Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Smaller City That Could

This time around, I'm going to touch upon a topic very dear to me. Something I am very proud of. Something I fight for. Something I'll ramble on and on about it if you ask me to. Something that, on certain days, I want to write off, but can't because my love is way too strong for it. That something is the place I call my home, and that place being Oshkosh, WI.

I was not born in Oshkosh, rather Myrtle Beach, SC. However, shortly after my birth, my father got a job at Buckstaff Co., one of the last remaining lumber mills in Oshkosh (if my facts are correct, I believe Oshkosh at one time had somewhere around twenty-six in the early 1900s, earning the nickname "Sawdust City"). So, the Patas, with my mom being from Chicago and my dad from Cleveland, moved to Wisconsin in 1984. I don't remember Myrtle Beach whatsoever, my earliest memories are from Oshkosh, which makes it kind of weird when people ask if I am originally from Oshkosh. Yes? No? Maybe? Perhaps, better yet, it's complicated.

Let's look at the city of Oshkosh, WI for a minute now. With a population of approximately 65,000, Oshkosh is located in Northeastern Wisconsin (even though it's much more eastern than north, but that's besides the point), as part of the Fox Valley. For those who don't think Oshkosh is part of the Fox Valley, yes, Oshkosh is. The FOX River runs through the city, basically splitting it in half, ending in Oshkosh. The Fox Valley is named that because of the Fox River, see how it works? Anyway, we are about 75 miles due north of MIlwaukee, and 50 miles south of Green Bay. That explanation usually works, seeing how most people have heard of the Brewers and the Packers. 

Oshkosh has the third largest Wisconsin university (enrollment being approx. 16,000), appropriately named the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, which is where I graduated from. We are located on the western shore of Lake Winnebago, the largest inland lake in the country (outside of the Great Lakes). Oshkosh was once known for Oshkosh B' Gosh (which I was a child model for, thank you very much), but sadly, the overalls aren't made in town anymore. Yearly, Oshkosh hosts EAA's AirVenture, a week long gathering and convention for Experimental Aircrafts and Aviation. During the week of AirVenture, the once used Wittman Airport becomes the busiest airport in the world, due to the amount of air traffic. America's oldest independent record store, The Exclusive Co., resides in downtown Oshkosh, alongside other fantastic local businesses. 

We have chain stores and "big boxes", but not many, and we don't have a big, fancy mall. We have multiple museums, many art galleries, parks, and a free zoo. We have some smooth and newer streets, but there are plenty of crappy ones, too. Some streets change name when they hit the river, others change name once they hit Main St. We have three functioning theaters; one carries all the latest and (maybe not so) greatest Hollywood titles, one is more elegant with it's live performances, and the other is where you can catch an old movie and/or music while having an inexpensive beer. We also have an incredible music scene that doesn't properly receive the credit it deserves. Any given week, you have well over a dozen places to choose from to seeing live music, which is flourishing with MANY talented local bands. 

There's much more I could point out, on both the positive and, maybe what some would say, negative sides. Sure, we don't have all the luxury and conveniences of bigger cities. But what we do have is community, and community goes a long way. 

Let's face it, Oshkosh isn't for everybody. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that. On the flip side, Oshkosh IS for many people. The way I've put it before, Oshkosh is an honest city. It doesn't try to be anything it's not. There are a lot of incredible people here. People who are creative, who want to see great things happen. People who will support others because those individuals believe in something. In a city the size of Oshkosh, it's not always going to be defined by the restaurants, the shopping, the aesthetic quality of the city, the diversity, etc… It's defined by the people. Cause in a place like Oshkosh, while this might be generic and/or cliche to say, when one person bleeds, we all bleed. 

And you know what. For every reason I listed (any many more I didn't), I love this place.

It's so easy to dismiss and negatively view the place you're from, whether it's Oshkosh or not. Not even the place you're from, maybe just the place you went to college. I'm as guilty as anyone. In high school, I couldn't wait to get out of Oshkosh. I was all set to move away the day I turned 18. Then, for various reasons, one including my father who was sick, I decided to stay here for college. Even throughout college, I still felt that once I finished, I'd venture elsewhere. Then came the day I was free of anything keeping me in Oshkosh, aka done with school, yet I didn't feel like I was ready to leave. 

