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Little Dutch Oasis On The Prairie

So many of you sent me Larissa MacFarquhar’s great New Yorker piece about a small Iowa town that’s thriving [1]in an age when so many are dying. It is so perfect for this site that, ironically, I almost forgot to blog about it. Bullet dodged. Here’s how the piece begins:

Orange City, the county seat of Sioux County, Iowa, is a square mile and a half of town, more or less, population six thousand, surrounded by fields in every direction. Sioux County is in the northwest corner of the state, and Orange City is isolated from the world outside—an hour over slow roads to the interstate, more than two hours to the airport in Omaha, nearly four to Des Moines. Hawarden, another town, twenty miles away, is on the Big Sioux River, and was founded as a stop on the Northwestern Railroad in the eighteen-seventies; it had a constant stream of strangers coming through, with hotels to service them and drinking and gambling going on. But Orange City never had a river or a railroad, or, until recently, even a four-lane highway, and so its pure, hermetic culture has been preserved.

Orange City is small and cut off, but, unlike many such towns, it is not dying. Its Central Avenue is not the hollowed-out, boarded-up Main Street of twenty-first-century lore. Along a couple of blocks, there are two law offices, a real-estate office, an insurance brokerage, a coffee shop, a sewing shop, a store that sells Bibles, books, and gifts, a notions-and-antiques store, a hair-and-tanning salon, and a home-décor-and-clothing boutique, as well as the Sioux County farm bureau, the town hall, and the red brick Romanesque courthouse.

There are sixteen churches in town. The high-school graduation rate is ninety-eight per cent, the unemployment rate is two per cent. There is little crime. The median home price is around a hundred and sixty thousand dollars, which buys a three- or four-bedroom house with a yard, in a town where the median income is close to sixty thousand. For the twenty per cent of residents who make more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, it can be difficult to find ways to spend it, at least locally. There are only so many times you can redo your kitchen. Besides, conspicuous extravagance is not the Orange City way. “There are stories about people who are too showy, who ended up ruined,” Dan Vermeer, who grew up in the town, says. “The Dutch are comfortable with prosperity, but not with pleasure.”

change_me

You will have guessed by now that the “Orange” in Orange City comes not from citrus but from the Dutch who founded the town in the 19th century. Until recently, it was almost entirely Dutch. The townspeople today have embraced their Dutch heritage. Here’s what makes Orange City so different:

Every June, a couple of weeks after Tulip Festival, another ritual is enacted: a hundred of the town’s children graduate from the high school. Each of them must then make a decision that will set the course of their lives—whether to leave Orange City or to stay. This decision will affect not just where they live but how they see the world and how they vote. The town is thriving, so the choice is not driven by necessity: to stay is not to be left behind but to choose a certain kind of life. Each year, some leave, but usually more decide to settle in—something about Orange City inspires loyalty. It is only because so many stay that the town has prospered. And yet to stay home is to resist an ingrained American belief about movement and ambition.

MacFarquhar writes about why so many Orange City young people either never leave, or come back shortly after they do. The town is quite conservative, but it is not angry, nor is it economically stagnant.

The stories people in Orange City tell MacFarquhar about why they left, and why they returned, are fascinating. I’m not going to summarize them here, because I want you to read the story. But the gist is the sense of being anchored in community:

But, while this was for some kids a reason to leave, for others it was why they wanted to stay. In Orange City, you could feel truly known. You lived among people who had not only known you for your whole life but known your parents and grandparents as well. You didn’t have to explain how your father had died, or why your mother couldn’t come to pick you up. Some people didn’t feel that they had to leave to figure out who they were, because their family and its history already described their deepest self.

And this too, describing why so many Iowa small towns are dying, but not Orange City:

The sociologists Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas spent several months in a small Iowa town and found that children who appeared likely to succeed were from an early age groomed for departure by their parents and teachers. Other kids, marked as stayers, were often ignored in school. Everyone realized that encouraging the ambitious kids to leave was killing the town, but the ambition of the children was valued more than the life of the community. The kids most likely to make it big weren’t just permitted to leave—they were pushed.

In Orange City, that kind of pushing was uncommon. People didn’t seem to care about careers as much as they did in other places.

Orange City forms the kind of kids who grow up to care about things other than career success. Even if they go out into the world, some of them turn their back on corporate success and the prospect of wealth to return:

“I said to myself, ‘What is all this about?’ ” he says. “ ‘Is it just about me and where I can take my career, or is there something bigger?’ Here, you feel like you’re connected—that you belong someplace.”

This comes at a price … but you also get things you can’t get in any other way of life. The story of Julie Vermeer’s leaving and returning resonated so very deeply with me. Here’s MacFarquhar on what Julie learned by going away and coming back:

Imagining that moving home could resolve your conflicts and fulfill your longings was as misguided as imagining that leaving would do the same thing. Home should not be idolized, she believed—only loved.

