Elisa Worland, a new Wayne County resident, gives us a unique perspective on Wayne County, reminding us all to take a look around the place. She is our first guest blogger for 2021.

Dear Wayne County,

Back in July 2020, when I should have been sheltering in place, I was packing all of my earthly belongings and my cat into a pickup truck and moving from California to Richmond, IN. Although settling in has certainly been colored by the pandemic, nevertheless I have had a chance to look around the place and have a few thoughts to share with you all.

On the way to Indiana, somewhere in Utah. Image: Elisa Worland

1. This place is… a little weird! I get the impression that you don’t realize how weird it is or how delightful that makes this place.

2. I know that you know this already, but it bears repeating- I have not always lived here and therefore do not know what is going on.

3. You’ve done a nice job with the place. Keep it up!

In regards to the first point, there are some weird places in the world and I have lived in several of them. You are not trying to be weird, like Portland, OR. It desperately wants to be weird, but is trying too hard. Berkeley, CA is weird and brands itself as such. But you, Wayne County, you are weird and you seem wonderfully unaware of it.

I spent several weeks pondering how a record company ended up in rural Indiana (and it still blows my mind). You were a stop on the Underground Railroad and the Negro Leagues played here. How many counties can boast of that? While I found it a little anticlimactic, you have the highest point in Indiana, Hoosier Hill.

Starr Gennett. Image: Alex Painter

You are home to what my colleague refers to as “Amish Walmart”, as well as Greek donuts and some of the best Indian food I have found outside of California. You even have your own Batman.

Much has happened here and much is still happening. I do not know if you realize what you have.

Regarding point number two, those of us who are new here do not know what is going on. One person I interviewed described moving here as, “Starting a TV series in the middle of the season. You know you’ve missed something, but you don’t know what”.

Us newbies do not have the same social networks that you have from school, work, church, your parents, your parents’ friends who have known you since you were in diapers, etc. I am still trying to figure out which Facebook groups to join to say up to date.

As the county seeks to attract outside talent and investment, access to information will be vital so that people not only know what is going on, but what is here.

Lastly, point number three, I hear people talk about how wonderful Wayne County used to be. I have seen pictures of downtown when it was more alive and bustling. I do see old Victorian houses that are in need of more than just paint and TLC. Yet, I still see so much good now.

What made it great back then- a community of people creating, investing, innovating, connecting, and fighting for social justice- is what could be harnessed to keep Wayne County relevant, growing, and vibrant despite social and economic shifts.

We have seen in the past what can happen when space is made for those who make this place “weird”. You get art from the Overbeck sisters. You see businesses like that of Levi Coffin that were “fair trade” before the concept existed. Individuals like Pastor James M. Townsend created spaces for people to connect across racial lines before the civil rights movement. You might even see choreographed lawnmower demonstrations at the World’s Fair from the likes of Elwood McGuire Jr. when Richmond was the lawnmower capital of the world…

Keep embracing the weird. Instead of focusing on what you once were, shift the focus to what you want to be now, bringing in all of those diverse voices that make this place great today- youth, the Black and Latinx communities, young professionals, the LGBTQ folks, those with disabilities, families, and others.

When everyone is at the table creating the vision for what you want to be, we get an inclusive, dynamic community for all. 

Wayne County, you are an amazing place and I am glad to have landed here. Take a look around the place and see how you can get involved. Thank you for welcoming me.  P.S. Stay weird.

Elisa Worland. Purdue Extension, Hype Member, and New Resident

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