Goodbye, Springfield.

So our summer of reporting from the Ozarks is over. We learned a lot. We heard a lot of amazing stories. And we’d like to say, one more time: Thanks, Springfield. You were great to us.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published September 13, 2012

Dear Springfield,

We’re already into the final weeks of another major election. Funny how fast these things move. A few months ago, when the team first arrived in Springfield, it seemed political season was just ramping up. Now the conventions are over, and the debates are coming. All those big issues are about to come back on the table — the economy, immigration, gay marriage, abortion rights. We’re about to hear a lot about whether we’re all better off now than we were four years ago, and whether we’re going to be better off four years from now.

These are all issues that we’re all dealing with — all of us as Americans. And they’re issues that are affecting life here in Springfield, Mo.

But we know that you’ve got your own issues to deal with, too.

We know you’ve got more than a few blue ribbons and red flags that you’re proud of and concerned about, respectively. But what we find most remarkable is the fact that you’re not content with those alone. That despite all of the hours you spent putting together the listening tours and the strategic plan over the past several years, you continue to foster dialogue and want a stronger sense of what you can do better. There’s a reason you opened the doors of the library and let us borrow your cameras for the “Letters to Springfield” panel. There’s a reason there were people from all different walks of life who came and answered questions for an evening.

You know better than anyone looking in that there are some things that are going to be necessary for growth: You know how important young people can be for a place to prosper, and so you’ve funneled resources into initiatives such as The Network aimed at retaining the remarkable talents this place has produced. You know how important it is for young people who aren’t so lucky to have futures as well — to have people such as Russ Filbeck to admire as models, so that when life is at its worst, there are still lights in the dark.

We’ve seen some amazing people in this town. They’re your neighbors — from barbers like Adam Struble to extraordinary newsmen like Jerry Jacob to the ladies of the Springfield roller derby circuit. But they’re also the people working hard to make a difference right here in Springfield, from the world of improv comedy to the Medical Mile.

We’ve seen people with an incredible vision for this city, from the dreamers at Swagbot to Robert Crampton, 82 years old and still trying to leave a trail.

We’ve seen stories of the issues that resonate in the town square, from a vote over a smoking ban to an ordinance over gender rights. And then there are those fighting other battles: the Occupiers, still going strong; the teachers trying to reinvent their city’s school system; the nearby community trying to move on from the loss of a major factory.

The economy’s the biggest issue nationwide, and we’ve seen it here, too. We’ve heard stories about stores where locals can try to make ends meet, about local men trying to find their niche in the housing market, and about a local woman who’s held onto her job — just the one — for more than 52 years.

Then there are the stories that defy description: the murder of a man named Bo; Fast Eddie’s journey to Ozark; Phillip Wellman’s second chance.

And we can’t forget the stories we heard just down I-44 in Joplin, Mo., 59 weeks after the tornado.

We’re also grateful for what you taught us and the rest of the journalism community. You’ve given us wonderful opportunities to experiment.

You should know that there’s a reason we picked you for this news project. And the way that all of these different issues have clashed and colluded here over the course of the summer have reflected that we made the right choice. You should know that by living here, many of us have seen our preconceived notions about the Ozarks dashed about a million times over. You should know that we really and truly have loved living here.

You are doing some really great things, Springfield. It’ll be sad to see you passing into the rearview mirror. But we’ll see you again soon.

Sincerely yours,
The team