LEESBURG – A small but passionate group of Leesburg residents shared ideas Thursday for making their town better.
The Hometown Chat was sponsored by the Kosciusko County Community Foundation to get ideas for how the community might be able to use a portion of a grant the Foundation received from the Lilly Endowment. The Chats are being held in each of the 11 cities and towns in Kosciusko County.
Mark and Cheri Becker of Becker Consulting led the evening’s conversation, asking for responses to two questions: What do you like best about living in Leesburg and “K” County? and What is missing?
Several people praised the community itself as “peaceful,” “safe,” “friendly” and “nice.” “It’s close enough to the busy-ness of Warsaw but far enough from the chaos … it’s a close-knit community,” said Jeannie.
“Leesburg does a great job of respecting and protecting the gifts of the past but not being tied to them,” said Rob Seewald, pastor of Leesburg United Methodist Church, where the meeting was held.
It’s a “very clean town,” said one resident, adding that employees “do a good job of maintaining” town streets and other areas.
Some also praised the high level of community involvement, citing activities such as the candeleria each December and the Memorial Day parade, and “youth volunteer engagement” by groups such as 4-H and the Boy Scouts.
“The industry and businesses that make up our community are community-oriented; they all take part,” said Bob. “It was a sad day when the bank had to leave town.”
Several people also mentioned the impact the town felt when Jones’ Market closed.
Though Dollar General “is a godsend,” said one resident, “Jonesies gave you a couple of things Dollar General can’t,” such as people coming to Leesburg from many area communities because of the quality of the meat, and delivering groceries to those who can’t get out, and even providing local jobs for town youth.
Leesburg is largely an agricultural community, but “there’s not a place for us to benefit from some of these products,” said Christina Archer, adding that people have to go to the farmers market in Warsaw for locally grown produce.
One recurring theme was the lack of things for children to do. “Adults have the Keg,” said one woman, drawing several laughs, “and Hoplore, but we don’t have anything for the kids.”
“When they built that school on the other side of the tracks, they did a great, great disservice to this community,” said Janelle.
“With the school on the other side of the tracks, (kids) can’t go play, said one woman. “Nobody wants to send their kids that direction. … There has to be something here in town.”
There’s not a lot for older kids either, agreed another resident, so they end up getting in trouble. Others mentioned a community park or other options for older kids, such as a skate park or bicycle park.
Residents identified other services for children that Leesburg is lacking. “Every community in this county suffers because of a lack of child care,” said one woman. There are some places that have it, but it’s not affordable, she added. “It’s got to be affordable for everybody.” Also mentioned were apprenticeship programs for non-college-bound youth, and scholarships for children to attend local sports camps.
Residents’ wish list also included a branch library; a public meeting place in addition to the Lions Building, which is often booked up; and a stoplight at Prairie Street and Ind. 15.
Thursday’s meeting in Leesburg was the KCCF’s 10th Hometown Chat. The final meeting is planned for Wednesday in Etna Green.
The Foundation plans to summarize and publish the results of the meetings on its website this fall. “These conversations will help us as we make grant decisions and plan special initiatives,” according to the KCCF.