Vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1992

Fall 1989

The Once and Future Ozarks: Sometimes Things Change So Much They Stay the Same

By Dale Freeman

The Futurist is in an enviable position. He talks confidently of things to be 100, 200, 300 years from now, knowing full-and-damn-well that neither he nor the people who hear him will ever live long enough to prove him wrong.

--The Ozarker, 1989

The times they are a-changin' in the hamlets, villages, and towns across the Ozarks. Profound statement.

It could have been written a century ago, or today, or a century from now. Or on and on until Armageddon, which a few residents of the Ozarks firmly believe will start at eleven o'clock tonight, or by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.

Despite the Ozarkers' legendary reluctance to accept change, the fact is that their beloved hill country--our land of Milk and Honey and Isolated Splendor--has been in a state of flux since God and the Native Americans first walked these shrouded hills and wavey prairies eons ago.

And so it continues as we prepare to enter the 1990s. Like it or not, fight it or not, more changes--dramatic, drastic, even dreaded ones--they are a-comin'.

In case you haven't noticed, things just aren't the same anymore in the smaller communities of our boundary-less region, from Seneca to Sullivan, from Naylor to Neosho, from Hermitage to Huntsville, from Protem to Plato. They never will be again. Only foggy memories and sweet dreams keep alive the hopes that scores of our towns will be as they once were or, more realistically, as we thought they once were.

As the bells ring out to herald the 21st century and beyond, they toll two tunes; "Auld Lang Syne," and "Happy Days Are Here Again." They peal forth their message of cheer and despair: Many of our communities will grow and prosper, some beyond our wildest dreams or fears; many others will suffer; some will barely hang on; some will die; some will merge with near-neighbors for strength; and some new communities will be born, like the Kimberling Citys and the Bella Vistas and the Viburnums of our world today.

More profundities.

'Whatever happened to my home town? you ask. Hail' The interstate passed us by; the railroad left; the shoe factory shut down; the mine petered out; the bank closed; the doctor retired; the high school got consolidated; the church-house burned; the city well dried up; all the young people skeedaddled till we didn't have enough kids left to field a ping-pong team or a one-man band; and the old folks they either died off or moved closer to a hospital. Hail' We ain't even got a postmark left any-mores. Town Native, 1937, 1989, 2037, 2089

Fictional village aside, what will it REALLY be like in the small town of the Ozarks a century from now? Even Nostradamus wouldn't touch that one with a 10-foot crystal ball. Only a Damphool Native Phuturist would tackle it, one of those who still sometimes pines for a return to the small town of our childhood, where Living was easy but Life was hard.

But lest we be found guilty early on of practicing what the logicians call dicto simpliciter, an argument or observation based on unqualified or hasty generalization, let me make something opal clear from the outset: It will take several keys---call them complex combinations--to come anywhere close to unlocking the future of almost any Ozarks town.

Shoot far! I can remember 'way back when Springfield had only six-seven hunnert thousan' people in it

--Oldtimer, 2099

We turn the keys, we open the door, and what do we see?

The emergence of at least three mini-megalopolises, extensive, heavily populated urban areas which might include any number of cities.

The prime candidates:

Springfield--from Bolivar to the north, near Branson to the south, near Lebanon to the east, Mt. Vernon to the west--perpetuating itself as the Queen City of the Ozarks as it moves well past the million mark in population.

The Tri-State region around Joplin, including Carthage, Pittsburg, Miami, and Neosho.

And northwest Arkansas, the Rogers-Springdale-Bentonville-Fayetteville area, destined to become the Land of Opportunity's most populous region.


Why be three? All gateways to the great Southwest, they will continue to grow as, or evolve into, THE primary centers of higher education, health care, communications, transportation, retailing, distribution, sporting events, cultural affairs, services, and industry for the Ozarks. All these are 'musts" today and in the future.

And it will come to pass each of the mini-megalopolises will have many moons revolving around the urban suns, oases where bedroom communities, satellite industries, schools, medical facilities, and the inevitable Wal-Marts will spring up and flourish. What becomes of the crossroads country store? It's already a Seven-Eleven.

It will be a never-ending battle to prevent the big fish from gobbling up the little fish.

Only strong leadership, inherited or imported, good schools and health care facilities, a bent toward unpopular regional planning and a helluva lot of luck will prevent those satellite communities from losing their identities, their personalities, and their independence in years to come.

There is one thing you can say about Springfield: it is geographically located.

--Welcoming Address by Springfield Mayor Otis L. Barbarick to Missouri Realtors Convention, 1950.

So, too, geographically located are several Ozarks towns and small cities and resort regions which do not have to be swallowed by the metro monsters of Springfield, Springdale, or Joplin to survive or even thrive.

They are the stand-alongs, the isolates, either whose distance from the urban areas or whose uniqueness set them apart and will allow them to endure.

They are the ones with good chances to retain or to build sound economic bases--some brought on by their own free enterprise and ingenuity, some produced by the federal government, some by natural and man-made beauty.

They are the Rolla-Fort Leonard Wood-Lebanons, The Bransons, The Harrisons, The West Plainses, the Poplar Bluffs, the Lakes of the Ozarks regions.