That summer, the summer of 2007, I started getting involved with the community. One of my closest friends, Scott Dercks, who owns the fabulous House of Heroes Comics and Games, and I started House of Horrors. This is where we clear out a section of the shop, throw up a big screen, projector, and chairs once a month, and show horror films for free. Why? Just to have fun. Get people together to celebrate and enjoy their love of horror with like other minded individuals. This June will mark five years of HoH, something we are very pleased to say. What started out with an attendance of eight people on the first night, now we average around thirty-five. Maybe thirty-five people doesn't seem impressive, but numbers isn't what's important. Getting people together in the name of doing something positive is.

Two years later, during the summer of 2009, I got involved with the Time Community Theater. A little history on the Time (which was once the Rex, Superba, and a few other names), is that it showed the first motion picture in Oshkosh in 1911, and remained open through the 80s, and ended up closing it's doors in the early 90s. I remember going there when I was a wee little lad. The last double feature I recall seeing was Ghostbusters II and Karate Kid 3, to be exact. All throughout high school, I'd walk by the theater doors and say, "I wish someone would open this place." Well, in 2007, a non-profit group, the Community Theater Group of Oshkosh did just that. Their goal was to open the doors, and renovate the theater while making it community based. Adam and I presented them with the idea of hosting the Oshkosh Zombie Walk after party, and next thing I know I was on the board. I've been with the theater ever since then, and even as of last week, became president of the non-profit group. Over the past few years, we've been doing everything we can to provide film, music, and anything else we can host, all in the name of the community. 

Why am I mentioning all this? Is it just an egotistical thing? To some, that's probably how they might perceive it. But for those who know me, I hope you know it's the exact opposite. I'm pointing out these few examples from my life to show that sometimes you can't wait for something to happen. Sometimes you need to make it happen. I'm not saying that you have to find a business to let you show horror flicks on a Saturday night, or join a non-profit group. But if you feel like something is missing, find a way to make it happen. If you are passionate and honest about something, others will take notice and jump on board. 

Now, I fully understand that there are certain aspects you won't be able to find in a medium sized city (career fields, for example), which calls for finding a place with more opportunities. And I have absolutely no problem with big cities. I consider Chicago my second home, as I've been going there my whole life. I'm also not saying there is no such thing as community in big cities, either. As much as big cities offer in one regard, smaller cities offer as much, just in a different capacity. 

Perhaps I'm just a fan of the underdogs. Cities the size of Oshkosh will always carry a negative connotation in comparison to big cities. And it's easy to get caught up in the negative side of anything. You just need to look past the negative, and focus what on the positive side, whatever they may be. Any negativity is entirely controlled by the individual, though. It all resides in the mind. You tell yourself something over and over, you are going to believe it no matter what. In other words, the place you live is what you make of it. If you're negative about it, don't care, and think there's nothing to do, it could very well be because you aren't putting anything into it. That, or you live in the middle of nowhere with nothing around you, to which I would say you could be correct. But if you live in a city that's 5,000 or 500,000, you have the capability to make of it what you will. It's easy to run off and hope to find what you want. But, and in my opinion (like all of this), there's something to be said about finding it on your own, and being able to share it with others. 

Again, all this is my perspective, and of course others could shoot down every point I've made. That's fine. As the saying goes, to each their own. And all this doesn't have to apply to Oshkosh, it goes for any city. I wrote about Oshkosh cause it's where I live, it's what I know. Will I live in Oshkosh forever? I can't say, nor do I feel like I have to figure that out anytime soon. As I mentioned, after college, I didn't feel like I was ready to leave. At this point in my life, I feel the same way. Should the day come when I feel it's time, I will address it then. Until that day, I'll be here and proud to call this place home. 

In closing, to those who continue to strive and make this city the best it can be, I can't thank you enough. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh Rusty, you're an inspiration to us all... but seriously, John, this is amazing, and gets me all teary-eyed and fired up at the same time. Thanks for the inspiration, and thanks for inviting me to be apart of your world.