Keeping Neighbors Connected Through News Gathering & Sharing
Decades before the internet, social media existed in the form of community newspaper columns. Documenting the comings and goings of neighbors, these columns kept folks connected and in the know.
Even today, thanks to dedicated volunteers, these columns continue to thrive in some rural newspapers.
Paula Richter is reading from the October 24th North Camp Crook News.
North Camp Crook News is a weekly column Richter writes that records the comings and goings of two dozen families who ranch within a 30-mile area of each other. The North Camp Crook community is in the northwest corner of South Dakota.
And Richter’s column runs in the local newspaper.
In the early years, Richter made phone calls each Sunday afternoon to collect the news. Today, families send her updates via Facebook messenger.
“I just call it news gathering. I guess I don’t really write the column because it’s basically what people have given me. I’m just honored every week that people share their life with me and with the readers,” Richter said.
Having grown up in the small ranching community north of Camp Crook, Richter has been writing the column for going on 12 years. She is the third Camp Crook neighbor to inherit the responsibility.
“Back in the day, we had news reporters from every area. Marje Catron, on the west side of the river started the North Camp Crook news because she thought this area should be represented. Marje and my mother were good friends. When Marje could no longer do it, she talked my mother into doing it and then my mother, couldn’t do it for a week, she’d have me do it. So, when mother passed away, I just kept on writing it. And I thought, “well, in a couple of years, I’ll just let it fade away.” It’s a bad habit. I just kept on doing it,’” Richter said.
That’s not to say there have not been times Richter second guessed her decision to keep the column running.
“There was a point in time when I thought it was totally irrelevant, I thought it was dumb. We have relatives that come in from the coast or come in from Wisconsin, and one of our relatives was making fun of us because we were writing down things – I even sometimes wrote down if somebody told me that they went to the dump, I put it in. He said, “how can that be news?” Well, in this country, that’s news because you have to travel 30 to 40 miles to get your stuff to the dump,” Richter said.
“There were times when I thought, “what am I doing?” And the I thought about the people who read the paper and don’t have access to the community or the outside world and I thought, “you know, as long as people are reading it, I guess I’ll write it,’” Richter said.
Readers like Celia Welch.
At 82, Welch recently moved from Camp Crook to Spearfish. She lives in a retirement community.
“I read her column about North Camp Crook, so, I know what's going on out there to keep track of my friends and neighbors and how they're doing and see how everybody's getting along out there,” Welch said.
Even though third-generation rancher, Iver Heier has lived in Harding County his entire life, he still enjoys reading Richter’s column and the column written by his neighbor Betty Olson.
“Oh, it's good for the soul. If nothing else, it's just it's like visiting, it's good for you. You know where we live a long ways apart. So, it's hard you know, we don't always see each other except maybe once a week in church - and when we're there it's kind of unique. The pastor usually has to whistle pretty loud to get everybody shut down from visiting so he can start the service,” Heier said.
Olson’s column - The Grand River Roundup - focuses on several rural Harding County communities including Prairie City, Ralph and Reva.
Like Richter, Betty Olson also inherited the responsibility of keeping neighbors connected.
“Well, you know, there are a lot of open spaces out here - our closest neighbor to the west of us is eight miles away. Just you know, all our neighbors are a long ways away. But we know what's going on over there and they know what's going on over here. We are a big closeknit community - big land wise, not terribly many people,” Olson said.
Olson started the Grand River Roundup after her mother-in-law Amy Graves Olson passed away. Today, her column runs in seven newspapers. Olson says she enjoys sharing the local news and getting calls from her readers after they’ve read her column.
“I get a lot of people that call me and ask me about stuff and well, some of the papers cut my jokes out. I always put a joke at the end of my column and sometimes it's not quite politically correct,” Olson said. “So, they cut the joke out. So, then people call me and say, “what was your joke about this week?”
Olson and Richter volunteer their time. Neither receives payment other than a subscription to the newspapers that run their weekly columns. They say the columns they write are a way to give back to the communities they cherish.