Roscoe, S.D., is different from a lot of rural communities. While many small towns
are considered “bedroom communities,” the town of 324 is anything but that.
“I always think Roscoe is a working town,” said Patty Beyers, co-owner of Dakota Insurance Solutions.
Beyers, who herself lives several miles out of town, said most of the employees of Roscoe’s businesses travel to the community 40 miles west of Aberdeen on Highway 12 during business hours, and then leave town to sleep.
“What we lack in people living here, the businesses and the people working here (make up for),” she said, indicating the community is “fuller” than the 324 people noted on the town’s population sign. “People sleep somewhere else, and they come here to work. I think it’s really unusual that a town our size has that. … It’s a very different kind of a community; it’s a very busy town.”
Nearly everyone who does live in town, according to Beyers, owns one of the community’s businesses. A large factor in that phenomenon, she said, was a past housing crisis that coincided with the development of the community’s business district, as well as uncertainty in the future of the school. The Roscoe and Hosmer school districts consolidated in 1991, creating the Edmunds Central School District, postponing worries about school closure. Although a housing development was discussed two years ago, nothing has happened so far.
“When we’ve needed houses, older people have gone into nursing homes or assisted livings, and their houses have become available” to accommodate some of the need, Beyers said. “(Housing development is) probably something that should be done, because we have so many people working here. We probably have the people to fill the houses, but will they? Maybe a new school would help, because it would show promise for the school district.”
The Edmunds Central School campus has undergone multiple additions since the original, two-story schoolhouse was built in 1919, and Superintendent Shawn Yates said it is time that the community take another proactive step to protect the assets
that currently serve 140 students.
“In order to do what we need to do here for our students, we need to stay on top of things,” the second-year superintendent said. “We need to be more proactive than reactive and get to the point that we say, ‘We have no choice; we have to do something, or we close.’ I don’t want kids in trailers with the winters we have here.”
A public hearing was set for late February to discuss a potential $8.5 million building project that would include a new cafeteria, competition-size gym and classroom space, and would replace the original building and a 1950s addition. A small gym, immediately surrounded by classrooms, would remain, but the space is inadequate for hosting tournaments and larger athletic events.
“In a small community, you need a competition (or second) gym,” said Yates, noting that the layout of the 1960s-era building makes renovation of the gym and surrounding space difficult.
Currently, some basketball practices happen as early as 6 a.m., because the school has just one gym, and the girls’ and boys’ seasons now happen concurrently.
“With Wednesday night church and other commitments, there’s no time to be able to fit two practices in” after school, he said.
Although any plans for improvements to the school’s facilities are preliminary, the spirit of Roscoe is one of pioneerism.
“Maintaining the status quo—‘it’s good enough’—doesn’t work,” said Patty Beyers, quoting her father, who retired from farming in his 60s, when he realized change was inevitable, despite his desire to cling to the practices he’d always used.
“Good enough” is not a way of life for the Beyers family.
“When you’re farming,” Patty Beyers said, “your life is where your land is.”
So, when John Beyers decided to hang up his farm cap and purchase the bank at which he’d worked the previous 33 years, he handed down the family farm to the couple’s five sons, all of whom still live in the Roscoe area. Their two daughters live in Aberdeen and Ipswich, so all 32 Beyers descendants live within an hour of the farm.
“We’re pretty vested in the community,” Patty Beyers said.
Last year, the Beyers family made its commitment to the future of Roscoe obvious when John Beyers broke ground on a new bank building.
“The community has been good to us,” John Beyers said. “We have family here. We have friends here. We have a school here. We have churches here. If the bank doesn’t take a stand, everything else eventually goes by the wayside. We have to be the leader of the community.”
Investing in the community is the duty of local businesses, he said.
“You give back to your community; that’s what we’re here for,” John Beyers said. “You give back to your community and your family.”
Farmers in general have given much to the little town on the prairie that supports their business endeavors.
“It’s definitely farming that has built this town,” Patty Beyers said. “We have quite a few very large, prosperous farmers, and we have a lot of loyalty to the Roscoe area.”
Loyalty is another term synonymous with Roscoe, according to those who own businesses there.
Many clients of Sandra Beyers Photography travel to partake of the services Sandra Beyers provides, and she works hard to ensure that her clients don’t just shop at her business, which is among the top 10 customers of a major printing lab in the Twin Cities. Beyers (who is John and Patty Beyers’ daughter-in-law) routinely hands her clients discount and gift cards to the local restaurants, boutique and coffee shop, and she knows they do the same for her.
“We want our people who have driven 45 miles to see what else we have in town, because we have a lot,” she said. “We have people who want to see us succeed, and we try to lift up other businesses. … I don’t know if other small communities have that kind of relationship between businesses, but we do, and I think that’s one of the things that makes our community more successful than others, as far as businesses.”
She and others are hopeful that community support will keep Roscoe alive long term—not just for the current generation.
“We want to be a growing, progressive community,” Sandra Beyers said. “We don’t want to be a dying small town, because this is our home for our kids … and we want our families to want to be here, to stay here and to thrive here. … We don’t want to be the community (whose) kids can’t wait to be out of here.”
That type of support is exactly what brought Megan Garner home last year.
“I worked 10 years in a busy emergency room,” said Garner. “I needed a break. I needed something with a different stress level. I like that fast pace, but I really just needed a change.”
While visiting family last winter, Garner took notice of the local gas station building, which had sat empty on the south side of Highway 12 for the past two years, and quickly formed a plan to turn her hobbies into a business that filled a niche in Roscoe, purchasing the building within 24 hours.