Read the whole thing.  [1] Please, please do.

I’ve read the piece twice now, and am struck by how much Orange City’s stability depends on cultural homogeneity. The author makes it clear that there’s an effort underway to reach out to the Latino immigrants who have moved into the area to work in the agricultural sector. I wonder, though, if that can succeed. Orange City is overwhelmingly Protestant (descendants of the Dutch Reformed Church); the immigrants are Catholic. Midwestern niceness is doing a lot of good work there, and I hope they are able to integrate the newcomers.

Still, it’s hard to imagine how you would live there happily if you didn’t share a lot of the values of the community. I suppose you can’t entirely separate out ethnicity from the picture, but look, I’m a white guy of northern European stock, and I can’t say that I would fit in there. Aside from my distinctly non-Protestant religious beliefs, I am culturally of the South, not the Midwest. And, to be fair, I so admire and envy the sense of stability and continuity the people of Orange City have — such an oasis in liquid modern America! — that I would not want to be the interloper who upsets what they have by not being able or willing to conform to their way of life.

Orange City would be very hard, maybe impossible, to duplicate. But I think it’s possible to build a meaningful semblance of that community. Here’s what I mean.

Reading this profile of the town reminded me of what Marco Sermarini and the Tipi Loschi are trying to do in San Benedetto del Tronto (I wrote about them in The Benedict Option [2]). They are Catholics, and they have a rather different sociological base than the Orange City folks do. San Benedetto is a small, modern city of 50,000 — about ten times bigger than Orange City, so not nearly as close-knit. But the Tipi Loschi have built a tight-knit community within the city. From The Benedict Option:

The story of how Sermarini and his lay Catholic community began in San Benedetto del Tronto, a small city on the Italy ’ s Adriatic coast, inspires because of its improvisational quality. 

Sermarini, who is also head of Italy ’ s G. K. Chesterton Society, and his community began as an informal group of young Catholic men inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio Frassati, a twentieth – century Catholic layman and social reformer who died at the age of twenty – four . The Blessed Pier Giorgio (he has passed the first stage of canonization, earning the title) was known for helping the poor — and that ’ s what Sermarini and his friends did in college, reaching out to at – risk youth.

After college, the men found they enjoyed each other’s company, and helping the needy, so they stayed together. As they married, they brought their wives into the group. In 1993, encouraged by their local bishop, they incorporated as an official association within the Catholic Church, an association of families they jokingly called the Tipi Loschi — Italian for “the usual suspects.” 

Today the Tipi Loschi have around two hundred members in their community. They administer the community school, the Scuola libera G. K. Chesterton, as well as three separate cooperatives, all designed to serve some charitable end. They continue to build and to grow, driven by a sense of spiritual and social entrepreneurship and inspired by a close connection to the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, just on the other side of the Sybilline Mountains. As the Tipi Loschi’s various initiatives succeeded (and despite some that didn’t), the association of families came to regard each other as something more organic.

They began helping each other in everyday tasks, trying to reverse the seemingly unstoppable atomization of daily life. Now they feel closer than ever and are determined to keep reaching out to their city, offering faith and friendship to all, from within the confident certainties of their Catholic community. This is how they continue to grow.

“The possibility to live like this is for everyone,” says Sermarini. “We have only to follow an old way to do things that we always had but lost some years ago. The main thing is not to go with the mainstream. Then seek God, and after that, look for others who are also serious about seeking God, and join them. We started with this desire and started trying to teach others to do the same, to receive the same gift we were given: the Catholic faith.”

It’s becoming clear, Sermarini says, that Christian families have to start linking themselves decisively with other families. “If we don’t move in this direction, we will face more and more crises.”

The first time I visited them, I asked Marco how the parents of the community hope to keep their kids at home in the city after they graduate high school. This is a hard question, he conceded. These days, if you want to succeed in your career, and make a lot of money, you have to go to places like Milan, Rome, and so forth. The only way San Benedetto can compete is by introducing the children of their community to a different way of life, and encouraging them to choose to settle there, and become part of the next generation of Tipi Loschi. The way of life that the kids are being raised in puts faith, family, and active community life first — not wealth and professional success. Those kids are not groomed for departure by their parents.

I can’t say this for sure, but my sense is that they are not necessarily groomed to stay. They are groomed to value faith, family, and community above other goods that liberal individualism prizes. In order to have those things, you have to be willing to sacrifice a certain degree of wealth, individual liberty, and professional advancement.

