On Windy Hill: Friends leave, towns go on – Osage County Online | Osage County News

On Windy Hill: Friends leave, towns go on

It’s always sad when a friend moves away. Over the years I have worked with numerous public officials, usually due to a common goal of keeping the public informed about the government. Sometimes those work relationships turned into friendships, and sometimes those friends decided to change jobs and move on to some other opportunity.

I’ve seen friends come and go, usually accompanied by pangs of sadness, but also with the knowledge that everyone chooses their own path regardless of how I might feel about it.

I’m sure everyone in Lyndon knows by now that city administrator Kim Newman has resigned to take a job near where she grew up on the East Coast. Small towns don’t really need the media to tell them the important news; despite modern technology the tell-a-neighbor system still works fine.

Kim and I became friends shortly after she blew into town almost four years ago. One reason we got along was because we were both outsiders in Osage County (everyone knows you’re an outsider until you’ve lived somewhere for 30 years or so). I also liked her because I soon learned she had a strong sense about the duty of public service, which seems to be a rare attitude in government these days.

Kim came to Lyndon due to her husband James’ job at Wolf Creek, but she brought with her experience in municipal government from several cities on the East Coast. They made their home in Lyndon when she took the job as Lyndon’s city administrator. She wasn’t a small town girl when she got here, although she might argue about that, but she had a crash course in small town living once they arrived.

The reason I say she might argue, it seems those folks from back east sometimes think they live in small towns, but if those towns were in Kansas, they’d be big towns. My recollections from the few times I’ve been east of the Mississippi River are a bunch of towns, but they’re all butted against each other like one big town. Having lived in Kansas most of my life, to me a small town is the grain elevator you can see sticking up on the horizon about 15 miles away (or one day’s travel by horse and wagon.)

Kim jumped right in the middle of small town living, though, once she was here. As an outsider, I think she saw in Lyndon some of the same things I saw. In the few years I had lived in Osage County, I saw what should be a proud county seat, which I think should have a promising future, kind of ho-humming along and taking for granted the quality of life this town has to offer. In a just a few years, I saw the chamber of commerce come alive twice and die twice. I heard grumbling from citizens burdened by the cost of trying to repair the town’s infrastructure that had suffered from years of neglect (similar to most of the towns in Osage County). More than that, though, seemed to be a dwindling community spirit. People in Lyndon were forgetting how great their small town life is. Once known for its grand community celebrations, just a few years ago Lyndon’s Fourth of July parade drew more horses than spectators.

Kim and I had a number of frank conversations about Lyndon during her time as administrator, and I know she thinks it’s a good town and now thinks of it as her town, even though she’s moving away. We sat at Buzzard’s Pizza last week and maybe had our last frank conversation about Lyndon and what had been accomplished during her time here. More than once she pointed out to me that it wasn’t her accomplishments that made a difference, it was the community’s accomplishments.

She agreed that when she took the job, “I had a lot of work to do.” I pointed out that she really didn’t even know what her job was when she arrived; her first task was writing her own job description.

She disagreed. “Things had kind of stalled in Lyndon,” Kim said. “People had forgotten what was important.” She said the city council’s priority in hiring her was “to bring back a sense of community to Lyndon. That was important to the council.”

And nobody can deny that’s what happened. Using her municipal budgeting knowledge, Kim first put the city back on a sensible financial path, encouraging the council to set a capital plan to be followed each budget year.

“By the second year we were able to see what we could and couldn’t afford,” Kim said.

Her next steps led to waking up Lyndon’s community spirit. She pushed for the formation of Lyndon Pride, recruiting people to serve in the community-based organization that’s known statewide for instilling pride in small towns.

“It was a good idea combined with a good group of dedicated people,” Kim said. “Things didn’t take off until we formed that group.”

I think things might not have taken off, though, if it hadn’t been for Kim’s pushing, not that I’m saying she’s pushy. Lyndon Pride’s renewed Fourth of July celebration showed what a handful of volunteers can accomplish for their community. But she didn’t stop with Pride. Recruiting a few more volunteers, soon the community garden sprouted. Encouraging partnerships among civic groups, each new or revived town celebration seemed to draw more people – a fall festival, winter festival, summer movies in the park, daddy-daughter dance. Adding to the mix support from local businesses, Lyndon’s pride seems to be blossoming again.

“This success is not my success,” Kim told me.

As an outsider, I didn’t fully agree, though. What I had witnessed was someone who came into a town and assumed the role of the town’s main supporter. Watching small towns struggle over the years, I’ve noticed that every growing community has a common denominator – usually there’s one person, or a core of people, who serve as cheerleaders to remind people who live there, and ones who might live there, why it’s a good town and why people live there.

Kim can’t deny she rallied the town. The Safe Routes to School grant depended upon community support. She drummed it up, and the next thing you know Lyndon’s getting new sidewalks and a safety-enhanced crosswalk between its two schools. The state wouldn’t be sending money to Lyndon without her pushing or without that show of community support.

She also promoted the town to outsiders, convincing the Jones Foundation to build a new nature trail the town wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford. In all she brought in almost $370,000 in grants in less than four years.

She served as more than cheerleader, though, fully immersing herself into the community, also serving as a volunteer at every event. She led by example. And being a part of the community made her decision to leave that much harder, she explained.

“I loved living in Lyndon. I loved having my kids live in a small town,” she said.

Her decision to leave, though, was also based on her family.

As much as she liked life in Lyndon, “What was most important was having my kids grow up around their family.” And that led to her applying for a job at Mendon, Mass., about 30 miles from where she grew up and where her family lives in Rhode Island, and about 30 miles from where her sister lives in Massachusetts.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” she said, but one she had to make.

Time will tell if Lyndon’s community spirit will continue without her or someone like her, but Kim claims her absence won’t stop the town’s momentum.

“I’m just one piece in the puzzle. Lyndon is a great town with a lot to offer and a bright future. There’s been a lot of positive growth in the last couple of years that I see continuing,” she said. “There are a lot of great people here interested and involved, and I’m sure they will continue all of the great work we’ve started. It’s the people who will make it happen. I see nothing but success for this community.”

She might be right. I still feel sad because my friend is moving away, but I’m also happy she chose Lyndon as her home for a while.

On Windy Hill, Wayne White sometimes writes about things he thinks about. He not only lives on a windy hill, he’s been known to be a windy writer.

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