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Spring 08: The Grunge Report

by Tom Runge '71
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When I saw the theme for this issue, the line from a John Mellencamp song kept running through my head: "I was born in a small town." After all, I was born in a small town in rural Indiana…Crawfordsville, Indiana!
Baseball every summer in Milligan Park. Nicholson School for kindergarten, St. Bernard’s for elementary/middle school, CHS for high school. (Stealing pots as a high school senior, only to turn around and try to protect them as a freshman the next year!)

It’s interesting to be a grown-up "townie" and be back working in Crawfordsville after more than 30 years away. Oh, we had the occasional visit when I was away in the Air Force but those days didn’t lend themselves to a good look around. All too often, the question was—"is the Darilicious open?"—and the answer, regardless of a "Yes" or "No," usually finished the discussion. Once the Redwood Inn, the excellent restaurant on the south side of town, closed, it seemed when we went out to eat it meant the Beef House in Covington, or Lafayette, or Indianapolis. And what about Stecks, Weathervane, The Squire Shop, Miller’s Shoes, and the Bank Cigar Store? Gone. All gone.

Don’t get the idea that the Runges lived on base or in big cities. During my military career, we moved 18 times, I think, and our family lived in several small towns: Mt. Home, ID (one stop light and high desert); Clovis, NM (on a clear day you CAN see the end of the world from there!); Stanton, Suffolk, England; Croxton, Norfolk, England; Feltwell, Suffolk, England; Yorktown, VA, and Granger, IN!

Crawfordsville, like so many other small towns, has changed a great deal. Sometimes the quickest way to lose a community is to work hard to preserve it "just the way it always was." The reason: If you aren’t growing, you’re dying. There is no in-between. Preservation without investment and advancement is a nice term for decay.

That doesn’t mean Crawfordsville is dead, by any means. But I do think the kind of town we had in the 1970s, like so many other similar communities, is gone. The locals lived and worked here. They shopped here.

They went out to eat here. There were small industries located here (Steel Industries, Mid-States) and most of the Wabash faculty lived a rock’s throw or less from the campus. We had two "big" banks a couple blocks from each other—Elston Bank and First National Bank.

No, Crawfordsville is not dead…but it is different. It would be easy to say: "Well, that’s life." But I sense a growing desire by the local community and by the Wabash community to change. To improve. To work together for the betterment of all. I think you’ll see that in the years to come. Stay tuned for the details.

Like you, I’m sure, I am proud of my hometown. As Bruce Springsteen sings: "Take a good look around, this is our hometown."

—Tom Runge ’71, Director of Alumni Affairs;