Wilmington amazes me.
This has been my home for over 40 years. Before moving here, my young family and I lived in Marysville, Ohio. Marysville is a fine little community, but it never really felt like home.
My real hometown — the place where I grew up, graduated from high school and became an adult — was Germantown, Ohio.
Germantown is a very small city. It was a village until the 2010 census, when the population finally crept slightly over the 5,000 mark making it a small city.
Sitting about 15 miles southwest of Dayton, Germantown was convenient to the city, but far enough away to provide a happy, safe, Ozzie-and-Harriet-type of community for the Riley kids to grow up in.
Germantown was settled in 1804 by, you guessed it, German-speaking emigrants from Pennsylvania. Phillip Gunckel is considered the founder of Germantown. Reportedly, he was the only one of the early German settlers who spoke English. Most of them never learned to speak English. Many generations later, his descendants still live in the village.
When I was young, one of Phillip Gunckel’s multi-great, great grandsons was living in the neighborhood where we grew up. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but for some reason, one day this younger Gunckel was bullying me and threatening me.
Mom loves to tell the story about my sister, Belinda, coming to save me. According to family lore, she charged in to my rescue.
With rocks flying, Belinda chased off the older and bigger boy who was picking on her little brother. I don’t remember it, but I love the story.
I haven’t lived in Germantown since November of 1972, but I still love the hometown feel I get when I drive the familiar streets of that small town. I get the same hometown feeling right here in Wilmington.
When we moved here in 1976, this community opened her arms to us.
Within a few months, I knew this was going to be my family’s home for generations. Our children have all graduated from Wilmington High School. Next year, my youngest granddaughter will start preschool in Wilmington.
Last Friday, just before the Wilmington Hurricane’s victory over Miami Trace High School, as the band played the National Anthem and members of the American Legion Post #49 raised the American flag, I held my little grandson’s hand.
As I sang the National Anthem, I looked down at little Clayton. He was standing. He held his little hand over his heart. Then I looked toward the flag raising and saw my oldest son, in full police uniform, standing near the end-zone at rigid attention. He was smartly saluting our American flag.
Tears filled my eyes with love and pride for my family and for this great community that welcomed me and became my home over 40-years ago.
What makes a community a great place to live and raise a family?
Sometimes it all goes back to the values of the founders. Whether they were German speaking immigrants from Pennsylvania or Quakers from the Carolinas, they brought with them a strong work ethic and a commitment to family and community. Their children and grandchildren could proudly build upon the communities that were established by the founders.
Today, we can be proud of the Quaker founders of this community, but we can also be proud of the hardworking farmers and tradesmen who followed them and continued to build this community.
Whether you are talking about a village, a city, a county, a state or an entire country, the eventual success of any community cannot be attributed to the founders alone.
It must be attributed to the hardworking people who followed in the steps of the founders — the immigrants who continued to work, to farm and to build businesses and establish neighborhoods, schools and churches. The process of building a strong, vibrant community is never ending.
The success and prosperity of a community will rise, and fall based on many outside factors; national recessions and depressions. Business closures and relocations have devastated our community, but we always unite and pull together to overcome our shared problems.
Within the past 10 years, the unemployment rate in Clinton County went from less than 5 percent to nearly 20 percent. It is now, once more, less than 5 percent. Together we can survive, thrive and celebrate.
This weekend, we will celebrate our agricultural heritage at the Clinton County Corn Festival. Whether your family was one of the founding families of Clinton County, your family immigrated into the county decades ago or you moved into the community just recently, come to the fairgrounds and celebrate together.
Because, together, we have made this community a great place to call home.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.