Jim Hemig: Who will take up our legacy?
“Everyone here is old,” my youngest son quietly confessed to me as we walked into the Banner Grange two weeks ago.
I brought my two sons to the Oktoberfest hosted by the Gold Country German-American Club. They were visiting from college for the weekend, and I wanted to show them a local community event.
I didn’t think anything of it. Since moving here, I see many of the same people day after day in our small community. We all know the average age in western Nevada County is a bit higher than the rest of California. This isn’t new information for the folks who reside here. But coming from a college town, my two boys’ observations are quite a bit different.
We had a great time. Great food, great music and enjoyable conversation. The people attending and hosting the event appeared to like having a couple people almost a quarter of their age to talk with.
Standing back, watching, I had this sudden thought: What happens 10 or 20 years from now with a social group like this? What happens when the current group of people organizing this event just can’t do it anymore? We didn’t see many mixed generations involved. My worry is we may lose a part of our local culture and history to the sands of time.
It’s not the first time I’ve run into this. This summer while visiting the Penn Valley Rodeo, and meeting a guy, Jim Heming, with a frighteningly similar name to mine, I was told the current group organizing the rodeo is having a hard time finding up-and-comers to take the reins. The folks doing the event are getting older and can’t find new people to step up.
And now that I’ve noticed it, I’m seeing it everywhere — at the historical society, at the narrow gauge railroad museum, both the local Republican and Democratic groups and even at the Empire Mine.
Many of the social groups, clubs and events are only holding on because of a few dedicated and aging members, without a direct line of succession. Again, no one is likely surprised by this.
Now before you think I’m being ageist, I am writing this with all due respect. The mature, active members of our community have so much information and life experience to share with our younger generation that it will be a real shame if we lose that opportunity to pass down the historical and cultural knowledge.
I do see younger people, say under 40 or 50, here. And I see them in active leadership roles. I’ve written in the past about some of their contributions.
Daniel Swartzendruber is active in the community, leading the Hospital Foundation. Ben Aguilar is the newest member of the Grass Valley City Council and his family has run A&A Air Conditioning Heating & Sheet Metal for many years. Another family-run business, Economy Pest Control, has a new generation also stepping up, Stacey Davidson, granddaughter of founder Paul Davidson.
MaryJane Huenergardt is new, but she has jumped in as a young leader providing energy behind the new YMCA advisory committee and the League of Women Voters. Kim Blix has been one of my go-to young people for all kinds of community connections. Ryan Golze at Eskaton is building relationships between our business community and our largest senior housing establishment. Nevada Union Alumna Ariel Lovett spearheads CoRR’s strategic planning, program development, grant funding, fundraising, outreach and community relations. And, of course, you can’t leave out the women of NEO, Halli Ellis and Lynn Skrukrud, who are running a youth center.
In the political spectrum, Heidi Hall and Cheri West recently both stepped up to run in 2016 for the District 1 seat on the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, for which three-time incumbent Nate Beason will not seek reelection. Regardless of the outcome, I see this as a successful changing of the guard.
So there are younger people here, and they aren’t afraid of picking up where others have left off.
But it appears the next generation has different interests. They work, serve and volunteer, but collectively they contribute to the community differently. I could tell my boys felt out of place at the Banner Grange. They said they had fun, but their interests are just different than ours.
I hope I’m wrong, but we may see a day when some cultural clubs, political groups, business groups and social clubs disappear from our community.
However, I don’t think we should sit back and let it happen. I believe it’s our responsibility to appeal to the younger people in our community. We need to transition our clubs and groups in an effort to include and interest them. This won’t be easy, but it will be important to pave the way for them to take over some day.
I’ll be sad if the day comes when I can’t take my sons, or maybe my grandkids, to a rodeo or an authentic Oktoberfest. I believe this is worth fighting for.
To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4299.
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