It’s also the case that the community must have metaphorical walls, as a monastery has literal walls. That is to say, it must retain a strong sense of what defines it, and maintain that focus to the exclusion of those people and practices that would distract it from its mission. In the case of the Tipi Loschi, theirs is a voluntary association based on shared Catholic faith — of an orthodox kind — and living that faith out palpably in community. Anybody is welcome to join their group, but they have to be willing to live by the group’s values. True, it’s hard to see why you would want to join the group if you weren’t an orthodox Catholic, but the point here is that the liberal value of “inclusion,” understood as “here comes everybody, so let’s accommodate them” would mean the dissolution of the community.

A town is not a voluntary association — and this is the difference between the Tipi Loschi and Orange City. As a legal matter, as well as a moral matter, it cannot decide who it will allow to settle there. One would not want Orange City to have the right to decide that only northern European Protestants could settle there. Yet it’s still a reasonable question to ask: how far can the people of Orange City go to accommodate newcomers, as well as hometown dissenters from the conservative status quo, without losing what makes their community so strong?

Or, to put it another way, how liberal can Orange City afford to be? (I mean “liberal” in the sense that most of us are broadly committed to liberal values of tolerance, individual freedom, equality before the law, and so forth.) Do the goods that are so strongly and beneficially present in Orange City depend on a culturally illiberal foundation that no one there talks about, and may not be fully aware of?

91 Comments (Open | Close)

91 Comments To "Little Dutch Oasis On The Prairie"

#1 Comment By Florence On December 4, 2017 @ 8:29 pm

What an interesting article. I left my birth city of Galveston, TX in 1965 to go to college. I came back to stay with my parents while my husband was in the military but I could never have stayed permanently. We had our high school 50 year reunion in 2015 and very few of my classmates had made their homes in Galveston. There are pros and cons for both leaving and staying. For me, leaving was the better choice.

#2 Comment By Potato On December 4, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

It’s interesting. It doesn’t sound very Dutch. Not 21st Century Dutch. Maybe 19th Century? I am quite familiar with a modern small Dutch town, Oostzaan. It is on the outskirts of Amsterdam, but the Netherlands is so crowded that almost everything is on the outskirts of something bigger.

The insular quality of Orange City is probably supported by the amount of land available in Iowa, so that there is a lot of space. Isolated rural places as an American would recognize them don’t really exist in the Netherlands any more. Oostzaan has the usual tensions between ethnic Dutch and people who have come from elsewhere, usual for the Netherlands. (The Dutch are quite tribal, even more so than other Europeans.) But Oostzaan mostly lacks the sense, so vividly conveyed in the article, of Isolated Home Town. Here vs. Elsewhere. In that sense it is much more “modern.” Oostzaan is not in the Protestant “Bible Belt” of the Netherlands (which certainly exists); there may be towns there which are more like this picture of Orange City. The young people, especially the ethnic Dutch young people (to say nothing of the Somalis and Indonesians) of Oostzaan would think those “Dutch” costumes in these pictures very quaint and funny indeed. They would be quick to remind us that those funny hats come, in fact, from Volendam, not from Oostzaan.

One is reminded of the fifth-generation Irish Americans who claim to be more Irish than modern Ireland.

#3 Comment By muad’dib On December 4, 2017 @ 8:38 pm

, in a town where the median income is close to sixty thousand.

There’s your key sentence…

People don’t leave because they can make a decent living, bring that median income down to thirty thousand and watch every ambitious kid in town take to the road…

#4 Comment By Noah172 On December 4, 2017 @ 8:51 pm

According to the census, Orange City’s population growth between 2000 and 2010 was virtually entirely attributable to Hispanics. The non-Hispanic white population was essentially unchanged during the aughts. The 2015 inter-census survey estimated little change in either the town’s Hispanic or non-Hispanic white populations.

Let’s see if Trump can keep Orange City orange.

#5 Comment By minimammal On December 4, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

I enjoyed reading the article, but I perceived a niggling subtext that Orange City inevitably will and should change. The author seems to be of the opinion that the nature of this change, whether it enables the town to continue to thrive, relies on the ability of its primarily white Christian conservative residents to be welcoming towards newcomers and increasingly open-minded overall.

In my opinion, it is precisely the successful integration of Orange City’s growing Latino population which will mean the loss of the exclusive cultural cohesion that has engendered this town’s prosperity, as this new “diversity” will simply replace the historical homogeneity. Given that diversity is deemed an incontrovertible good, I foresee that more “whitopias” such as Orange City will be obliged to erode their own particularities in favor of mass cosmopolitanism. Those residents who aren’t on board with this demographic agenda and don’t mind being tarred with the wicked white flight brush can try to move away to other communities in which they can live at ease among others like themselves, as is permitted and even extolled for non-whites, but realistically where else can they go?

