Zachary Gappa

After spending years in a densely-populated part of Virginia, I have now lived in a small town in my home state of Wisconsin for the past four years. It's a location I didn't expect to find myself in, and honestly it's taken quite some time to acclimate. The town leans heavily towards both the farm community and a blue-collar manufacturing and trucking segment. It's no idyllic Andy Griffith small town (I doubt those really exist), but it is certainly a town where most people know each other, and I've been struck by the level of community involvement in this small part of America.

My wife, son, and I made a concerted effort this year to go to community events. The town has an arts nonprofit that sponsors concerts in the park and an arts show each year. The local firemen and American Legion have pork chop dinners to raise funds. There is a brat fry or two or three every weekend to raise money for all sorts of causes (many of them as simple as the local little league). And there are numerous fairs and other festivals, including a celebration of local German heritage, a semi-truck parade, and a surprisingly-impressive Fourth of July fireworks display.

One nearby smaller town of roughly 500 residents hosts an annual summer fair that brings in thousands of people. People show up for this two-day event consistently, year after year, many of them taking a full two days of vacation time to simply hang around, enjoying the festivities. Since the whole fair can be absorbed in a mere 1-2 hours of walking about, I'd never really understood this commitment, until a friend pointed out recently that the fair is known locally as "the biggest family reunion in the area."

This description is apropos, since many people in these local communities have grown up here and spent decades getting to know their neighbors, seeing their children marry other local children, and sharing a consistent culture. While even I routinely encounter dozens of people I know at the "family reunion" fair, I'm confident that for others it serves as a chance to connect to hundreds of their friends and relatives.

Zachary Gappa

Zachary Gappa is Managing Editor at the John Jay Institute Center for a Just Society and Operations Manager at Gappa Security Solutions.