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What I’ve learned about the community – and a couple of more hunches

MORRIS – We just wrapped a two-week series in the paper on what opportunities there are for Grundy County and, specifically, Morris. We talked to teachers and welders, lawyers and business owners and restaurateurs. It was a chance to delve into the community and, at the same time, launch our new Tuesday edition with a little bit of flair to it.

It’s been an enlightening series for me. No stranger to life on the Illinois River – my first job in newspapers was in La Salle-Peru and I’ve been to Starved Rock more than enough for a lifetime – Morris was always the place I drove through going from town to country and back. But not it’s more familiar, and I’m glad for it.

There is a dignity in work that you only learn when you work hard for something that matters. I saw it when I spoke with Mitch Jessen and Chris Ingram, the welders from Goose Lake who, because they learned how to weld well, can go anywhere they want to ply their trade. Jessen works as a foreman and isn’t even 30 yet. Ingram works on projects wherever he chooses because he is that good he can more or less pick his gigs at will.

Both live in Grundy County. They need welders all over the world, in California or the tropics or anyplace where it doesn’t snow in the middle of April, but they choose to do it right here. Because it is home.

People aren’t working in Grundy County out of a sense of altruism. It’s because they have the opportunities here not only to do work that they enjoy and work that matters, but also to make a life for themselves. No one works for free – nor should anyone ever work for free or less than they’re worth – and people are finding that they’re work is being recognized here.

Grundy Area Vocational Center takes kids and gives them chances to learn. Public education is one of the great triumphs of the modern age, and this program gives kids a chance to try out different careers before they have to commit time and money. The instructors are devoted teachers, who have worked in the industry they teach. And some kids go through the program and can choose any number of paths.

The series was to show people who have committed to Grundy County. But it’s a two-way street. Grundy County afforded them the opportunities they needed, and they took advantage of them.

Every place has its own little mythology or creation story. My hometown likes to claim that Rockefeller – John D., the first one, the one who had more money than Mansa Musa and the first billionaire when the rest of the aristocracy was just millionaires – stopped through once.

Never any reason why he would stop by that particular community – its only claim to fame is that Rockefeller allegedly stopped there, after all, but they believed it so firmly they renamed the town after him for a while.

The oft-repeated fact I’ve heard, but haven’t been able to verify, is Grundy County is the fastest growing county in Illinois. I’m sure, much like trying to measure a shoreline, the truth comes out in the metrics used to gauge the growth, but I’m inclined to believe it in some way.

I’m not basing this on any sort of empirically experiment or data. Call it a hunch. Reporters are allowed to follow those and see where they lead. Proximity to one of the world’s major economic engines in Chicago is one reason I’m willing to make the leap.

Another is that the people are so proud of this place. It’s the only place I can think of that has gotten the local newspaper to add a day. I’m not trying to toot our horn on this one. The company had decided to make the Morris Daily Herald a weekly paper. The decision was made and it’s not as though newspapers are on the rise at the moment.

But that just wasn’t going to be enough for the community. The first thing anybody said to me when they learned I was the new editor, before I even technically started work, was that they were upset about the weekly paper.

I love it. I love it when people get mad. It doesn’t happen enough. Because, as you can see, sometimes it works. We’re not a daily paper again, but we’ve added a day. We’ve expanded when everyone else is contracting.

And that is all thanks to the community in Morris and Grundy County.

Keep it up.

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