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Rural America: Under Siege

  • Sherrill, Ark. was once a thriving community with stores, gas stations, and three cotton gins. Recently, several former residents have returned to Sherrill and are working to revitalize the town.

  • Residents of Sherrill, Ark. say the sweetly picturesque town is a great place to raise kids. Sherrill is on the list of rural communities that could lose its post office.

  • Family photographs at the home of Herman and Merle Sutterfield in Fox, Ark. The Sutterfields aren’t sure what they will do if the post office closes. “I think it will affect us more than we know,” says Merle Sutterfield.

  • For many, like Rev. Dana Davis, of Fox, Ark., going to the local post office is more than picking up the mail ‒ it is a reason to leave the house, meet neighbors, and exchange news about friends and family. “It has always been a part of our lives.

  • Bud Busick in the kitchen of his home in Sherrill, Ark. Many rural Arkansas towns are clusters of families who have lived in their communities for generations, farming the same land that their parents and grandparents did.

  • Bill Amos, a veteran, is blind. He receives his medicines by mail. He and his wife walk each day from their home to the Fox post office. “It’s a catastrophe for someone like me,” Amos says.

  • The Fox post office in north Arkansas is on the proposed closure list. “You can feel the prejudice against the rural communities,” says resident Tom Holland.

  • Lucilia Wood Elementary in Elaine, Ark. was closed in July 2006 because of school consolidation. Closed schools mean long bus commutes for rural students. In some communities, even kindergarteners board the bus at 6 a.m.

  • Student artwork displayed in the cafeteria at Rural Special School in Fox, Ark. illustrates how important the post office is, even to the youngest members of the community.

  • In Fox, Arkansas, residents fought hard to keep their school when it was threatened by consolidation. They plan to fight just as hard to keep their post office.

  • Lambrook residents Clyde Williams, left, Pam Loveless, center, and Tina George say few of Arkansas’s rural residents have computers. Internet access, if any at all, is painfully slow. The post office is a critical connection to the world.

  • Postmaster Sharon Callahan worries about the elderly and disabled people who rely on the post office in Fox, Ark. The nearest post office is 12 miles away – a trip often impossible in winter.

  • Herman and Merle Sutterfield of Fox, Ark., have been married for 60 years. He worked as the custodian at the Rural Special School in Fox, and she was the lunch lady “with a smile for everyone.”

  • In Fox, Ark., a post office bulletin board announces community events. “Taking our post office is like ripping the heart out of our community,” says artist Tom Holland, a Fox resident.

ARKANSAS – When the U. S. Postal Service announced it was considering closing 3,653 post offices, the news tore at the heart of rural communities throughout the country. Having already lost schools, banks and stores, many rural residents fear losing their post office will be the end of their small towns.

Arkansas, the second poorest state in the country, could be the hardest hit. It has 179 post offices on the potential closure list – 35 percent of the post offices in the state.

Rural towns in Arkansas grew up around farming and timber. Families have lived in their communities for generations, the younger generations often building their homes on the same land where their grandparents lived. For them, the post office is concrete evidence that their community exists.

In rural areas – where cell phone connections are unreliable and Internet service painfully slow –the post office is a community’s connection to the outside world, and residents are fighting with all they have to keep that connection.

Although they might just be a building and a ZIP Code to decision-makers in far-away cities, to rural communities, their post offices are a matter of their very identity, and evidence that their community counts.

 


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