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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • I Come from a Small Town in Florida

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  • I come from what is considered a small town in south Florida.  Weston was established in 1996, takes up only about 20 square miles, and with a population of 65,000, is made up, almost exclusively, of residential properties or parks.  We have three or four small shopping centers, and a handful of Pubix supermarkets and gas stations, but there aren’t any large retailers like Target or Walmart, and no tall buildings or industrial plants.  Weston has four small elementary schools, two middle schools (one public and one private) and a single high school (my graduating class was 1,200 seniors, and total enrolment was at 5,600 for grades 9-12 in 2009).
    This is a small town in south Florida--in size, population, and distance from a major metropolitan area--when compared to other neighboring cities like Davie (95,400) and Pembroke Pines (160,300).  Everybody moves to Weston from somewhere else--usually out of state--and not many residants stay after their kids graduate from school.  Most residents commute to one of the four large cities within an hour’s drive, and spend a lot of time separated from what’s going on around their community.  Each local park has its own baseball, basketball and flag football leagues (not team), where you compete against your neighbors.  Most homes have their own private pool, which allows their owners to relax and enjoy their solitude.  I’m not saying it’s an antisocial community, but there definitely isn’t any sort of unity or community pride.  There doesn’t need to be.   
    St. James, on the other hand, might be considered a large town by southern Minnesota standards. With its area of just over two square miles and population of 4,500 folks, it dwarfs cities like Butterfield (580), Truman (1,100) and even Madelia (2,300).  
    Yes, smaller, more remote cities like St. James can have their disadvantages, but I think the community comradery might outweigh any of the cons.  
    When summer sports began in St. James, I really didn’t think it would be a big deal.  “Why would anybody care about a youth sport that doesn’t involve their own kid?” I thought to myself. But it didn’t take long to figure out that I was wrong, and by the end of the season, I too, was rooting for the Saints.
    Last week I was sent out to enjoy the St. James Bloc Party, a lovely gathering with music, free food (gotta love that), and a bounce house for the kids.  It had everything you could expect, and the residents really did come out to enjoy the event, making for a really upbeat and pleasant atmosphere.   
    Weston has events like this maybe once or twice a year.  They might have a turnout of around the same size, but the percentage of the city that shows up to enjoy the (definitely not free) entertainment is miniscule in comparison to what I’ve witnessed in Watonwan County.
    Page 2 of 2 - A few weeks back was the Relay For Life, which was the most elaborate, passionate and personalized Relay I’ve ever had the honor to be a part of. One weekend prior was the county fair.  The previous month was Railroad Days, and, before that, Hotdog Days (a celebration my girlfriend still doesn’t quite understand when I explain it to her).
    Even the smaller towns, like Butterfield, celebrated National Night Out last week, and will be hosting the Threshing Bee this week, which I’m sure will draw a crowd (even if I’m still not 100 percent sure as to what it is).
    I’m not the most sociable guy, at least until I get to know people (or they get to know me, to be more accurate).  However, the transition I went through working in St. James was easier than what I ever could have imagined, in large part thanks to these events.  Yes, the events can be intimidating, especially for a foreigner who is working his first reporting gig, but I’ve met a lot of great people in the process.
    I’ve worked at the Plaindealer for six months now, and am finally starting to feel comfortable with everything about the job.  I know how to interact with the wonderful people I work with every day.  I know how to greet those I’ve spoke to previously when I encounter them in various places and situations, and I know how to acknowledge the happy strangers I’ve never met when I’m passing them on the street
    Sometimes I don’t fully understand the importance or purpose of an event that I’m covering until much later.  Sometime I underestimate the involvement and passion the collective community has for certain causes.  I still struggle understanding the exact relationship the people in the county have with one another, whether they’re just co-workers, great friends or blood related. And I still underestimate the impact one individual can have on the city as a whole, and how everyone can be touched by a tragedy or loss so profoundly.    But since I’ve worked here, I’ve been learning, and feel more comfortable with each passing week.

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