#6 Comment By anonymousdr On December 4, 2017 @ 10:07 pm

“Do the goods that are so strongly and beneficially present in Orange City depend on a culturally illiberal foundation that no one there talks about, and may not be fully aware of?”

Of course they do.

The problem is that no one really knows how to keep such social systems going. Rank illiberalism is likely to backfire and create resentment. The person who can figure it out would be the greatest political philosopher since Aristotle.

#7 Comment By John On December 4, 2017 @ 10:21 pm

Oh I could never live in a community like this, even if it has the occasional gay pride parade. I would have left as soon as I could.

#8 Comment By Pavlos On December 4, 2017 @ 10:53 pm

You ask . . .
How far can the people of Orange City go to accommodate newcomers, as well as hometown dissenters from the conservative status quo, without losing what makes their community so strong?
Just as far as their love of God takes them.
How liberal can Orange City afford to be?
As liberal as the grace of God allows, which is more than liberally sufficient for any and all.
Do the goods that are so strongly and beneficially present in Orange City depend on a culturally illiberal foundation that no one there talks about, and may not be fully aware of?
All goods depend only on God, who laid the foundations of the Cosmos, and declared it all good.
(Mark 10:17-31)

#9 Comment By Jen On December 4, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

I was interested to read this, having grown up in a Dutch family in a place similar to Orange City. But geez, Rod, talk about cherry-picking your quotes! Would have been more unbiased to also quote the people who left and their reasons for leaving.

[NFR: Are you really going to complain about a blog post that contains two links to the story in question, one of them urging you to “read the whole thing”? There is a reason I encourage people to read the whole thing. — RD]

#10 Comment By Tyro On December 4, 2017 @ 11:49 pm

I think the main reason Orange City is thriving is because many of the people in the town with entrepreneurial talent decided to start their businesses in the town instead of moving away.

But you generally have to settle for an entrepreneurship focused on providing local goods and services: restaurants, local law and accounting offices, primary care doctors, real estate agents, construction, farm equipment, propane and propane accessories, etc. Want to be a scientist or an engineer or a technology entrepreneur or a surgeon? You have to leave. Want to bring your business there? Well you have to get past the gatekeepers in the form of the CEOs who are going to decide whether they want that kind of thing going on in their town.

The bulk of the middle class in these places comes from the jobs provided by the local infrastructure: the locals can stay because they get jobs as teachers and administrators in the local schools. They work at the post office. They spent 20 years in the military and return to their hometown at the age of 40 with a pension allowing them to live well even at a job that doesn’t pay tons of money. There’s a college that may not have many professors, but does have staff manning the development office, the physical plant,the planning office, the secretarial pool, the administration, etc., etc.

And I am not saying that to criticize: but it is important to understand how these communities are sustained essentially because there are a lot of public and administrative jobs to be had with the local government and colleges. The combination of small-time retail business and government jobs like teaching and the post office are what sustained my family in their community for decades. Among those that stayed in the old neighborhood, it still does. (The women become teachers. The men who don’t go to college run a small food or retail business. The ones who do go to college and are average become accountants. The above average ones become local personal lawyers or local government lawyers. The top tier leave for either downtown or the suburbs for their professions)

Orange is basically an example of a self-contained college town… like Ann Arbor, but without anyone from outside the culture who comes there.

#11 Comment By Jen On December 4, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

@JonF — You don’t understand how people in Orange City make a living?

The article clearly states that this is a large agricultural community (believe it or not, a town of 6,000 people is pretty large in rural America). So people are either farmers, or they own/work for the supermarket, dime store, drugstore, insurance agency, restaurants, flower shop, senior citizens center, day care, gas station, feed store, auto mechanic, tire store, schools, etc.

If you are a city slicker, you might have no idea how wide an employment net a small town can cast.

#12 Comment By Tunbridge Wells On December 5, 2017 @ 12:49 am

It’s not diversity (or lack of it) that matters, it’s community. You can build community with people of different backgrounds like in a lot of urban neighborhoods. Similarly, places with little diversity can have no functional community, like the opioid-ridden towns of Appalachia where everyone’s Scotch-Irish.

#13 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On December 5, 2017 @ 1:56 am

jz says:
One day people will realize that multiculturalism doesn’t lead to happiness and human flourishing. But that day is not today.

Maybe, but it does lead to happiness and human flourishing for the economic, academic, and cultural elite so maybe not.

I’ve been to many small towns in Iowa. Some are healthy and vibrant while others are dying. It’s pretty easy to spot what the difference is – the vibrant ones have plentiful good paying jobs for high school graduates, the dying ones have lost major employers of high school graduates. Having a local college sure doesn’t hurt, nor does a cohesive culture.

