Letters from Ely - A Good Hard Slap

by Duane Behrens

A Good Hard Slap<BR><BR>Across the Midwest, the small farms have disappeared. Most of those 180- and 360-acre plots that supported individual families for generations have been sold off to five- or 10,000 acre corporate farms. <BR><BR>Remember those pretty farm homes with their red barns, silos and tire swings? They’re mostly gone, replaced by huge tractors moving in tandem across an empty landscape. <BR><BR>The small towns where the farm kids went to school are quiet now, the schools are empty, the stores are closed and the streets are left to crumble. <BR><BR>A few people, most of them retired farmers, still remain. They choose to live their last years near the land they loved for so long, even though the young people have all left. No longer vibrant with the laughter of children or with the energetic spirit of young parents and teachers and coaches, these small towns have become “retirement communities.”<BR><BR>And then there is Ely. <BR><BR>It is true that Ely has also experienced a few economic downturns just like the farming communities to the south and west. After all, in their effect on a local economy, mine closures are not that different from farm foreclosures. <BR><BR>But Ely . . . Ely takes the concept of a “retirement community,” brings it in close, and gives it a good hard slap upside the head. <BR><BR>For five months of every year, Ely has the youngest population in the state (and perhaps the nation) as church youth groups and young families prepare for or recover from their wilderness adventures. <BR><BR>Oh, and I noticed another sign of youth during my usual Saturday errands today. Every counter at every business I entered was attended by a young adult who lives in Ely – because they choose to live in Ely. <BR><BR>Land in outlying areas is being developed and sold in one-, two- and 10-acre vacation homes. An increasing number of vacationing families (including mine) find that time spent in Ely is better than time spent away from Ely. <BR><BR>These families thus begin exploring ways to make their lives here permanent. Many will succeed and their children will be enrolled into our excellent local school system. (If this trend has not yet shown itself in local school enrollment numbers, put this column away as a prediction, because it will and we’d best get ready for it.) <BR><BR>Wilderness groups, vacationers and young families all have need for various kinds of services. As this paper’s recent Progress Edition so aptly illustrated, new business ventures are formed to respond to those needs. <BR><BR>Local civic groups also form, and local issues are discussed - emotionally at times. But, and perhaps incredibly, consensus is often reached, challenges are resolved and Ely continues to grow as the youthful enthusiasm of new residents is tempered and guided by the wisdom of lifelong natives. What better combination? <BR><BR>And in this youthful culture of Ely, it is the older residents who are the clear winners. <BR><BR>After all, when I retire I’ll still want to enjoy a local hockey game or a book discussion group or a school play now and again. I’ll still enjoy having my double-(decaf)-latte handed to me by a college student with a ring in her nose and a cause in her heart. <BR><BR>Our grandchildren will look forward to visiting Jane and I each winter and summer. There are so many things for them to do here. <BR><BR>And together, we’ll watch Ely take that concept of a “retirement community” . . . bring it in close . . . and give it a good hard slap upside the head.