"This is America"

The Myrtle Creek/Tri-City Chamber of Commerce meeting at Tri-City Bowl. That's some humble people right there.

The Myrtle Creek/Tri-City Chamber of Commerce meeting at Tri-City Bowl. That's some humble people right there.

I recently helped my mother-in-law move from the big city of Portland to a small community in western Montana.

After hours of sweating through the move, we arrived in her new hometown.

The smallness of that place struck me, but I had a new way of looking at it because of a comment I heard a few weeks ago at an event in another small town.

I was offered the chance to make a presentation about my business to the Myrtle Creek/Tri-City Chamber of Commerce. The invitation came from a very nice woman who wanted to do something to help me out in the early stages of my business. I appreciated the opportunity.

The meeting was held at the Tri-City Bowl. For those of you outside of Douglas County, that's a bowling alley on the edge of town.

Now, I have been to my fair share of Chamber of Commerce meetings, and some of them can be kind of snooty, but this was a group of humble business owners meeting in a humble place. Not a drop of snooty to be found.

I thought I was sitting in a movie scene. We filled the two dining booths and every chair in the place. Some people stood. An older well-dressed Mormon couple sat in a booth across from an old man in flannel and suspenders. Around the edge of the group sat one or two men in sport coats, next to a female rancher with long, gray hair and dirty blue jeans. Two guys in ballcaps stood by a bowling ball rack, drinking beer straight from the bottle. The bartender/cook/waitress ran burgers and fries to customers and used a bottle opener attached to the wall each time another longneck was needed.

It was just a perfect combination of all the kinds of people it takes to make the world go 'round. You could have set off World War III with one political comment, but they all had one thing in common: they were all businesspeople.

After a few folks took their turns at the imaginary podium and the business portion of the meeting was complete, it was time for updates from the city, county and school district. Representatives of each were given a few minutes to talk about the things they were working on.

This is where my perspective on small towns was doused with a fresh coat of clarity.

The outgoing Schools Superintendent stood up an introduced the man who would serve as the interim while the school board went through the hiring process.

The interim fella looked like he had seen his share of school years. He was short and weathered and his tie was kind of crooked. But his eyes lit up when he started talking and his enthusiasm was obvious. He immediately had my attention.

Before he said about anything having to do with schools, this man looked around at all of us sitting there and said, "I want you to know that I have lived and worked in many small towns. Every time I see a group of people like this one get together to talk about the community and ways to make it better, I am reminded that this - right here - is America. You are businesspeople who want to get things done. You are concerned about the youth and business and tourism and improving the place where you live. No matter what the government is hoping to accomplish, no matter what's on the news, you are the people and this is the place where America happens and you should be proud to be part of it."

I couldn't tell you one thing about what he said next but I remember that statement. I doubt I will ever forget it.

Those words came back with force as I drove around that tiny place in Montana. I think it was because someone I was riding with made a comment about just how small and podunk the town seemed to be.

The interim superintendent got it right. It doesn't matter how small the place is if the people who live there care about it. Often, the first people to gather together to see if they can make a difference and make things better are business owners.

I am proud to be one of them.