#14 Comment By Old West On December 5, 2017 @ 2:01 am

“Small and cut off”

There is a phrase that sptings to mind when considering this typically parochial New York ignorance: it begins with an expletive and ends with a second person pronoun.

#15 Comment By sally On December 5, 2017 @ 5:47 am

***
Yet it’s still a reasonable question to ask: how far can the people of Orange City go to accommodate newcomers, as well as hometown dissenters from the conservative status quo, without losing what makes their community so strong?***

For me Its a question of balance. The strongest communities are those that are both welcoming to outsiders but also have a strong sense of identity which isn’t exclusionary.

Its not necessarily an easy balance. For it to work the community must be flexible and open to change (it should do this anyway even if no outsiders came), the strongest bonds will incorporate positive changes seamlessly, and there must be a place for the newcomers to fit and more importantly contribute

The newcomers must also want to be part of the community and feel they can fit in

I see it as not dissimilar to a place of work. If you are a new hire, you start to feel more relaxed once you are given some work to do, a function, its only then that you begin to feel you might belong there. Similarly the colleagues must be willing for their new teammate to have their own responsibilities, to help where needed but also be willing to listen to the new hires ideas too (not necessarily take them on, but listen to them and assess)

Strong and healthy companies do this all the time, they are constantly gradually changing and yet also keeping their core approach. Locales can do this too

#16 Comment By JonF On December 5, 2017 @ 6:21 am

Re: If you are a city slicker, you might have no idea how wide an employment net a small town can cast.

I do have some connections in rural areas, and the story I hear is the same everywhere: Unless you are working for the government or in healthcare there are almost no steady jobs that pay a living income. Which is why so many young people leave. A large fraction of the population is on some kind of public assistance as a result. And yet this Orange City has a median income of 60K? What’s the golden egg laying goose they have there that other such places do not.

#17 Comment By Brian On December 5, 2017 @ 8:12 am

Decorah, Iowa, in the north east corner of the state is a similarly thriving town. It too has a college (Luther College) and, interestingly enough, similarly has a strong Norwegian identity.

In the Upper Midwest a small liberal arts college is a good indicator of a town that is thriving (ex: St. Olaf/Carleton Colleges in Northfield, MN; Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN; and dozens more in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin).

#18 Comment By midtown On December 5, 2017 @ 8:46 am

Dee, the proximate example is when Rod says, “…as well as a moral matter, it cannot decide who it will allow to settle there.” This necessarily implies that the town will be changed from its current character. Does anyone truly think that incorporating large numbers of Latinos will not change this town? More largely, anyone who says something like “overwhelmingly blond,” “hideously white,” or similar critiques based solely on a supposed lack of diversity is making the same argument. And in general, anyone who says “diversity is our strength” implies the same.

#19 Comment By ceemac On December 5, 2017 @ 8:59 am

Interesting that no commenter has yet picked up on the info that the younger folk are staying in Orange City. But very few of them want to farm. Thus the need for new sources of farm labor.

The article did not note how much of the farmland is locally or family owned.

Interesting to ponder the differences between homogeneous Dutch communities and the homogenous Scotch-Irish hillbilly communities. Both were Calvinists. (Hunch: alcohol consumption was higher in one)

#20 Comment By pepi On December 5, 2017 @ 9:13 am

Here in West Virginia there are lots of homogeneous communities focused around churches back in the hills and hollows but they aren’t idyllic. They are suffering from the opiod crisis and economic devastation. Having a nice big safe space is no guarantee of anything.

#21 Comment By Thrice A Viking On December 5, 2017 @ 9:32 am

Jon F and Siarlys, you can find a lot more about Orange City’s work force by looking at the Wikipedia entry and clicking on the “Economy” listing – or just scrolling down to that section. Seems that OC is the headquarters for a number of sizeable companies. That seems to be a problem, doesn’t it? Not every small town can do that. Anyway, the site is: [3] .

Nic, I see some problems with your analysis. You claim that homogeneity gives you wars. But the present-day US – heterogenous though it is – is fairly warlike. Plus, neither Western Europe nor Japan and the Little Dragons appear to be stagnant, at least not economically, nor in their receptivity to new inventions. And fear and intolerance among different ethnicities can scarcely be said to be unknown in the US.

#22 Comment By Thrice A Viking On December 5, 2017 @ 9:39 am

That link doesn’t seem to work, let’s try it again. [3]

#23 Comment By Thrice A Viking On December 5, 2017 @ 9:46 am

Nah, you just have to click on a couple of other links to get there. Not sure why Wikipedia does that, but they do. Sorry for the inconvenience.

