“So what makes Decatur unique?”
That’s the question I was asked several weeks ago while attending a meeting/social affair in Chicago. It was asked by a recent transplant to Illinois who was trying to understand the state a little better. My answer that night wasn’t great, but the question has been rolling around in my brain for a while.
Here’s the start of my answer:
It’s a generous community: This area is home to the largest one-day food drive in the United States, the WSOY Community Food Drive. That’s a part of a really large iceberg of generosity. Folks in the Decatur area never shy away from a chance to contribute to help those in need. What’s amazing about it is that there are many, wealthier communities that don’t answer the need for help nearly as often or as well.
We’re nice people: Decatur area folks are friendly. There are many examples of our friendliness, including how we greet total strangers on the street or how drivers are courteous about helping each other through the occasional traffic jam. Most places in the Midwest are friendly, but the Decatur area melds that friendliness with just the right sprinkling of Southern charm.
We make our own fun: The Decatur Celebration is an event that I’ve found hard to describe to my friends from out of town. I tell them that we close off the downtown for three days, invite in a bunch of musical acts, artists and food vendors and have a party. It’s something that you can’t appreciate unless you experience it.
We’re notorious on yellow lights turning to red: Everyone has a few bad habits and blasting through intersections on yellow lights is one of our community’s. I’ll admit that I’ve run a few “pink” lights in my time in Decatur. What always amazes me, however, is when I’ve just squeezed through on a yellow light turning to red and then I see three cars following me through the intersection. The good thing is that everyone knows our bad habits, so drivers wait a couple of seconds on green lights.
We celebrate holidays as a community: Few communities have a Community Thanksgiving Luncheon which is annually attended by 800 or more people and is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. We also have major events that surround Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and many other holidays. We’re not afraid to say we enjoy holidays.
We have a lake in the middle of town. Although we haven’t always fully appreciated Lake Decatur, it’s an amazing asset. Not only as a source of water, but also as a recreational area. There’s something special about living in the middle of Illinois and being able to enjoy a body of water every day.
We have two (or four) Main Streets: Other communities can claim to be Main Street U.S.A. but how many of them have an East, West, North and South Main? How many of them can actually tell someone to meet them at the corner of Main and Main?
We like to hear new ideas: Twice a year the Herald & Review sponsors the Community Leaders Breakfast and more than 700 people show up at 7 a.m. to get an update on the community and to hear a speaker present some new ideas. Other communities have tried, and failed, to put together a similar program. We’ve heard from others that getting that many people together is unusual in most communities, but not in Decatur.
Originally published in the Herald & Review on Nov 24, 2015 and graciously shared for Inside Limitless by Gary Sawyer, Editor/General Manager of Herald & Review, and Limitless Ambassador