Together as one

As the doors of the old Duncombe Elementary School building closed this past summer, I selfishly – though I suppose somewhat naturally – focused on how the change would directly affect my family.

We were weeks away from seeing my son begin his final year, and my daughter was just getting started in what would have been the building’s 104th kindergarten class.

I shared an obvious concern for the hundreds of other students and dozens of teachers who were suddenly without a home, but relatively speaking, it was still from a distance. I had yet to witness the scrambling, moving, planning and raw emotion that would go into the aftermath of a move.

In August, it was still about my family’s small world. Everything else was theoretical and somewhat secondary. And then suddenly, through the real adversity and sweat and tears, it became about so much more.

I watched the people of this community roll up their sleeves and collectively go to work, volunteering their time and effort into temporarily turning Fair Oaks Middle School into a makeshift home for Duncombe’s 350 students. In a matter of weeks, the inspirational project – which admittedly seemed a little overly-ambitious to me at first glance – was complete. Leaders and volunteers alike selflessly poured their heart and soul into making the most out of a relatively dire situation, and they pulled it off in classic Fort Dodge fashion.

Subsequently, a plan began to take shape for a new Duncombe Elementary. The old facility had been deemed unsafe for student use without significant financial investment, and Fair Oaks was a short-term solution. The Fort Dodge Community School District packaged the project with other pressing issues – including building safety, sorely-needed high school renovations, a long-overdue wrestling room and more gym space – in the form of a bond, which will be presented to the public for a vote on Feb. 2.

During a period of education and information this past fall, I made it a point to talk less and listen more. Duncombe’s future was our family’s top priority, but I also began to understand the importance of the other matters on the table.

Teachers showed me the outdated pod area at Fort Dodge Senior High. Wrestling parents expressed frustration and warned of the health hazards stemming from their current practice environment. Coaches and instructors explained how they would directly benefit from an upgrade to both the size and amenities in the auxiliary gym.

Yes, my children currently attend Duncombe Elementary. And someday, they will take classes and use the facilities at FDSH. I’ve realized over the past few months, however, that my vote won’t simply be defined by my skin in the game, which is relatively fleeting compared to the long-term investment at hand.

This is another opportunity for the Fort Dodge community as a whole to be there for each other. Young parents. Old parents. Grandparents. No parents. Dodgers. Gaels. Tritons. We have the power to single-handedly improve an educational environment for future generations in real time.

We’re not going to the polls simply with our own priorities in mind. I may have made that mistake had I been asked to vote back in August. Then I saw our citizens rally, regardless of personal stake or background, to the aid of the teachers and students whose lives are literally defined day in and day out by a school they love.

Why? Not just because it was a time of need, but also, because taking pride in our community truly means something to them.

I will enter the booth on Feb. 2 with the eyes and the words of our educators on my conscience. I will be mindful of the passionate students who deserve the same kind of support and investment we were shown by our forefathers. And I will remember the countless volunteers from all walks of life who work behind the scenes to make Fort Dodge what it is today, without question or hesitation. They were there for the school district in a time of need, and they’ll be there for countless others in the years to come.

We are representing our community as a whole with each single vote. This isn’t about just you or me. This is about us.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at