#24 Comment By collin On December 5, 2017 @ 9:48 am

In re-reading the article, blog and comments I am still left with questions if this is the answer to society woes. And in general it is hard to scale similar situations for economic-political cities especially with 6,000 people. Thoughts:

1) In Iowa general, we have to remember their economic struggles were in the 1980s when the interest rates were relatively high and big commodity price drops. We did see a population drop in Iowa in the 1980s. I don’t see how Orange City dealt this compared to other Iowan towns. (Although I suspect having a college and larger firms made an impact and protected their population declines in the 1980s.)
2) Again, I wondering if movement of Latino-Americans to Orange City is ensuring the current population has real income increases as they are probably performing the lower wage jobs in the city. They are supporting small business and outer agricultural businesses. (I would say this was true for Orange County CA in the 1980s.)

#25 Comment By Youknowho On December 5, 2017 @ 10:08 am

@GB

You have a point about college being a factor in the prosperity. Here Centre County is one of most prosperous counties in Pennsylvania, due to the presence of Penn State. Penn State contributes to the economy these ways

It does research on agriculture, that it shares with the farmers.

The academic population likes to shop at farmers’ markets, thus giving local farmers an outlet. Also they like to shop at speciatly shops, which makes it easier for those shops to set up business.

Graduates start businesses here, backed by the University research – like Accuweather, founded by a former student of my mother’s.

You may complain about what is going on at Universties, and there are a lot of things there that need changing. BUT they are engines of growth. And they are not wedded to old technologies.

#26 Comment By Frank On December 5, 2017 @ 10:17 am

I grew up with parents who escaped a small town similar to this in western Michigan, but we continued to worship in a Dutch Reformed church surrounded by Lutherans and Catholics in an industrial Great Lakes area city. One of my friends grew up near Orange City in a small town even more conservative than this. So we have fun comparing notes about how we grew up in the same church, but totally different experiences.

One thing that nobody else has brought up yet is how growing up in the Reformed tradition is somewhat similar to being Jewish. In the sense that the church is your center of culture, your ethnicity and your faith. I spent my adult years running away from my faith and in the past few years attempted to reconnect with it. My wife and I were literally chased out of the church by the pastor of a Reformed congregation here in Arizona once he found out we were both divorced and in a second marriage. Needless to say we haven’t been back and found a home in the denomination my wife grew up in.

#27 Comment By amhixson On December 5, 2017 @ 10:48 am

Jen: The article clearly states that this is a large agricultural community (believe it or not, a town of 6,000 people is pretty large in rural America). So people are either farmers, or they own/work for the supermarket, dime store, drugstore, insurance agency, restaurants, flower shop, senior citizens center, day care, gas station, feed store, auto mechanic, tire store, schools, etc.

What you’re describing is the standard small town template. Were that sufficient on its own, Main Streets and Mayberrys nationwide would be a lot healthier than they are.

Orange City’s “secret sauce” is a combination of its location and the particular composition of its economic base. It’s just far enough away from Sioux City and Sioux Falls to sustain a viable service/retail economy for the surrounding area, but close enough that locals can easily commute if/when they need to. (According to Google Maps, Sioux City is around an hour’s drive from Orange City; Sioux Falls is about 90 min.) In addition to that–and perhaps in part because of that, Orange City has been able to attract/retain a couple of decent-sized employers–Diamond Vogel Paints and Staples Promotional Products–as well as maintain sizable local health care facilities. Having a four-year private college–Northwestern College–in town doesn’t hurt either. All these factors work together symbiotically and recursively to sustain a positive feedback loop.

Orange City’s particular geographic and economic circumstances are what make its local culture sustainable.

#28 Comment By max skinner On December 5, 2017 @ 11:38 am

There’s nothing unusual about this town in Iowa. It’s an old story. Some people love and thrive in their small hometowns; others feel stifled and leave.

If there are adequate jobs of the type people want, then those who are inclined to stay in the hometowns have the economic means to do so. Otherwise they leave. Those who want something else in life will also leave.

People came to America because of this. People moved west from the original colonies because of this.

#29 Comment By JonF On December 5, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

Thanks to commenters who filled in the blanks concerning Orange City’s economy.

#30 Comment By Youknowho On December 5, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

Would it be OK to quote a fascit? Here is Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera

Pero una nación no es una lengua, ni una raza, ni un territorio. Es una unidad de destino en lo universal. Esa unidad de destino se llamó y se llama España”

“But a nation is not a language, nor a race, nor a territory. It is a unity of destiny in the Universe. This unity of destity was called and is called Spain”

Basically he said that what creates a community is a common endeavor – a mission. Race, language, are all incidentals.

Which reminds me of what a favorite writer of mine – Tanya Huff – wrote about a police officer whose partner was a werewolf. The question was not whether his partner went furry on the full moon, but whether his partner would have his back in a tight spot.

