Pioneers Among Us Today

It's our contagious pioneer energy – to serve, run, build, volunteer, and sacrifice — that gives me confidence. Stillwater pioneers have never stopped. 

Pioneers Among Us Today

As a nerd, it is my duty to do nerdy things and then talk about them. Things like watching free documentaries on YouTube like "Civilisation: A Personal View By Kenneth Clark". It's a four-hour-long 1960s British documentary where Kenneth Clark, the narrator and guide, lays out in art, architecture, and language how to look and see how civilizations came and went across history.

Civilization, Clark says, 'Requires confidence. Confidence in the society in which one lives. Belief in its philosophy; belief in its laws. Confidence in one's own mental powers…All the great civilizing epochs had a weight of energy behind them." 

I believe this also describes the essence of a pioneer: industrious, confident, and energetically working towards a common goal. Such pioneers made Stillwater what it was. And pioneers are among us today.

Of course every town has its defects, and we're no exception. But it is not the absence of problems that makes a great community but the presence of something good – a shared love of this place. As I've interviewed and talked with people, one common trait I've noticed is a love of this place, its manners and traditions, its geography, and its people. 

People tell me, in so many words, "Stillwater should have this!" When people feel something is lacking here, whether a kid's play place, a consignment store, or an arts festival, some can grumble, rag on the town, and drive off to the next biggest city. And of course many do grumble. But when you get out there and talk to the men and women of Stillwater, one practically trips over people with heart, people who say, "We need that here and I'm going to figure out how to do it!"

These are Stillwater's 21st-century pioneers.

For some, that love compels them to start a business, like Aaron and Kira Frisby of the newly opened Casual Scene Books. Both are school teachers who work during the day and are now bookstore owners by night (which is wonderful to have a downtown bookstore open late!). Their store and selection of books is eclectic, modern, and geared towards sparking discussion. Kira described it this way: "It's a space where people can come together to have a creative exchange of ideas, be off their devices, be off their phones, talk to each other, read, be inspired. I just feel like we have, especially since COVID, become further and further detached and disconnected from each other." They plan to have art shows, poetry readings, and a book club for reading weird books. All of it focuses on using art and literature to strengthen the community.

For others, that love compels them to volunteer. Larry Beeby doesn't get out much. He couldn't make it to the Dancing Turtle. When I asked him why he volunteers at Karman Korner, he said: "Karman was there to help us when my mom passed. So this is my way of giving back". Volunteers came out in droves to help at the dancing turtle– volunteers like Larry Stein, happily handing out little paper bags of popcorn to festival goers. "It's wonderful. You get to meet nice people and serve popcorn," he says. Larry and other volunteers working that popcorn machine served 2,742 bags of popcorn over the course of the festival.

For some, it's a call to show their commitment to serve publicly. Seth Condley saw no other candidate and was encouraged by friends to run for county commissioner. "After lots of research...and learning what the responsibilities are and with lots of prayer and discussion with my family, I decided to run. We have several choices as citizens and voters in the United States…we can complain but I am not a complainer. We can vote for another candidate. But because there was no other candidate to get behind I decided to do something and run for office." And running takes energy.

Others pitch an idea that moves people to be creative like Kathryn Ross did. Creativity can sometimes sound 'woo-woo', but for Kathryn, creativity is not just doing whatever. It is "paying attention and then doing something about it." Creativity requires confidence not to give up but to commit and see your project through. 

Others are drawn back to Stillwater many years after they graduated from OSU. Sara Brown returned to Stillwater and has taken it upon herself to bring back a place where kids can learn through play in her StillWonder initiative. From her years at OSU, Stillwater Regional Airport Director Kellie Reed knew that Stillwater would be a good place to land for her and her family. When I asked her what led her to come back, she said, "There's community here to a level I've not experienced anywhere else. I've lived in some beautiful places, and they're fun to visit, but I wanted to be able to raise my kids and give back to a community where I can be of service."

Rachel Ebert Leslie put it nicely. "I grew up here, but I don't necessarily think you have to be from here to love this community. That's what I think is really special about it–it can just take your heart, no matter where you're from or how long you've been here."

A pioneer might be just one or a few people at first, but they are leading the way and breaking ground for others to follow. They're not wanderers in the wilderness. They're laying the groundwork for the community to follow. 

As Mr. Kenneth Clark said, "People sometimes think that civilization consists of fine sensibilities and good conversation and all that. Well, these can be among the agreeable results of civilization, but they are not what makes a civilization. And a society can have these amenities and yet be dead and rigid."

Stillwater isn't a great place because we got a new pizza place or more downtown stores are coming alive again. These amenities are sincerely welcome additions to be sure, but they are additions, not primary components. It's our contagious pioneer energy – to serve, run, build, volunteer, and sacrifice — that gives me confidence. Stillwater pioneers have never stopped. 


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