This part of the summer—when our local communities are on display to their residents, as well as those who live nearby through their festivals —are a perfect time to reflect on what it means to be a “community,” what it means to turn a place in which one lives into their hometown.
This week, we get to reflect on the village of Sugar Grove, and while there were countless examples of “community” on display at the village’s three-day festival, the Sugar Grove Corn Boil, there are two related examples that really stand out.
The first is longtime Sugar Grove resident Helen Jorgensen, who earned her designation as the Sugar Grove Citizen of the Year during Friday’s festival opening ceremonies.
Her reaction to the recognition demonstrating true community spirit; the type of spirit in which one gives of their time and energy with no desire for recognition or accolades.
“It’s an honor, it’s an honor, but I really don’t think I deserve it,” she said in Elburn Herald reporter Cheryl Borrowdale’s story on page 1. “What I did, I did because I wanted to. It wasn’t ‘oh, look at me, look what I did for the village.’ I like to be in the background, instead of out front.”
Her 48-year connection to the community is so full of examples of community that it was impossible for those who nominated her for the award to list them all, and likewise, it is impossible to list them all here. That being said, her involvement encompasses just about every phase of community life, ranging from church involvement to school, from American Legion volunteerism to community fundraising, from serving as an election judge to an event organizer.
The list goes on and on, and the point is, she did it all with her sole motivation to serve her community and get to know it, and its members, better.
She told Cheryl how she first began to get involved in the community, and why:
“I was tired of not knowing anybody, so when we got here, I joined the PTA,” she said. “I’m happy to talk to everybody. I don’t ever meet a stranger; if I see someone, I go out and talk to them.”
Our second example of community in Sugar Grove comes from the man who introduced Helen as the 2012 Sugar Grove Citizen of the Year on Friday, Village President Sean Michels.
Last week, he announced his intention to run for re-election in 2013.
Making the decision to serve on as a local elected official is not something to be taken lightly; it requires a significant amount of time and energy just to win an election, and even moreso once seated. The pay is negligable, and trying to do your best to serve is often met with anger and frustration from constituents who want answers to their questions and completion of their needs yesterday. In addition, the media (this specific space included), can sometimes seem like an unfriendly entity if things don’t go smoothly all of the time.
That being said, for someone to still pursue such a service role, knowing in advance the challenges that must be overcome, truly requires a desire to serve the community for the sake of the community’s benefit and not their own.
As Elburn Herald Editor Keith Beebe noted on page 1, Sean’s tenure as village president spans so much time that the face of the community—not to mention the nation overall—has changed dramatically.
When he began, the primary focus was how to deal with the looming residential growth that was making Sugar Grove—as well as Kane County—among the fastest-growing in the nation. It required ensuring that infrastructure was in place, negotiations with the various governmental entities plus developers advanced in as beneficial a way as possible, and as he put it to Keith, “… and make sure we had (everything) dialed into place.”
Now that the residential growth boom has subsided, the focus has shifted to bringing in business to diversify the community’s tax base, and as he explained, “… make this more of a place where people live, work and dine.”
Both recent examples of community—Helen Jorgensen and Sean Michels—demonstrate a willingness to serve their fellow residents with no expectation of thanks in return. Helen told us that she prefers to remain in the background and admitted to being a bit embarassed by her recognition. For Sean, there is no way to serve as village president and remain in the background, but that also means he often has a target for criticism drawn on his back.
That is why each presents a perfect example of community spirit—a willingness to serve, even if it means doing so with no thanks at all, or even in some cases, criticism of their efforts. In either case, their efforts should be applauded, and their motivations duplicated by us all.