The Ottumwa Courier

May 14, 2012

Richland Community Club, the little group that can ...

The Road Less Traveled

JEFF HUTTON
Courier editor

RICHLAND — There’s a certain flow, a rhythm if you will, to how the small town of Richland operates.

It seems that nearly everyone in this Keokuk County community understands he or she has a stake in the town’s future and that in some way they all contribute to that flow of positive energy needed to keep the town moving forward.

While a lot of small communities in Iowa struggle, Richland thrives, in part because people there are engaged in what is going on and what they can do to make it a better place to live and work.

And at the heart of this community involvement is the Richland Community Club, a group of residents, business owners and other volunteers who key in on what the community needs.

I had the chance to attend this month’s meeting of the club and discovered a large group of people willing to donate their time, money and a whole host of ideas to make Richland successful.

Sure, there are the beautification projects and fireworks display every Fourth of July. There’s a plan for more work on the downtown square and the club sponsors community events throughout the year.

But the club tackles larger projects and works directly with city leaders and others in trying to find ways to make the city grow and prosper.

For example, the club is fully involved in the community’s medical and dental clinic, thanks to a half-million dollar investment and a partnership with River Hills Community Health of Ottumwa.

Richland Mayor Tom Hoekstra said that effort alone is evidence of the kind of work the club does.

“When I was growing up, it was the commercial club,” he said, noting the membership was primarily business owners.

But a change in the farm economy and businesses shutting their doors in the 1980s changed that.

“They opened the membership to everybody ... and inadvertently became, for lack of a better word, the city’s chamber of commerce, Hoekstra said.

The mayor said the club complements the work being done by he and the Richland City Council as well as others.

Hoekstra said whether it’s a big or small project, the club remains focused on what’s important — promoting and growing the community, making it more attractive to its citizens and potential residents and businesses.

The club remains “open minded” toward change and progress, and they understood what is at stake: “They understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”

Club President Steve Roberts agrees.

“For a small town, we have a tremendous amount of people who are willing to give their time,” he said. “We try to attract businesses, promote the town and show why it’s a good place to live.”

The club membership represents roughly 10 percent of the community’s population and includes a diverse group of retirees, new and established business owners and others, young and old, dedicated to Richland’s success, Roberts said.

Both he and Hoekstra said the club partners with the city to address derelict properties in the community, and the club is helping to raise funds for new playground equipment at the local daycare.

“We’re trying to do things that will enhance the city,” Roberts said. “We try to be aggressive if we see an opportunity.”

Korwin Hinshaw, a longtime member of the club and owner of Hinshaw Trailer Sales, said the club, while looking at new opportunities for growth and prosperity, also reflects the proud history of the community.

Richland’s “history is so deep.” The club “has a connection to its history, its people” and in turn current residents and club members want to honor that legacy by keeping the town vibrant and alive.

Hinshaw says he could easily relocate his business to another community, perhaps a larger town with more amenities.

But the fact is that Richland “feels like home,” he said.

Richland has been home to some well-known men, including Paul McCracken, the famed economist and former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors under President Nixon; and William Morgan, a naval architect and renowned expert in propeller design.

And while McCracken’s and Morgan’s legacies are well established, it’s the current membership of the Richland Community Club and the work they have done that will keep the town of Richland moving forward.

And for club members, Roberts said, it comes down to just one priority:

“We try to do things right.”