Though Vandalia has had a number of local residents who have had their individual moments in the spotlight, it’s not common that the city itself has taken center stage.
It happened 50 years ago, when writer-turned-sociologist Joseph Lyford came to town. After interviewing dozens of locals and observing the way things get done here, he wrote a book – “The Talk In Vandalia” – that described the community as it was in 1962.
It has happened again, as the London-based magazine, The Economist, sent a columnist here in mid-December to do a follow-up article on changes that have occurred since Lyford’s book was published.
David Rennie, a Washington, D.C., writer for The Economist, spent two days in town, interviewing public officials and private residents, to assess the state of the community.
What he found was encouraging, yet not without some cause for concern.
In a nutshell, Rennie found that the community is using more government grants and programs to advance its economy, rather than depending on back-room deals orchestrated by a handful of influential local business owners.
That keeps things more out in the open, but involves some uncertainty because of the financial condition of the state and federal governments.
Perhaps the most intriguing conclusion Rennie offered was that “50 years on, the fight is not for survival, but relevance.”
His point is that, while small towns in rural America – like Vandalia – offer an attractive lifestyle, we are increasingly lacking the political clout to influence the direction of our government. That situation was underscored in November’s election, when downstate Illinois voted overwhelmingly Republican, but was overrun by the Democratic vote in Chicago and the collar counties.
The challenge for us, it seems, is to maintain the quality of life that makes the rural areas so attractive, but continue to enhance the political influence we can exert through our representatives in Springfield and Washington. We must not allow ourselves to become irrelevant. We must have a voice.
Vandalia is uniquely situated to have such a voice. We have the people, the history and the location to make us attractive to developers and supportive of growth for existing businesses. If we promote those assets at every opportunity and continue to work together, we can remain relevant in a changing world.
It depends on what we choose to make the “talk in Vandalia.” Will it be talk that unifies and builds up? Or will it be talk that divides and tears down? It’s up to us.