Now I’ve made jokes about my hometown.
I’ve poked fun at its one-ways, its holes in the county jail, its Lady O mascot.
But I’ve always had some sense of pride for the community that I grew up in, that I returned to after college, that continues to be where my family stays.
Today, I’m truly disappointed in Beatrice.
After reading that citizens overwhelming rejected the school bond for a centralized elementary school, my heart sank.
Finally, the townspeople had control in its fate and it did nothing but kill its chances to compete in a region where growth, even population maintenance, should be a priority.
At first, I was angry.
How could such a vote pass? How could someone not see the benefit to a new building, better resources and a more improved community? It is as if they had no consideration for their child’s future. Then I realized what families actually stay in Beatrice anymore? What new families are buying houses, going to church and putting their children into the public school system?
There is no middle-class in a community that was born through blue-collar workers who provided for their families.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates for population change from 2010 to 2014 showed the Beatrice micropolitan area (urban areas in the United States centered on an urban cluster with a population at least 10,000 but less than 50,000) was down 648 people. That is roughly 3 percent of its now 22,311 citizens. And it seems like nothing is being done to change that.
I understand the transition personally. I was one of those 648 people who relocated out of the area.
I am a 2005 graduate of Beatrice High School, a former Beatrice Daily Sun employee and a Lincoln Lion forever.
My memories are in that town, but my future, like so many my age, isn’t.
What would keep me there?
Cultural and social experiences, career opportunities and good schools. And a sense of pride.
Let’s look at the first one.
I commend the Community Players on celebrating its 40 years as an organization. You deserve a standing ovation. Cheers.
Though the theater is a major draw, there is nothing else but bars in Beatrice for nightlife. No concerts, no shows, no fun.
It’s a shame, too, that the crowds in those downtown facilities stake claim in them, and even as a one-time citizen, all the businesses are “local” clubs that seem to exclude travelers or guests.
If you’re not from Beatrice, it’s like being an attraction at a zoo. You feel exotic and out of place.
Career opportunities is a category that is relevant and affects the community in every way.
I keep tabs on the unemployment figures from time-to-time as they come across the news desk at The Norfolk Daily News and I check Beatrice. Beatrice continues to rank last among mircopolitan areas each month. The current figure is nearing 3.25 percent.
I understand, too often, that Beatrice takes a backseat in its destiny as national, even global, businesses come and go.
But what is the community, its business persons and its leaders doing to bring jobs into the town?
It appears they are more concerned with zoning a popcorn stand or improving access around a small section of Fifth Street businesses.
But answer this city council, how can anyone enjoy those luxuries when they have no job?
The once-strong middle class that built Beatrice with sweat on its collars and food on its tables has vanished.
And the wealth-gap has grown out of control. It is a clear division of the haves and the have-nots; business owners and the unemployed. Beatrice cannot survive without changing this.
The last, and probably most important aspect to Beatrice is pride.
I frequently travel back to Beatrice from Norfolk to visit family and friends. In the two-and-half hour commute you drive through several communities that vary from a few hundred people to 20,000 plus in Columbus. Each time you drive into a new town or location, you get a feeling. You see its buildings, its people, its way of life.
When you drive into Beatrice, you feel a sense of despair, a lack of heart and an attitude that screams “We don’t care.”
Buildings are run down, no one is out-and-about; there is no life, no sense of pride.
This leads me back to good schools.
The townspeople took to the streets and rallied against improvement, enrichment and the potential for a far better quality of life. It took an opportunity to redefine itself, to say “hey, wait a minute, I care about my town,” and said “let be.”
Beatrice you failed this week.
You failed your children. You failed your future.
And it again let down this once proud resident.
Isaiah May, Norfolk