Part of living the country life is being part of the small towns that dot the American countryside. I am thankful every day that I have had the privilege to grow up in the country. Even though they say you bloom where you are planted, I think it would be a sad day for the city and for me if I had been a city girl.
People in a small town are a family in their own right. Usually most everyone knows everyone else. This can be good, this can be bad. Most of the time life is good, though; we love like a family, in crises we pull together like family and, on various issues, we fight like family. Also, like family, we need someone to take command and steer us through, making all the things that happen, happen.
How many times do you ever think about the Memorial Day parade, fireworks on July 4 and hometown festivals? It takes someone to organize and plan all these things. Our someone is Donna Claar who is basically behind everything that goes on in Union City, Michigan. Every small town has a Donna, they just may be called Betsy or George or any other name, but they are the ones who get things done. All too often they are seldom recognized for all they do. We don’t mean to do this, it’s just the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Let me tell you about our Donna. I have always known she was involved in most community events but I, like many others, was so naïve that I thought she was compensated for doing everything she does. Nope, she strictly volunteers her time. Why would she do that? Because she truly loves our town. How cool is that!
Here is a partial list of things she is involved in. I do say partial because I am 99-percent sure that I have forgotten something. She organizes the Memorial Day parade each year, which in itself is no small feat considering the number of entries that have to be put into some type of orderly fashion. She is responsible for the fireworks each July 4, keeps the electronic sign up-to-date with various happenings around the community and is an active member of both the Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she is the driving force behind our two hometown festivals, Heritage Days and the Art Festival. Of course, there are many others who help all these things come together, but she is the silent leader behind each one.
Above and beyond these commitments, she is the owner and editor of our hometown newspaper, The Clarion, which is never a 40-hour per week job. And in her spare time (yea, right!) she follows her passion and provides respite care for individuals in the community. She does nominally charge for this service, but says it is a labor of love.
“My heart is in the home,” she says when asked what she truly loves to do. “I am a simple person, I love to be home and cook, bake and sew. Joel (her husband) and I love to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and watch our chickens pecking and watch the sun come up. There’s nothing better.”
So, why is a homebody always involved in the community instead of being at home? The answer lies in who she truly is. She does love her home and is ready to be busy in a way where she can find her soul, but she equally loves her community, the people in it and it is so important to her to always celebrate the positive. This is what drives her.
“For many people who live around here, this is their heritage. They are the third, fourth and sometimes fifth or more generation who grew up in this area and stayed to call it home. This is a good thing, but sometimes that tends to foster a 'take-it-for-granted' attitude. It happens to all of us, you just get comfortable in the normal,” she says.
That is exactly what bothers her. She is adamant. “I want everyone to see the community like I see it and not take anything for granted. We have something so special here.”
These are the reasons she spends more hours than she cares to admit behind the scenes in our small community. If we had to pay her for everything she does, we definitely couldn’t afford her, she has no clue what a 9 to 5 job is, and she is most always behind the scenes rather than in the limelight. I laugh with her that, if it weren’t for cell phones, Joel and the rest of her family may never get to talk to her. She just looks at me askew out of the corner of her eye. OK, maybe this isn’t a joke after all.
So, thank you, Donna, for everything you do for our community. This goes for all the Dans, Sarahs and whoever else you are in all our small communities. We don’t say it often enough but we hope you know how much you are appreciated.
On top of everything else, I owe her a very special heartfelt thank you for asking me to write these columns and for supporting me through them all. If it weren’t for her and my editors Jean Teller and Traci Smith at GRIT, I would not have been able to expand my horizons and write these columns that have become my passion and saving grace so many times.
Many people often ask where I get the ideas for my articles. Sometimes they are suggestions from people, sometimes they are from the list I keep, but sometimes the very special ones are ones that God lays on my heart to write, like this one. It was just time to say “THANK YOU!”
In 2012, the GRIT and Capper's Farmer staff included Traci Smith, far left, and Jean Teller, far right. Other staff members were, back row left to right, Caleb Regan, Hank Will and Kasey Moomaw; in front left to right, Ilene Reid and Natalie Gould.