Big Dreams, Small Towns

Map dot. One horse town. Stop sign on a blacktop. The backbone of America. Small town, USA.

There seems to be a common misconception that big dreams can’t succeed in small town, rural America, and while that may have held true to some extent fifty years ago, it doesn’t hold up in today’s internet age. When I started Heart of the Midwest, I had a ton of people ask me where my storefront was going to be because where would I possibly have one in the entire county that would get the traffic it needed to survive? With internet and social media, I’m able to run a shop and share my farming story from my tiny corner of the universe.

Speaking of my tiny little corner of the universe…

Good ole Dana has been around since the 1870s and not much has changed since then. Just kidding…kind of. At around 400 people (I think?) it’s not exactly the burgeoning metropolis my grandma talks about in the memories of her teenage years, but it’s not too bad. The most famous person to come from the first town you hit when you enter the Hoosier state from the west is Ernie Pyle, the WWII correspondent. (Yes, we all know that was eighty years ago, but he’s all we’ve got so we’re hanging on. He was actually pretty cool though so I highly recommend reading his biography and/or visiting our museum to learn more!) And speaking of the famous writer, we also have the Ernie Pyle/Dana Fireman’s Festival every August, and lemme tell ya what, that’s the biggest social event of the year. I mean, I’m still hanging on to the fact that I was Miss Ernie Pyle Festival 2011….don’t believe me? See below.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I miss about living in a bigger city (like being less than an hour and a half away from the nearest Target), but you just can’t beat a small town. When someone is sick, the town rallies around them. When you’re walking down the road back to the pickup after moving a piece of equipment, someone stops to give you a ride. When everyone’s favorite farmer passes away, the whole town shows up at the funeral home.

As someone who has always hated stepping outside of her comfort zone, knowing that I had not only my friends’ and family’s support but that I had the whole town rooting for me gave me that little extra push I needed. Moving away for college, going overseas for a semester, taking a job in another state...I knew that even if I didn’t see them at the restaurant uptown every day at noon, they were still behind me. And I know that no matter where I end up, these small town folks will still be supportive just as they know that I’m there for them (or at least I hope they do!).

I know that my little hometown isn’t perfect; I’m not trying to paint it as a fairytale village. Even since I was a kid, plenty of businesses and people have left and plenty of trouble and drugs have moved in. The auction house crumbled, the grocery store and florist shop burnt, and the bank and tavern both closed. However, as much as all of those things could be considered pretty significant setbacks, they don’t take away from why I love this town. I truly believe it’s the people that make this town worthwhile not the things. Really, really good people who care about their neighbors.

So wherever you may be, whether it be a village or the big city, I hope you find your “small town” group of people because I’m a firm believer that big dreams grow best in small towns.


  • Love your utub. I had to pull weeds to on farm in mn. Your dad can duck hunt or deer hunt on our 1000 acre farm by Alexandria mn. Paul is dad. 7019898609

    Carl Thronson
  • Erin, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED your article about the very best town in the entire world, Dana, Indiana! I certainly agree. The community stands strong…even when the times are tough.
    And, by the way, I am very proud of you.

    Connie Adams
  • Hey Erin,
    I loved your article on small town USA. I love Dana and all the fun times we had and still have there.

    Janna Hogan
  • Loved your article, Erin. I grew up a few miles northeast of Dana in Newport. I began covering local school news and sports as a junior high student for the weekly The Hoosier State. Ernie Pyle was a hero of mine, and I entered Indiana U 40 years after he did. I studied journalism at Ernie Pyle Hall and even received an Ernie Pyle Scholarship. Our respective careers had a lot of parallels — IU, The Indiana Daily Student, Stars and Stripes, and war correspondents in the Far East (I was in Vietnam 1967-1972). Those two small Indiana towns, Dana and Newport, and their wonderful people had a lot to do with shaping my life and career. Thanks again for your excellent article.

    Chet Justice
  • Very well written! I know your momma is proud of you ♡

    Autumn Jackson

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