Sunday, August 30, 2009

Goosebumps in Damar

On Saturday, August 29, the Kansas Sampler Foundation had a "Bring your own Lawn Chair" event in Damar, population 144. Damar, a French Canadian settlement, is in Rooks County and has to be the cleanest town I've ever been in.

If anyone is reading this that takes leadership groups around the state, this is the town to stop in to learn that small doesn't mean dying. In fact, if you could bundle it up, this town has as much gumption, desire to thrive, and ambition for the future -- and ability to make it happen -- as any in the state.

The lawn chair meetings are designed to give the public a chance to hear from locals about projects they undertake to keep their town viable and to explain how they do it. At this meeting, it was the "how they do it" part that produced an overwhelming amount of goosebumps and tears in the audience of 90 people.

Mayor Brian Newell gave a wonderful overview of the town and talked about the city infrastructure. Jana Sutton talked about moving here from Florida and taking the lead to build a park and playground. Lisa Gehering, the principal of the elementary school told about school enrollment that has increased for five years. Jeanie Roberts and Paula Desbien described how a group of ladies were the impetus behind all the French-motif buildings and opening Fleur de Lis. Sandy Benoit told about selling shares to keep the cafe open. Steve Hanson talked about writing grants to match local money to make possible numerous projects including restoring the church and building a community building. Kaylon Roberts told about moving back to Damar and how he got involved in numerous projects. He also gave his wish list for Damar.

Roger Hrabe, the invaluable Rooks County Economic Development director, summed it all up by saying that any town can recognize the clues to community survival but doing it is another story. He eloquently made the point that Damar is a city that doesn't just talk but makes things happen.

The audience was made up of Kansas Explorers from Colby, Ulysses, Wichita, Burlington, Inman, Salina, Morland, Osborne, Lawrence, Hutchinson, and more as well as folks from Damar and other cities in Rooks County.

After the meeting, the crowd took pictures of the many French-motif buildings, toured St. Joseph's Church, shopped at Fleur de Lis, and ate at the Damar Cafe.

Below are a few pictures of the buildings painted with a French motif. Some are not occupied but various families purchased the buildings and took charge of dressing them up in the theme.

To "get" why small towns have value, just stop in Damar and strike up a conversation with the locals.

Inspired, KE #2 Marci Penner


Jenni said...

I stayed in Damar when I attended the 2007(?) KATP Field School which used the school there as its headquarters while the dig went on near Nicodemus. It is a beautiful small town. The one thing I think I missed there was a gas station, but other than that I think it's just about perfect.

Unknown said...

Great report! Would have been great to be there. I didn't know we had any French Canadian settlements in the state. Are there more?

Anonymous said...

My parents were born & raised in Damar. As such, I have fond memories of vising my mamere, papere, aunts, uncles and of course my cousins. Damar will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you for allowing others to see what we see in Damar.

Anonymous said...

My great grandmother Ida mae Belisle was born there and raised there. She passed 14 yes ago at the age of 99. I’ve been there once. Beautiful church