“Have you got a problem? Do what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
Rural Nebraska has a problem — few people seem to think it has a future. Yet that hasn’t always been the case. Census records show that in the twenty years between 1860 and 1880 Nebraska’s population exploded from 28,841 to 452,402. The vast majority of those people were pioneers staking a claim on a better tomorrow, using whatever they had to work with, on the vast, promise-filled vistas of the prairie.
But America’s frontiers were changing even as the pioneers populated Nebraska and the rest of the Great Plains. America was growing in new directions. More promising frontiers – frontiers of science, engineering, commerce – were leading a new generation of pioneers into new and more urbanized fields. This left small towns with shrinking relevance and diminishing prospects, a condition that has persisted for nearly a century.
But where once location was destiny, the frontiers pioneered in computer labs have interconnected our world in ways unimaginable to the original homesteaders. As part of a “glocal” world, a world where the global and the local share fewer and fewer distinctions, residents of the Great Plains can ‘do more, where they are, with what they have’ than at any other time in history.
The Plains are ripe for a second wave of pioneering. And a trail for modern-day pioneers to follow can still be seen; it was blazed long ago by the efforts of the pioneers of the past. By applying the vision, dedication and resourcefulness of the original pioneers to the “frontiers of tomorrow,” modern pioneers can look forward to broader and more lasting success than any who came before them.
And the modern pioneer need not be new to the Plains because anyone with a dream can join the work of “re-pioneering” the rural landscape — or for that matter any landscape at all.
The Re-Pioneering Movement
Re-pioneering seeks to build healthy and lasting communities by combining modern resources with the vision, passion and dedication of the original pioneers. Re-pioneering encourages innovative participation in local development and is an approach by which a community decides, based on its own needs, history, and vision, how to recapture its future based on the very best of the past.
Linda Fettig, in her book The ABCs of Development: It’s About Building Capacity provides the blueprint for pioneers of any generation when she explains that in regard to developing strong communities,
“The recipe for success requires a dab of inspiration, a generous handful of dedicated volunteers, usually a pinch (or two) of financing, and an occasional smidgen of luck. No matter what label you give development (community or economic), to be successful and maintain long-term capacity it must first be a locally driven grassroots effort. Assistance may come from various entities and resources, but the initial effort, desire for change and willingness to search out assistance and build capacity are locally driven and the results are first felt locally even if there is eventual regional or global impact.”
The goal of this website to provide a “dab of inspiration” by showing how grassroots development efforts are transforming the rural landscape and providing information about and links to entities and resources that can serve as modern ‘oxen and plow’ for those seeking to make positive and lasting changes to the communities they call home. This site is also intended to help a diverse range of modern pioneers share information and ideas, for as Ed Morrison of the Purdue Center for Regional Development has observed, ‘opportunities emerge from the combining of assets,’ and ideas are every pioneer’s fundamental resource.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘reports of the demise of rural Nebraska are greatly exaggerated.’ So long as there are people who believe in the promise of tomorrow they will continue to do ‘what they can, where they are with what they’ve got.’ Encouraging that is what this website is all about.
“ ‘Re-pioneering’ is an attempt to revitalize rural areas by recapturing the core values and motivations of the original pioneers, including a love of the land, a spirit of self-reliance, a willingness to help others and a desire to raise families in a safe, supportive and prosperous environment. Most of all, the pioneers were motivated by a desire to be free, to build and lead lives best suited to their needs and temperaments. Are our hopes that different today?” — from a guest editorial in the Omaha World-Herald by fifth-generation Boone County resident Paul Hosford