#31 Comment By Lisa On December 5, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

JonF: “Unless you are working for the government or in healthcare there are almost no steady jobs that pay a living income. Which is why so many young people leave. A large fraction of the population is on some kind of public assistance as a result. And yet this Orange City has a median income of 60K? What’s the golden egg laying goose they have there that other such places do not.”

The major employers in Orange City do include the health system, yes, but also the liberal-arts college, Diamond-Vogel Paint Corporation, Civco Medical (which designs and makes medical devices for radiation oncology), Staples Promotional Products, Quatro Composites (which designs and produces high-tech composites for the medical and aerospace industries), and numerous other service and manufacturing companies. I’m not sure what our “golden egg” is, but I do know we have a culture firmly rooted in integrity, hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, education, and the arts. And just for clarification to everyone: I believe what helps make Orange City vibrant is hospitality. Our Arts Council hosts an incredibly rich and diverse offering every year. Downtown Windmill Park hosts a popular and large Hispanic event each summer. We were the starting overnight host town for RAGBRAI (look it up) this past July. The people here are generous and friendly, but the author is somewhat correct in saying that it’s a certain “cultural” setting described that helps the community flourish, no matter what ethnicity or race or religion you happen to be, living here.

#32 Comment By Jen On December 5, 2017 @ 3:20 pm

“And yet this Orange City has a median income of 60K? What’s the golden egg laying goose they have there that other such places do not.”

@JonF — Did some research. It’s a county seat, the home of Northwestern College, and has a health system that employs 500. So government + education + healthcare + farm subsidies is your answer.

#33 Comment By Warren Johnson On December 5, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

For another take on the economic situation in the “heartland”, read a recent N.Y. Times article on another town in the same neighborhood, Storm Lake, Iowa.

[4]

The big story is that the well-paid nonprofessional jobs at big companies, throughout the Midwest, have been systematically turned into low-wage proletarian jobs. Union busting has been an important part of the story. With wages drastically reduced, the workforce has been imported from Mexico and elsewhere. The “indigenous people” (3rd and 4th generation immigrants from Europe) are mostly filling upper level service jobs in the area, or moving to the cities for jobs in the “new economy”.

The continuing industrialization of agriculture is also a big factor, but I think that you can blame a significant part of this on hypercompetitive capitalism adjusting to current conditions. I seem to hear a faint “I told you so” coming from Marx’s grave.

What I can’t fathom is how any of these economic woes can be blamed on the “liberal agenda”.

Rod: how about your home-town? Is economic decline, due in some part to corporate dominance, been a big story there?

[NFR: It’s doing okay, but that is because in the 1970s, a regional utility built a nuclear power plant there. Since then, the parish has been subsisting primarily on tax revenues from the plant. But those are going down fast because of depreciation. The agricultural economy went out a generation ago. There aren’t enough businesses there now to make up for the lost tax revenues from the plant. Parish leaders knew that the plant was going to depreciate after 30 years, but they didn’t manage to attract new businesses (I don’t know how hard they attempted to, to be honest.) Something has to change, and soon. — RD]

#34 Comment By Logical Meme On December 5, 2017 @ 5:30 pm

Orange City, Iowa is overwhelmingly Protestant while the new immigrants are Catholic?… This is the most apt lens through which you choose to analyze the rapidly changing demographic situation and its likely consequences? Do you really believe that what is happening in Orange City is somehow unique and different from the thousands of other Orange Cities across the U.S. similarly experiencing ‘vibrant diversity’? We are talking Iowa here! It doesn’t get much whiter than Iowa. Census data from 2010 shows the racial demographics of the historically-Dutch Orange City to be over 90% white. Replace “Protestant” with “White Protestants”, and “Catholic” with low-IQ, high-fertilitiy, Mexican mestizos (cue up the town’s inevitable explosion in consumption of social services), and you will have a much more predictive model through which to make sense of the coming change. It’s not like these new immigrants are coming to Orange City because they really want to emulate the OC lifestyle; it’s because they are imported in by agribusiness, thereby suppressing agriculture-industry wages. I don’t buy the “jobs Americans just won’t do” line. Has California been enriched by all of the agriculture-induced immigration of Mexico’s poorest and least educated? Do you really think Iowa will somehow be different? Let’s check back in 10 more years and see which analytical approach was more accurate.
“Do the goods that are so strongly and beneficially present in Orange City depend on a culturally illiberal foundation that no one there talks about, and may not be fully aware of?”
Little Utopias such as Orange City have relied on racial/ethnic homogeneity as a precondition of their relative utopianism. Going forward, should Orange City become just another multicultural hellhole then, qua Robert Putnam, social capital will fall accordingly and Orange City will naturally become just like any other multicultural non-paradise. Your question should concern itself not with the foundationof the Orange City vibe, which has already come to be actualized long ago, but on what it will take to preserve that vibe.

