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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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Tom Koenninger: Sara’s favorite son pens final column

The Columbian

If I could leave a legacy to this community, it would be the “Spirit of Sara.” While putting pen to this weekly voice for the final time, the spirit of that community springs immediately to mind.

My family and I operated a small dairy farm at Sara between 1937 and 1950.

Sara, an unincorporated community 11 miles north of Vancouver, has not changed much from those years that included World War II — and all the way up to now.

It is still rural and sparsely populated. Times have changed mightily, but I believe the “spirit” still prevails.

The old general store building and former post office still stands. The sawmill is gone and so is the cheese factory.

In my time there was a church along an S-curve leading up the hill to an elementary school of eight grades, another church and a cemetery.

We were a close-knit community despite the distance between homes, and that brings us to our first “Sara spirit” — neighborliness.

The Grange, the school and the churches all brought us together. We knew Mrs. Jones was disabled, and set up a schedule to get meals to her. We knew another neighbor needed to put a new roof on his barn before the fall rains, so we arranged a “shingles day” for him. The good-neighbor response reached its peak during World War II. When the call for scrap iron came for the war effort, we contributed to a growing collection at the end of the school playground.

Other “spirits” surfaced: Friendship was one. Our neighbors became fast friends. We discussed issues during Grange meetings and sometimes after church. We also used Saturday livestock auctions as a time for an exchange of views.

Yes, there were heated outbursts during talks about gasoline rationing and who got the gas card with the maximum allowance of fuel (C card).

But the talks were reasonable and not insulting. We respected elected officials and did not demean them.

Friendship carried over in school, too. Once when I got into a violent argument with a classmate, the coach had us put on boxing gloves and “have at it.” A friendship blossomed from that encounter.

Parents were in charge

Other traits with the “Sara spirits” included parenting: There was no higher authority. Punishment came with a couple swats with a leather belt at home or a ruler in school. As a consequence, drug abuse was unheard of. Juvenile delinquency was rare.

Self-reliance and independence: If a piece of farm equipment broke, you fixed it or sought help from a blacksmith neighbor.

Bonding: People connected as never before, especially during World War II. The operating words were “can do.” Car in the ditch? I’ll get the tractor and pull it out.

Bartering: This skill became commonplace. We bartered for labor or did the work out of goodwill, knowing the favor would be repaid.

Worship: Our ties to the faith seemed stronger than now. We were spiritually refreshed and strengthened. Going to church was a much-anticipated event.

I wish this “Sara spirit” legacy could return as a dominant value. I feel distressed at the snarling, angry letters to the editors of The Columbian, as well as in blogs. We live in a place of beauty almost unmatched in this world. Our civility should be equal to our livability. Accusations of dishonesty and corruption aimed at elected officials should be condemned at public meetings. If there is evidence of such behavior by public officials, it should be submitted to proper authorities. If the public official is not representing a constituency effectively, he or she should be removed from office or be recalled.

Farm life is good for developing sound values. It nourishes the mind and the body. “Sara spirit” would go a long way to provide that nourishment for this community.

After 57 years of news writing, this is my final column for The Columbian, due to declining health. I hope these words convey the values and high standards that this beautiful place can embrace.

Tom Koenninger, editor emeritus of The Columbian, died Thursday evening. He was 78.