Their future growth, or their future deterioration, however, hinge on many ifs--stricter environmental protections, adequate water supplies, government programs or the withdrawal of government programs, better roads, agri-business prosperity and, near the top of the list, attractive tourism. Any one or all of the above apply.

In many cases, local leadership (and, yes, political clout) will help determine their existence in the 21st century and beyond.

And who is to say that other factors, say philanthropy or slick entrepreneurship, will not play a strong role in those and other communities? Although the three may disagree, there will always be a Sam Walton or a Don Tyson or a John Q. Hammons somewhere out there to revive or goose or re-invent a community long thought near the grave.

Throughout the Ozarks, where the once heavy lines drawn between town and rural living have been all but obliterated, there also will be certain anomolies, inconsistencies from the norm, that bring about a town's birth or re-birth, its death, or its stagnation.

The anomoly could be produced by a new military base, a new government impoundment or facility, discovery of the Mother Lode, a regional airport, a new freeway, a new state or federal park. It could be produced by luck. Growth and Prosperity by Chance.

Used to be the only time folks come back home was for Decoration Day or to be buried in the family plot. Nowadays, the pavement's plumb hot with newcomers, olduns and young-uns, movin' in from Des Moines and Peoria and Wichita and natives comin' back from Dee-troit and Visalia and See-attle.

--Comebacker, 1987

Greta Garbo would have a heckuva time vanting to be alone in the Ozarks. There will be few hiding spots left out there in our boondocks of the future. Move over and make room for more.

The influx of retirees and returnees, come-heres and come-backs, will continue, undoubtedly exceeding the present rapid pace. Possibly hundreds of thousands of them will be invading the region, most of them hunting the good quiet life they've read so much about in Chapter One of their yellowed Book of Nostalgia.

They will continue to re-populate our small towns--for awhile. They will be more affluent and better educated than their predecesors. Ninety-eight-point-six percent of them will be white. Many will be valuable and progressive additions to their adopted communities. Some will be dead-headed obstructionists. And most will not settle finally for the more isolated small towns they originally yearned for so much. Eventually, most will be drawn to the larger cities of the area for a variety of reasons--primarily for jobs, health care, higher education, better transportation, entertainment, and security.

The question: Will their tremendous numbers turn their new home bases into the same type of

environment they fled?

It is possible.

Sometimes things change so much they become the same.

I ain' t been to the courthouse since the last hangin' .


--Native Ozarker, 1948

Once assured of their important and necessary role in the future of the country, county seat towns in the Ozarks no longer are immune from change. Soaring costs of government, particularly in currently decentralized areas such as public safety, could lead to future consolidation of programs among counties. Increased budgetary problems plus expanded computerization of records including assessment, collection of taxes, and election procedures, also could diminish the traditional need and preference for single-county officials.

Those once-sacrosanct capitals of local power without non-governmental economic bases could suffer. Some county seats most certainly will be sorely wounded right where they have sat so comfortably for so long.

Just had to write and tell you about our simply awesome evening. Brock and I took the Elevated to Heliport then jet-coptered to Eureka Springs in five minutes. We'd already ordered dinner from our telemenu at home so it was waiting for us when we got there. Had a fabulous and inexpensive meal of home-grown lobster (only $375 per, imagine it). After din-din, we hopped the hydrofoil for a quick sprint to the casino at Branson, where Brock didn't waste much time dropping several thou (ha!) on a blackjack game satellited in from Vegas. Then we took the slow way home--a 20 minute ride on the Bullet Train back to Joplin and our own kingsized air bed. Love, Melinda.

--Nightly Telefax to Mom, 2075

Ah, the wonderful and mysterious future. How can we even envision the explosion of new ideas, the new discoveries and challenges that are bound to both startle and change us. But our forefathers were in the same fix. Imagine: George Washington's Farewell Address on world-wide television. Christopher Columbus' walk on the moon. The battered survivors of Wilson' s Creek gawking through Springfield's Battlefield Mall. Ridiculous?

Well, you and George and Chris and the brave boys in the Blue and the Grey ain't seen nothin' yet, podner.

And how are our cherished towns and villages in the Ozarks to survive these mysteries to come, these revolutionary blasts of inevitable change?

What is to become of the Bolivars and Buffalos, the Marshfields and Monetts, the Hartvilles and Houstons and Humansvilles, the Loose Creeks and Lamars, the Green Forests and Greenfields, the Avas and Auroras, the Flippins and Fordlands?

Will they do or die? Will they flourish or stagnate? Will they try to whip 'em or seek to join 'em? Fanciful guesses of things to come are easy, but palmistry is not exactly a pure science.

In addition to the usual astericks barring War*, Pestilence*, Famine*, Flood*, and Fire* that should accompany all predictions, every forecast of the future for Ozarks towns and villages should bear a further disclaimer:

The only certainty is uncertainty; the only constant is change.

--University of Missouri Futures

Committee Report, 1980

Yep, friends and neighbors, it's going to be mighty interesting to see what happens in the Ozarks. And yep, it's a dadgummed shame you-all won't be around to tell me about it.



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