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Crosby not unlike a factory town

 I have never before thought of Crosby as a factory town — you know, the kind where a single employer like a coal mine or a car manufacturer closes up shop leaving lots of people unemployed.

But last week I realized towns like Crosby have a lot in common with those factory towns so widely impacted by a single industry.

Crosby’s factory hasn’t been for building cars or churning out any other product — it’s been an enterprise focused on caring for our pioneers and loved ones, giving them the ability to spend their final days surrounded by extended family. Even those with no family at all enjoyed the attention of caregivers who treated the residents of the Crosby Good Samaritan Society — later the St. Luke’s Sunrise Care Center — like their own family.

The announcement last week that the center must close due to its inability to cash flow landed like a punch in the gut. I suppose it’s natural to want to point fingers at the people in charge and ask why this couldn’t wind up differently. Change is hard and most of us have to be pulled, kicking and screaming, to accept it.

As St. Luke’s Board President Jerry King remarked for an article this week, “When things change in your business, you better be paying attention or it could drag you down.”

Soon it will be time to collectively dust ourselves off as a community and consider what comes next. Can we still be that town that makes an industry out of caring for the aging without a centralized place where that caring occurs? I know the hospital board and administrators hope that it can — that not all residents will be forced to leave the area, that some number of employees can be retained, and that a new program providing home healthcare can help keep the quality of life for many more of our aging citizens better and more independent going forward.

It’s also a cautionary tale for small towns like us. I am sure the news Crosby’s nursing home would close created something of a stir in Tioga as well. It’s good to hear Tioga’s long-term care center is not in crisis — in fact, may actually be helped by the arrival of some of the Crosby residents — but I hope it’s also a wake-up call.

Nothing lasts forever. Institutions are not incapable of failing. Small towns need people to pay attention, volunteer on boards and try to move our societies forward with a common vision.

Our society is so free of real strife for most of us — few of us feel hunger on a daily basis, or are afraid for our safety, for instance. We have our cell phones and our streaming televisions and our little daily luxuries like being able to eat out or order our heart’s desire online. It’s just so easy to focus on our own life, our own needs, our own desires, rather than look around our communities and wonder, “How can I help? How can my actions make a difference? What am I taking for granted?”

As I stand back on a Sunday afternoon and look at Crosby’s Main Street — and I invite anyone to do the same in Tioga — it’s not hard to picture how different things would be if we no longer had a parts store, or a hometown pharmacy. What if the people selling hardware could no longer cash flow? How about if we can no longer sustain our volunteer movie theaters? What if the grocery store failed?

It’s frightening to realize that these edifices that seem so concrete are not immune to change. Just because they’ve been around for generations does not mean they always will be — that the jobs they provide can’t come to an end or that people who have lived here their whole lives or worked in a business their entire career couldn’t suddenly be set adrift.

For me, this feels different than the waning of an oil boom, which has certainly brought a lot of change of its own in recent years. Somehow, the loss of the nursing home feels more personal and strikes deeper into the heart. Whether in Crosby or Tioga, these are homegrown institutions caring for the people who helped build our communities.

If not for the effort and foresight of our forebears in these parts, rural North Dakota might never have gained electrification, or good telephone service — or a nursing home. Local people built all of these institutions, our hospitals included.

We may feel more removed from them these days, but we need them no less than we did when they were created. Or do we? When it comes to nursing home care, at the age of 58, I have no intention of entering one in the next 20 years. How about you?

But who among us can predict the onset of a debilitating condition that would require round-the-clock care? Not a one of us.

The implications of a loss like a nursing home closure stretches from the immediate and obvious — like loss of current jobs and residents — to more long term future outcomes no less inconsequential.

All three of my own children worked at least a couple of years at the nursing home, gaining invaluable lessons in responsibility, people skills, but most of all, compassion.

Some of my fondest memories of my kids’ teen years would be those evenings when Catrina and Mick would ride home together after a late shift, regaling us with the trials and tribulations of everything that happened, sometimes hilariously so — no names, of course.

I have no doubt that’s partially what inspired my youngest, Cathleen, to become a CNA. She wanted to experience playing a vital role for people, too, and several residents became so dear to her she will never forget them.

Indeed, there are very few families in Divide County who have not had a family member touched in some fashion by an institution that will soon cease to be. It is heartbreaking.

King also reflected this week that sometimes a “fail” is what’s needed to wake people up a little bit.

I think a lot of people’s eyes are wide open right now.

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