The former IBM building in Greencastle houses the Area 30 Career Center and Ascena Retail. (Banner Graphic file photo)
This week, we're going back in time a little. Actually, we will go back to around 1995.
I recently came across a book called "The 100 Best Small Towns in America." It was sandwiched with other various books, some of which are mine from my Superman fan-boy days. This one is the second edition of a list compiled by Norman Crampton.
Crampton -- a Chicago native -- actually lived here in Greencastle when he wrote this book. He went over census data and conducted phone interviews with residents in towns with between 5,000 and 15,000 people and were outside metropolitan areas. Crampton then ranked them on how he determined their overall quality of life to be.
In a 1993 interview with The Washington Post, Crampton said his research and interviews revealed that the "Walmart problem" had a stifling effect on the growth of small towns. He also advocated that the high school is "the primary social center" in many of them. Stagnant economic improvement, though, was a greater consideration.
Crampton ranked Greencastle as the 97th-best small town in the U.S. We have to remember that this was still in the wake of the closure of IBM's manufacturing facility in 1986, characterized by the article's author as a "potentially fatal economic blow."
A glimpse into how Greencastle seemed to work was given by locally notable people.
"I think people got though (IBM's closing) by having been involved in the planning process," said Dick Andis, who headed Greencastle's development after IBM closed. "Greencastle has a blue-collar flavor now. We have two-and-a-half times as many jobs.
"But times aren't going to get any easier. We're going to have to get smarter," Andis added, noting the city's tax base growth despite the loss of IBM's economic stimulus.
Former Putnam Circuit Court Judge Diana LaViolette remarked that a place like ours, "tends to enable the majority to be more creative and capable in how they fill their time." Small communities may be criticized because they are "nosy." However, Judge LaViolette believed this is what makes them, "valuable for maintaining good stability."
"We are seeing a change in migration out of the suburbs in the 'Ruburb,'" local florist Ken Eitel said about an "influx" of people who were moving to Greencastle. "I see the leadership and community service changing to the pattern predicted in Megatrends: citizens so involved and aware they will force changes from the bottom up."
A quick reference is also made to the fact that Greencastle was named an All-American City in 1991. Then-President George H. W. Bush said that its successes could inspire all Americans to, "share our unmistakable optimism in the future of this great land."
'Today, Greencastle has more than recovered from its loss," Crampton concluded about his home. "It's a different place, and probably better."
Some of the data points which he provided as being specific to Greencastle were:
• Population: 9,266;
• Per capita income: $9,555, about $3,600 below the state average;
• Educational level: 11.3 percent of residents had a bachelor's degree or higher, about four percent below the state average;
• Taxes: five percent for sales, 3.4 percent for state income;
• Utilities: Seven cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, 49 cents per therm for natural gas;
• TV and radio: Two FM stations; cable from Indianapolis and Terre Haute, with PBS and NPR from Bloomington.
DePauw University was the largest "economic influence" with 2,000 students and 560 faculty and staff. Walmart Distribution and Shenandoah Industries each employed 700 people, while Lone Star Industries employed 145 and Heartland Automotive 150.
In the newspaper section of Greencastle's profile is the Banner-Graphic (still with the hyphen), published Monday through Saturday with a three-month subscription for $26.75. Many things have changed since then, except that Eric Bernsee was the editor.
It is humbling to see that Eric was here when Jared was still in high school, and when I faced the prospect of not being able to walk. Who knew I would sit across from him?
What was said about Greencastle in 1995 gives me perspective about where it's going into the future. In high school, my friend Evan and I would rather have gone out to Crawfordsville to see a movie than stick around here. With the recent revitalization efforts downtown, this has changed -- and I would say, in general, it has for the best.
We overcame the death-of-a-small-town story then. What can't we accomplish now?