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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Small-town life takes bad rap

By Barry Schrader.................................January 25, 2011

A Somonauk native, Cameron Gibson, who recently graduated from film school at Northwestern University, has made a senior project documentary titled “Dinosaur” about small-town life in rural America. It did not paint a very flattering picture. For example, it opens with a five-minute shot of a burn barrel smoldering on a farm in winter.
I read about it in a Daily Chronicle article a month ago when it was to be previewed at the Somonauk Library. I sought a copy from Gibson, who now works in TV production in Los Angeles, which he readily provided. I recently showed it to a group of 20 senior citizens in DeKalb. There were no positive reactions there.
So I called Somonauk Library Director Julie Wasson

A solitary burn barrel smoldering on a farm, similar to the one featured in the documentary "Dinosaur" (Schrader photo)

in a search for other opinions. She provided the names of some people who attended the screening and I was able to find some younger people who went to school with Gibson.
One of his Somonauk High classmates, Matt Stark, saw it as a fairly accurate look at their lives. “For my generation all they did was drink on weekends because there was nothing else to do,” he said. He had worked on some films for classes in high school with Gibson and recalled ones about the Civil War and the Great Depression era. He said the audience at the Somonauk showing was fairly balanced: A third his age, maybe a third in their 30s and 40s, and then the remainder 60 and up. Another classmate who had graduated a year earlier (2005) from Somonauk, Jacob Glover, thought it showed “a different perspective … just one reflection of small-town life.”
I have always looked back fondly at my roots in small towns and am glad to be a product of rural America, starting out as a farm kid, spending a few years in grade school in Somonauk and Waterman, then living along the Kishwaukee River for several years while going through middle and high school in Genoa.
Ginny Kroening of Somonauk expressed a similar view to mine of what Gibson portrayed. “I just feel it didn’t prove anything,” she commented. She also felt it missed the fact that there is much more to small-town life, and many kids seem bored during their growing-up years. So I think Gibson could go back and do a documentary on how busy farm life can be, how much responsibility kids learn at a young age, and what community events exist if you just look for them.
I found some “small town” quotes on the Internet and enjoyed this one from the late newspaper columnist Bill Vaughan: “My father asserted that there is no better place to bring up a family than in a rural environment. ... There’s something about getting up at 5 a.m., feeding the stock and chickens, and milking a couple of cows before breakfast that gives you a lifelong respect for the price of butter and eggs.”
Another comment I found, this one attributed to Don Dillman, former chairman of the Washington State University Rural Sociology Department: “Ironically, rural America has become viewed by a growing number of Americans as having a higher quality of life not because of what it has, but rather because of what it does not have.”
It would be interesting to show Gibson’s 33-minute documentary to a social studies class at Somonauk (or Sandwich, Indian Creek or Hinckley-Big Rock) High School and see what others think of this very narrow portrayal of life in our county.

Most Recent Comment
D. L. O'Rourke wrote on January 25, 2011 6:37 a.m. ...
Growing up on New Leb. Rd between Genoa and Hampshire, my parents and g-ma kept us quite busy with chores. With the 45-50 min bus ride to and from school, didn't leave much time in the mornings or afternoons. We did have our fun tho, jumping off the railroad bridge, into coon creek, playing in the fields, riding our bikes for miles w/o worrying about being hit, building forts, mini-bikes, target shooting, and jumping on the caboose of the trains that would only go 5-10mph through to go into Genoa or Hampshire for the day (got swatted for that,lol). Small towns are GREAT, then and now!

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115