This is downtown Arco, Idaho, where high school classes paint their numbers on the rocks above town and where Fuzzy worked as a true country doctor. His story can be found on the next page.
Photo: sfantti

It’s official. We’re in a recession. It began a year ago.

Actually, since the experts agree that the recession began in December of 2007, we should be celebrating the one year anniversary of a bad economy. To mark this august occasion, today we take a tour of Yonder-dom to see how things are going.

State budgets are uniformly bad and that means the one-room Wooden Valley Elementary School may be closing. Wooden Valley is in Napa County, California. The first school there was built in 1851. The building where 19 kids now attend classes was constructed in the 1950s by students’ mothers.

Wooden Valley parents have been fighting to keep their school open for decades, but now the Napa Valley school district has lost $5 million in state funding and may close the small school to save some money. The school costs $175,000 a year to run and the state pays only $100,000.

Wooden Valley students, circa 1913.

Wooden Valley parents have been doing their part. They gave up bus service last year. (That saved $60,000.) The school’s PTA has raised the money to start an after school garden program. “Wooden Valley has done its part on (addressing) that state cut,” said PTA president Wanda Berger. “I think it’s somebody else’s turn.”

Wooden Valley students, Madison Wynn, left, and Jewel Kenny, protest the closing of their school.
Photo: J. L. Sousa/Nappa Valley Register

Schools are doing better than other programs paid for by states, it appears. South Carolina is closing mental health centers and laying off workers. The mental health department’s budget has been cut by $26 million. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski says he will try to protect education from cuts, but some social services will be nipped substantially. To pay for expansion of health care coverage for children, Kulongoski is proposing to raise cigarette taxes $.60 a pack. There was a town hall meeting in Bemidji, Minnesota, this week to talk over the cuts that are likely to come with a state budget shortfall of up to $6 billion.

Every paper we turned to had some reminder that the recession is real. The Terrebonne Parish Council in Louisiana unanimously agreed Monday to continue to waive fees for building permits. The area around Houma continues to suffer from the damage done by hurricanes over the past several years.

In northeast Mississippi, the third-largest employer in Tupelo is driving a hard bargain. The Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has manufacturing plants in Tupelo; Findlay, Ohio; Albany, Georgia; and Texarkana, Arkansas. The company says it intends to close one of those plants and has asked each town to make its best offer. Tupelo and the state of Mississippi say they are willing to pony up $30 million in incentives to keep the 1,200 jobs in the northeast corner of the state.

The Daily Yonder has always thought rural communities would find a lot in common with one another if they just looked. Christine Robinson, a reporter for the Casper (WY) Star-Tribune, travels to the upper part of Michigan’s mitt to discover that the economy there reminded her of her western home.

“What’s happening in Mancelona mirrors Wyoming in the 1980s,” Robinson wrote. “As people flood out of the northern Michigan city, they stream into larger cities and states with better economies. Just as Casper watched oil and gas industry employees pack their bags and move, Mancelona residents stand helplessly as their friends and family search for a way out of the unemployment line.”

There are economic troubles all over. Lou Antonelli, with the paper in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, has been doing a good job of tracking the bankruptcy of chicken-producing giant Pilgrim’s Pride. And in California’s ultra-swank Napa Valley, Copia, the region’s seven-year old center for wine, food and the arts, filed for bankruptcy on Monday. Copia opened in 2001 with $20 million given by vintner Robert Mondavi and has lost money ever since. It lists debts now of more than $70 million.

Not all the important stories have to do with the economy, of course. In South Georgia, football is a much bigger deal than any Great Depression, and last week the Lowndes High School Vikings lost in the state playoffs to Grayson High, 17-7. Lowndes (in Valdosta) was defending state champion and hadn’t lost a game since their 2007 season opener. The game against Grayson ended with a mid-field brawl that several fans managed to film — and then post on YouTube .

Last year, the Lowndes High School Vikings were Georgia state champs.
Photo: Judy Baxter

And there are reports of how Yonderites are finding that cooperation is still the key to survival in rural America. The New York Times has a wonderful photo feature on how Wyoming ranchers are sharing information on wind farm deals as a way to make sure they get the best deals.

Finally, there are always reports about why folks find small towns such good places to live. Consider the story of Dr. Charles “Fuzzy” Steuart, as told by Corey Taule of The Olympian newspaper in Olympia, Washington.

Fuzz trained at Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He was one of the founders of the Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise. But in the late 1990s, he moved to Arco, Idaho. He and his wife, Kriss, bought an old place, tore it down (scattering a skunk family in the process) and built a home and a doctor’s office.

Fuzz opened his practice without a receptionist. If somebody called, Fuzzy figured they most likely wanted to talk to a doctor. He charged $10 a visit and if you didn’t have the money, he took payment in trade — deer meat, a six pack of beer, yard work, whatever. Everybody loved Fuzzy and they were pained when he died two months ago, choking on a piece of roast beef at the Village Club. He was 73.

“Now understand that Dr. Charles Steuart and his wife, Kriss, could have been living in one of those big homes in the Boise foothills, hobnobbing with the politicians he used to treat, and enjoying dinners and drinks at the trendy, pricey places that litter the capitol city’s downtown,” Taule wrote. “But Fuzz preferred ‘the real people,’ as he called them, bearded and pony-tailed motorcycle enthusiasts, and the mechanics, farmers, laborers, waitresses and businessmen who crowded into his small waiting room and greeted him on his daily excursion into town.”

Sounds like Yonder to us. Nothing better, still.

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