Can’t Keep a Good Town Down
Buildings are not supposed to be in the middle of a lake. Boats, yes. And water-skiers and fish, yes. But not houses and churches.
Anyone who has driven 20-some miles south of Bassett on Highway 183 knows what I’m talking about. There, on the west side of the highway, sit two houses and a rural church completely surrounded by water (see photo). It’s a surreal reminder of the flooding that affected Rock County this past spring.
Challenges seem to be plentiful for Rock County of late. In addition to the problems stemming from the devastating 2019 weather, many of which have not yet been resolved, Rock County is feeling the effects of less-than-ideal ag prices for the past few years.
Despite this double whammy, Rock County has the character and fortitude to thrive.
Mother Nature: Maternal? Not So Much
The following are just three of the numerous stories of weather-related hardships and the positive attitudes of the people who have endured them.
Keeping Heads Above Water
Ever wonder what it would be like to have lived in one of those buildings that are now part of the lake by the highway? Just ask Ally Grant.
Grant used to live in the white house there with her husband and children. They moved into the house in June of 2018, back when it was on dry ground. Then, in 2019, said Grant, “literally one day the water was not there,” and then it was there and “kept getting higher and higher.” Eventually, the yard was completely flooded, and the water was up to the steps.
They gave in to the inevitable in May and moved. They took most of their belongings but still “didn’t think it would get this bad.” By July, water was in the house, entering through the floorboards and the dryer vent.
By the time they realized how catastrophic the situation really was, work and family responsibilities made it difficult for them to return to get the rest of their belongings. Left behind were some clothes, shoes, and holiday decorations.
“You lose your kids’ first Christmas ornaments, and that’s kind of sad,” Grant said.
Still, Grant has nothing but good things to say about Rock County. With “one phone call, I had a place to live; my kids had somewhere to be,” said Grant—and there was no lack of people to help them move.
“Everyone is trying to pull together to get to the next day,” she added. “Rock County is an amazing place, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
All’s “Well” That Ends “Well”
Hillary Dearmont also knows about adversity during the flooding.
She and her husband and children live in an area with low ground, and the extra precipitation created wetter-than-normal conditions; when the frost left the ground, the base went out of the road. For nearly two months, they drove a tractor on the mile-and-a-half stretch of road that was the only way in and out of their place. A time or two, the tractor almost got stuck.
Although road conditions improved somewhat over time, the family’s well went bad at the end of August, and no one could get in to drill a new one.
All told, the family went about three weeks without water, but water use was limited even before that because the well was losing water pressure. For a month and a half, when Dearmont drove to town for work, she hauled her laundry with her; and on at least two occasions, she drove specially to town to give the kids a bath at her mother’s house—a 34-mile round trip.
Nevertheless, Dearmont is glad that she lives in Rock County. “The future is bright because it’s a small community where people look out for each other when you need a hand,” she said. And, she added, you don’t have to ask for help—people just offer it.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
The flooding also led to concerns for Brooke Larson and her family. She was very close to giving birth to her son Kane when the roads disappeared.
Although there are three main ways to get into and out of their place—which is three miles south off of Highway 20—they were down to no ways for three or four days because all of the access roads were impassable, so they stayed at her parents’ house.
At some point, they managed to get their Ranger in and out—over a dicey spot with a three-foot drop. The roads department eventually dropped a load of dirt a mile away, which was as close as they could get, said Larson; and Larson’s husband, Tim, fixed the hole with a skidsteer—just a couple of days before Kane was born on April 2.
Larson, though, is “hopeful” for the future. “My viewpoint is that it’s not going to be worse than that,” she said.
Larson marvels that people in Rock County don’t dwell on their problems. In fact, she said, she only knows about many of the problems that exist because she is a teacher and hears stories from her students.
Rock County citizens tend to “instantly rise to the occasion” and help each other, said Larson. Things “get fixed quick.”
And people have a positive outlook, she added: “Tomorrow is another day. We move on.”
Economy: In the Throes of Woes
A positive attitude is also evident when people talk about the financial struggles of those in the agricultural sector.
The cattle market is depressed, affirmed Shane Kaczor, co-owner of Bassett Livestock Auction, Inc. “We are at the bottom of the cattle cycle,” so prices are disappointing. And a confluence of market and weather events has affected producers’ bottom line, he noted. Weather and flooding have led to washy grass in the summer, a low protein level in the hay, and, thus, lighter calves being sold for two years running as well as weather-related death loss.
Chad Corkle, regional president of Sandhills State Bank, noted that although producers are still in “solid financial shape,” the bank has seen customers’ “net worth erode” due to “the deterioration in the ag market over the last few years.” Although it’s not scary yet, it’s noticeable, he said.
Producers’ woes have an effect not only on the producers themselves but also on the entire area. Agriculture is “the whole backbone of the community,” said Kaczor. When ranchers earn less money at the sale barn, it affects the economy of the locale because ranchers don’t have extra money to spend. “Right now, it’s survival mode,” said Kaczor.
It is this survival mode, though, that will lead to an eventual recovery for the producers, which, in turn, will bolster the county. The fact that Rock County is “more conservative than on a national average” will help producers weather the financial storm, said Corkle. For example, people are reevaluating rations, looking for the best and most economical way to run their businesses.
And, said Kaczor, the market won’t be like this forever. The people who are forward thinkers understand that the market is cyclical. “That’s the way this business has always been, from the 1880s on—that’s how this thing works.”
Kaczor feels strongly that “for the people that can stick through this tough time, there are better days to come”—and those days are “not that far away anymore.”
The recent challenges have not hampered a forward trajectory for Rock County.
In the last few years, said Vicki Friedrich, co-owner of G&V’s Market, there has been an influx of younger kids. Friedrich, who has lived her whole life in Bassett except for her college years, noted that “there was a day I knew every person who walked in the store.” Now, that’s not true. “I never thought I’d see that day,” she said, but it is “a very positive thing for our community. It will help us grow.” In terms of the future, she said, “I like what I see.”
You “[c]an’t keep a good man down,” sang Alabama. Likewise, you can’t keep a good town down.