They’re known far and wide as The Fighting Quakers.
The irony isn’t lost on the fiercely proud students and alumni of Ohio’s historic Wilmington College. Founded in 1870 by the Religious Society of Friends, Wilmington College is the “warp and woof” of rural Clinton County; its largest employer since a huge delivery company suspended domestic operations in 2008, leaving nearly 10,000 people across seven counties without jobs.
In spite of everything, the “fight” never left this peaceful little town. Shoulders to the wheel, Wilmington’s citizens have repurposed their community, keeping mom-and-pop businesses alive through a stalwart “Buy Local” campaign and attracting new business to the area through old-fashioned grassroots marketing. Their efforts have paid off. The county’s unemployment rate has dropped from a 2010 high of nearly 20 percent to about 9.7 percent today.
That momentum continues.
"I'm standing up here today with goose bumps," College President Jim Reynolds recently told a packed meeting room on campus. "The reason for that is I'm looking at a bunch of students and some of our alumni and I think about our traditions and some of the things we will do in the future because of what we can accomplish by starting this project and building this building."
This building is Kettering Hall, which is the recently-announced beneficiary of a $19.7 million USDA Community Facilities loan. Originally constructed in 1960, Kettering Hall houses the school’s Agriculture and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. It has good “bones,” but lacks air conditioning and adequate restroom facilities and is non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The bulk of the direct loan will be used to renovate existing space and build an addition to support the college’s flourishing Ag program, which has seen a 55-percent year-over-year enrollment increase the past four years.
"This is especially good news for Clinton County. The synergy here among the members of the community is impressive," said Housing and Community Facilities Administrator Tammye Treviño, who traveled from Washington, D.C., for the event. "This is a genuine ‘Phoenix rising from the ashes’ kind of story. When you consider the focus of the 2009 episode of 60 Minutes called 'Economic Storm Batters Ohio Town' – well – we think 60 Minutes needs to come back here now and do another story!"
Treviño noted that construction is anticipated to infuse an estimated $2.25 million into the local economy. Coupled with an expected continued increase in enrollments and new faculty hires needed as a result, the community stands to reap ongoing, significant economic benefits from the Kettering Hall project. And that, said Treviño, is good news for all.
"If rural America is to continue to be the source of food for the rest of America, and for larger portions of the world, and if we are to continue to invest in our country's energy source and energy needs, then there is a natural investment in those projects that enhance opportunities; especially opportunities that are afforded by state-of-the art facilities in education in rural America," said Treviño. "And, as education is a critical component of world prosperity, the USDA's partnership with you today signifies our faith in you and in rural America."
For Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley and others gathered at the announcement, that faith is well deserved, and he promises more positive news from The Fighting Quakers.
"We have taken a lot of steps together and we've been smacked in the head a lot," he laughed. "Tammye is right when she talks about 60 Minutes coming back. Bring ’em on - we've got a lot of great things going on here!"
To read more about the project, click here.