For a nation that decades ago unilaterally relinquished a rational, pre-1965 immigration policy towards a flood of non-white, third world immigration, there is, in fact, a culturally illiberal dynamic required if Orange City is to preserve its vibe: it starts with white identitarianism (that is, simply recognizing that race matters and that ‘white culture’ is significantly different than, say, ‘mestizo Mexican culture’). This realization then leads, naturally, to the normative value that we ought to reduce third-world immigration. This latter position, however, quickly gets labeled as ‘white nationalism’ and scares off sound, honest, and rational debate on the matter. As a result, more radical voices on the Right suck the oxygen out of the room, because they are the only ones directly willing to discuss the issue candidly.

#35 Comment By Darwin’s S-list On December 5, 2017 @ 7:59 pm

I’ll just modify what I’ve said in other threads here before.

Freedom, equality, diversity: Pick any two.

#36 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 5, 2017 @ 10:20 pm

I’ll see you and raise you: 3 for me.

I was most amused in reading the full article to find that someone had organized a dinner where people of Dutch and Hispanic backgrounds would share tables in approximately equal numbers to foster conversation. Knowing that the Dutch were strictly punctual, and Hispanics tended to come late, organizers told Hispanic invitees it started at 5:30, and Dutch invitees to come at 6:00. The Hispanics, knowing how punctual the Dutch were, made the effort to be there at 5:30, while the Dutch, knowing Hispanics were more relaxed about that, came at 6:30 as a cross-cultural courtesy.

Seriously though, getting to know individuals AS individuals, instead of vaguely knowing a mass of “them” only as a mass, is what makes diversity work. Perhaps not a very Marxist thing to say, but its true nonetheless.

The article did fill in some detail on the local economy, as have many here. I’m not sure how many isolated communities would have such up to date business engines, but in part it seems that natives who built medium size companies with a lucrative niche elsewhere chose to move the company back home.

#37 Comment By Robert K On December 6, 2017 @ 3:02 am

I don’t endorse this position, but I admit I’m confused by this line: “One would not want Orange City to have the right to decide that only northern European Protestants could settle there.”

Why not? Given the premises Dreher gives here, this is bizarre. He maintains that communities cannot be perfectly inclusive and still be communities, then insists that communities have no right to be anything but perfectly inclusive. This is, by his own logic, insisting that communities have no right to self-preservation. Kind of bizarre on his own terms.

Again, I’m not advocating a position here, it just seems to be a glaring non sequitur.

#38 Comment By Terry Chi On December 6, 2017 @ 10:27 am

Look at the most prosperous countries in the world, the Scandinavian countries. They are quite homogenous. Not saying it is what we should aim for since I’m an Asian man living in Orange City, IA. I think the value that draws us together goes beyond race – it is the importance of faith in God, family, and common decency.

#39 Comment By swb On December 6, 2017 @ 11:57 am

The business community of this city is dependent on the revenues from other towns being redirected to them through collages, company headquarters etc. They survive by collecting rents from others. No secrete, that is the economic model of most cities, they are simply doing it on a smaller scale and are successful because they have flown under the radar of larger corporations. Congrats to them.

#40 Comment By SMC On December 6, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

I lived in Orange City for five years. I am not of Dutch heritage and I do not share their Calvinist faith heritage.

This sentence resonated with my experience: //Still, it’s hard to imagine how you would live there happily if you didn’t share a lot of the values of the community. I suppose you can’t entirely separate out ethnicity from the picture, but look, I’m a white guy of northern European stock, and I can’t say that I would fit in there.//

My daughter, blond and blue-eyed and golden-skinned and a band nerd, fit in quite well. My son, pale and dark-headed and not as tall as the other boys, did not. She had a great experience; he did not.

My wife and I did not.

It’s very hard to fit in there if you don’t have the *right* European heritage and the *right* faith heritage. I wasn’t of the right genetic heritage or faith (the pastor where we went to church called me a heretic once). We tried several times to befriend people who were moving back to OC, but were scorned, as those folks were only interested in re-uniting with their old friends and their families.

And let’s not talk about the little old ladies who will give you a talking to if you mow your lawn or wash your car on Sunday.

#41 Comment By Jonf On December 7, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

Re: My daughter, blond and blue-eyed and golden-skinned and a band nerd, fit in quite well. My son, pale and dark-headed and not as tall as the other boys, did not. She had a great experience; he did not.

There are dark-haired, dark-eyed Dutch people– they aren’t all like some Nazi’s Aryan dream.