Trendy Threads opened last June, and Garner said she quickly found herself too busy to keep up with the part-time nursing home work she was doing in nearby Bowdle. The business consists of refurbished furniture and textiles created by Garner and others, as well as—tellingly—“trendy threads” for women and children, jewelry, cards and décor, as well as a full coffee bar with ice cream treats.
Opening a niche business in such a small town was a gamble, according to Garner, but it’s one she feels she has won.
“To be honest, I made amazing money as a nurse in Minnesota, and here, it’s nothing compared to that, but that didn’t make me happy at all, and I’m very happy here,” she said. “There’s definitely value in … support from the community.”
Trendy Threads doesn’t just bring a familiar face back to Roscoe; it also fills a void left when the grocery store, which carried cards and gifts, closed last summer.
“(The locals) come here to buy anything they can, instead of traveling out of town—especially cards and gifts,” said Garner. “I knew it would be OK to open a business in Roscoe because of how supportive Roscoe is to their local businesses.”
The support of a tightknit community made it no surprise when the call to fund new playground equipment at the local park, that the response was better than imagined.
Funding for fun
When Sandra Beyers and other members of the Roscoe Commercial Club initially looked through playground equipment catalogs in April 2013, they only dreamed of
providing a jungle gym on which the children of Roscoe could learn, play and make memories.
“We don’t have a lot for our kids. We have a baseball program, but we don’t have a local pool … and we … have a lot of young families and a lot of kids, so I think people recognized that it was something that was … worth it,” she said. “We decided (to) shoot for $50,000. … We had $85,000 in a matter of a month, and that was completely donated by the people who live here and the businesses here.”
With additional funds coming in the following month and a $40,000 grant, a $120,000 playground was erected at the town’s only park that July. Sandra Beyers said the success of the request for financial support came in its rarity.
“We don’t have a lot of local fundraisers,” she said. “We provide what we need for our community, and we don’t ask outside communities to come in and support us, either. … People were willing to give because they knew it was an important project that made sense.”
And those same businesses are investing in the youth of Roscoe in other ways, too.
FOCUS on the future
Although Edmunds Central runs a four-day school week, local educators and businesspeople are working together to provide their youths with a unique learning opportunity on Fridays.
“’FOCUS Fridays’ is an acronym for Finding Our Creative and Useful Skills, which really is what we want for our kids,” Yates said. “We want to give them opportunities to try new things … and find areas that they may be passionate about.”
This semester, those areas include photography, karate, welding, worldwide animal studies, and “mental” games like chess, among others. Starting this school year, students in preschool through high school could sign up for age-appropriate programming that met six different Friday afternoons throughout the year, usually in conjunction with Friday morning “student help days.”
Yates said the positive response for the program so far proves its importance.
“As a rural (school), we may not be able to offer all of these things as a class for the one or two students who might be interested, but here’s an opportunity so they can at least … see if that’s something that (interests) them,” he said. “Anytime you’ve got three-quarters of your students coming in to the school on a day when they could be sitting at home and watching TV or playing video games, that speaks volumes. To get them out of bed and out of their house on a 30-below Friday afternoon … and they’re excited … that’s so much fun to see. … That’s why we’re educators.”
And the program is allowing people like Sandra Beyers to become educators themselves.
“She’s certainly giving up some of her time, but at the same time, she’s helping fuel the passion for someone else,” Yates said. “We aren’t going far, but we’re getting them out to see different areas and aspects of our community, and showing them that we do offer a lot of opportunities. … It’s a fantastic opportunity … to spark an interest and show how they can (stay) in these areas. … While it brings an extra level of busyness and time, it’s certainly worthwhile.”
An unintended home
Yates said his own interest in the Roscoe community was sparked quickly. When he was hired at Edmunds Central last year, he initially planned to commute from Aberdeen daily, but plans changed.
“It didn’t take me long to see the commitment that people have here, and the belief (and pride) that they have in their community,” so he moved his family of six to town before the start of the 2013-14 school year. “I recognized the commitment of the people who were here already, and that affects us. I wanted to be a part of that, and I want my family to be a part of that. I’m excited about what the future holds for Roscoe.”
Chef Dennis Grau never dreamed his future would be in Roscoe when he followed his parents to town upon their retirement and opened 3 Paws Baking Co. Initially, he did a little baking, and at the urging of others in town, he eventually began offering lunch and dinner specials.
“This was supposed to just be a stopping point before I went back to the West Coast,” Grau said, “but the economy just never came back.”
Instead, the restaurant has become a “stopping point” for travelers along Highway 12.
“We do eclectic Americana,” Grau explained. “We couldn’t be more in the middle of the country, as far as coming to a melting pot, and our food reflects that.”
Now, Grau is looking to the future in Roscoe, and is changing his business’s name to reflect how it has “put Roscoe on the map,” by naming it The D: 57471.
“I’m proud to have created a destination spot,” Grau said. “I have people who, when they get off an airplane to visit family, I’m the first place they visit.”
Patty Beyers said small communities like Roscoe offer limitless opportunities, but keeping them alive is the duty of everyone in town.
“It is very possible to make as a good of a living—or a better living—in a small town,” she said. “You can make a good living in a small town, but in order to keep that small town going and active and growing, you have to be willing to put money—(and) time and effort—back into your small town. You can’t just take from it, or it won’t be there. … The small towns that I have seen, it appears that—as it starts to get small—people hang on tighter and tighter and tighter to (their personal finance), and they choke the life right out of it. Roscoe has done very well at giving back.”