothenburg, Neb.; Newark, N.J.; Albany, N.Y.; Greensboro, N.C.; Dayton, Ohio; Austin, Texas, and Winchester, Va.

The award remains acknowledgement of a community driven to survive, led by a core of civic leaders but bolstered by many. I can still recall the words of Dave Murray in describing that effort as "a small army of people that got sucked into the vortex of this economic dislocation."

That was indeed The Story. Local residents made it happen. As they used to say in Speak Out: You know who you are ...

Then-mayor Mike Harmless praised those very people, methodically punctuating his remarks to the All-America City panel (a group led by pollster George Gallup) with the phrase: "People make the difference in my hometown."

In passing judgment on Greencastle's All-America City status after 20 years, it is important to recall the "community vision" portion of the 12-page application that vaulted us into finalist status at San Antonio. It read: "Greencastle thinks of itself as a community that looks to the future, while treasuring the past and embracing its rural background."

That is certainly still true, I feel safe in saying.

The city was recently nominated to apply for "Community of the Year" through the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The narrative accompanying that application is like a stroll down memory lane, circa 1991.

For example, look at the recent successes of the Heritage Preservation Society in having three neighborhoods designated as historic districts and earning a state grant to fund brochures to share with visitors and potential homebuyers.

To some folks, community growth could only be epitomized by Applebee's or Target or Home Depot eventually calling us home. But growing as a community is much more than that.

Recapturing the "Spirit of 1991" would be wonderful. The announcement of the Stellar Communities Grant this spring is certainly a right step in that direction. The obvious excitement of that -- along with an infusion of more than $19 million into the community over the next three years -- should be a catalyst for many more good things over the next 20 years.

So what do we have to show for the past 20 years?

Growing recreational opportunities embodied by Big Walnut Sports Park, the DePauw Nature Park and People Pathways trails. A reinvigorated relationship between community and university. Expansions at all of our major industries. One of the finest small-town airports in the Midwest.

And OK, I'll even give you the arrival of Buffalo Wild Wings and the fact we've become a two-Mexican restaurant town (not bad when you realize 20 years ago, local dining diversity meant you had your choice of fried, barbecued or broasted chicken).

Unfortunately, for every commercial step forward, we end up with an empty storefront or another fireworks store fill-in. A failed attempt by Sonic and the shiny new drive-in left behind stands as testament to the fact there is work and effort yet to be done in this All-America City.

Once upon a time, the first thing often mentioned about Greencastle was essentially, "it's a great place to raise a family."

And I'll confess to having used the "old shoe" analogy in describing our community. That old shoe analogy was even part of the intro in the 1991 All-America City application.

Greencastle was indeed like an old shoe -- "easy to slip in and out of. In need of a little polish, perhaps, but all in all, very comfortable."

It's way too simple to say that we're still that comfortable old shoe. Too trite to remind ourselves if the shoe fits, wear it.

And no doubt a little too cheesy to say we can't afford to be loafers.

So we have laced up our running shoes, and just like 20 years ago, we're prepared to sprint ahead of the pack.

That's what All-Americans do.