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It’s Okay to Call It Home

February 15, 2011 By Mari Harries, Minnesota 2020 Contributor

This year is a special one for me—this is the year of my ten-year high school class reunion. Yup, like most people, I’m dreading it. I’m not dreading it because I look different than I did in high school or because I haven’t become a millionaire or because I don’t have some life-changing, dramatic story to tell my classmates, I’m dreading it because I know this is the question I will be asked by more than one person, “So, you still live here?” Yup, I can hear it now, “You never left this place?” or “Why would you come back to Windom?” Ugh.

To tell you the truth, I’ve been trying to answer these anticipated questions for months now. Rehearsing in my head, trying to make them sounds so fascinating, all these reasons I came back to live in my small, rural town.

I left Windom right after high school with absolutely no intentions to come back. Off to the big city of Milwaukee to study at the University of Wisconsin, I was that much closer to my anticipated dreams of living in New York City. Picture it, this small town girl making it big in the city—that is what I thought I was supposed to do anyway.
After 3 years in Milwaukee, as much as I loved it there, I transferred to Winona State University because it was just too far away from what was important to me—my family.

After college, I made the decision to move back to the small town where I graduated high school, but it took awhile for me to make the transition. People would see me around town and say, “you on break at college” or “back for the summer?” I would just smile, still embarrassed by the idea that I consciously made a decision to come back with my new, proudly acquired college degree from Winona State University. I guess I was embarrassed to tell people I moved back because maybe they would think I was a failure and that I couldn’t handle it out there in the world. I mean, after college the world is supposed to be at your finger tips, right? Why come back to this place?

As I try to search for the perfect reply for my high school classmates as to why I live in Windom, it finally dawns on me that a better question to answer is why I felt like a disappointment to so many, and to myself, after moving back to my hometown? Is this crazy idea stopping more alumni from coming back?

Most southwest Minnesota towns are seeing their populations diminish. I can’t help but attribute the ridiculous stigma that high school graduates from a rural area are expected to leave their roots in order to find opportunities and be successful somewhere else.

I’m living the American dream, okay my dream, which is a pretty common dream I would imagine, right here in Windom. I own a house and a car, and even with my bills, I have a little spending money to enjoy life as well. I have a beautiful family and a good paying job. I keep myself busy with family, community events, outdoor activities, and local businesses. Doesn’t sound anything different from an average Minnesotan, right?

Not only does southwest Minnesota offer quality of life, but rural Minnesota is very valuable to the state and the nation. Farming, natural resources, manufacturing, and historical significance are among only a few reasons rural is valuable, and by moving back to my rural roots, I’m investing in this part of America’s future. Rural areas should be invested in by the state and nation and viewed as valuable assets as well.

So I guess my answer to former classmates is “why not?” Everything I want and need is right here. It might not appeal to everyone, but there are many people out there who want these things. Rural Minnesota should be identified as important, progressive and valuable to not only the ones who live, work and play rural, but to potential residents, state and federal governments as well.

In some cases, it’s not the lack of jobs or opportunities that keep people from coming back but the stigma itself that keeps people from returning.

Therefore, most importantly, rural areas need to empower those who will forever call it home, show them the opportunities that lie between the main streets and grain fields. Even if they choose to move away, someday they may be back because they’ve finally realized that it’s okay to call it home.

Mari Harries lives in the southwest Minnesota town of Windom and authors the Finding Windom blog, highlighting the value and strength in the state’s rural communities.

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