That, folks, is hometown pride

John Hawkins, Webster City’s mayor, popped in while I was getting my hair done Saturday.

That’s not unusual. His wife is my stylist.

I’ve known John Hawkins for a bunch of years now. It stretches back to when he began dating my friend, Marcia, and I wanted to make sure he was good enough for her.

Well, he was and then some.

Both are business owners. They understand the need for commitment. And they understand the need for action.

It was just such an understanding that led John Hawkins to help pursue the city’s purchase of the former Elks Club building in downtown Webster City.

The importance of this move cannot, from a preservation standpoint, be understated. Since the local Elks went broke back in the 1970s, the building has housed dances and theatrical productions and a little retail. Eventually, it became a storage space for its owner. That’s not necessarily bad because you could describe his approach as benign preservation. After all, it is still standing.

So when Webster City’s City Council sealed the deal to acquire the building, with the plan to use existing block grant funds to refurbish its facade, kudos came from all around.

Sort of.

You see, there are people who don’t view reclaiming an old building as a success. In Webster City, and I focus on it because I am from there and I live there now, the lesson of preserving its history is hard-won. Over the years, it has elected to ignore vintage buildings that needed maintenance. The result is dwindling historic stock at a time when those very structures are being treasured.

Ironic then, don’t you think, that John Hawkins, who hails from Australia, could see this and act.

Oh, he certainly didn’t act alone.

But he acted.

And he is still acting.

While his wife foiled my hair, we discussed how the town needed to make a greater plan for its future, particularly its wonderful trail system. The goal, as he sees it, is to make Webster City a place where young people want to be. Where young families will grow. Where new generations can find value and, hopefully, want to contribute to that value as business owners and volunteers.

Isn’t that what we all hope for our towns?

As we talked, the foil crinkling with my every enthusiastic gesture, I told him about how Fort Dodge and Webster County work together and benefit from that collaboration. I assured him it was possible because I have witnessed it. And I encouraged him to not be disappointed when others don’t see the power in positivity and would instead rather cling to a past that is worn out.

Those people are not out there acting, I said.

Earlier in the morning, he had been down on his knees in the mud, fixing a truck, I suppose. You see, John Hawkins is a trucker. He’s the kind of guy who will get out of his rig, climb onto a lawnmower and cut the grass at the local cemetery if it is needed. Or get his hands dirty taking trash at the city’s junk days.

Dirt on his hands, ideas swirling through that Aussie brain of his, he is interested in what can be.

It doesn’t matter that he didn’t grow up in Webster City, or even the United States, and that the number of years he has lived here don’t total a mythical standard.

He cares.

And that, folks, is hometown pride.

Jane Curtis is editor of The Messenger.

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