Oklahoma’s small towns fight people leaving, work to keep history alive

The unique community of Lone Wolf in Oklahoma is hanging on as it tries to transition from survival to prosperity. In doing so, she undergoes a transformation similar to many of her peers in the state. “We have one business left, and that’s CJ here around the corner,” Lone Wolf resident Don Godfrey said of his hometown. He was born in 1932 in Lone Wolf, when it was a big community. “We just lived in a small two-room house. The dust would only fill the house. You have to get a shovel and shovel it. Incredible. It was dry. It didn’t rain,” he said. Lone Wolf, named after a Kiowa chief, has changed a lot since the 1930s. More than 1,000 people lived there then. Most of them have left. Fewer than 400 people now call the southwestern Oklahoma town home. Almost all businesses have closed. “I have vivid memories of their prosperity,” Lone Wolf Mayor Renae Vitale said. She grew up in Lone Wolf. “It was an old car wash and that’s where we used to hang out in high school,” she said. Now she said, “It’s so different. When I grew up, we had two grocery stores, a butcher, a hardware store. Our main street was really lined with these businesses. The city is trying to rescue stories from the past and bring them to the present. They have saved pieces of a recently demolished bank and will display them in the community park, where it used to be. “So we are trying to redirect things. Something that matches where we are now,” Vitale said. Lone Wolf is not alone. “It is very worrying. I’m a small town boy. I’m from Burlington, Oklahoma, a city of 157 and I had 10 in my class,” Commerce Department Executive Director Brent Kisling said. “I appreciate this lifestyle. I also appreciate the importance it has for our economy – not just Oklahoma but nationally.” People are moving from many rural locations to urban and suburban areas . Commerce Department data shows that Cardin has lost 46 people over the past decade, or 100% of its population. Pitcher and other communities experienced similar losses. OKC and Tulsa and their suburbs saw big gains. “It’s the very remote areas – that’s where we had the biggest problem,” Kisling said. Kisling said not only do these remote areas hold the state’s rich and unique history, but their impact was anything but minimal. “We have electricity today. Most of that electricity will be generated in rural America,” he said. “Every time we come home tonight and have dinner, that food was produced in rural Oklahoma and rural America. These things don’t just happen with robots. You have to have people there to maintain those natural resources. How do you keep people in small towns? “A lot has happened to put rural America in this kind of strange place,” said Tom Mueller, assistant research professor at the University of Oklahoma. rural places…and things haven’t necessarily moved in to fill that void, so there just aren’t a lot of jobs. One of the biggest issues is jobs. “A lot of people are leaving these rural areas and going to college now, but there aren’t necessarily jobs back home afterwards,” he said. One thing that Lone Wolf and other communities have that gives them a fighting chance is good schools. Lone Wolf has about 130 children enrolled. “Our enrollment has increased by 30%,” Vitale said. As long as the school is thriving, families want to live there, even if there aren’t too many jobs in town. “We really are a dormitory community,” Vitale said. “You find a job where you need it to further your career and come home at night. You are home at night and home on weekends. The city is striving to redefine its future while staying true to its roots. “They still deliver mail here,” Godfrey said. “These are the great outdoors. You don’t have traffic problems. But not all small towns will make it. Still, Vitale doesn’t see such a thing happening to Lone Wolf anytime soon. Another saving grace for small towns – online shopping sites such as Amazon. Every time someone enters an address for a place like Lone Wolf, that place collects sales tax on the purchase.

Oklahoma’s unique Lone Wolf community hangs on as it tries to transition from survival to prosperity.

In doing so, he undergoes a transformation similar to many of his peers in the state.

“We have one business left, and that’s CJ here around the corner,” Lone Wolf resident Don Godfrey said of his hometown.

He was born in 1932 in Lone Wolf, when it was a big community.

“We just lived in a small two-room house. The dust would only fill the house. You have to get a shovel and shovel it. Incredible. It was dry. It didn’t rain,” he said.

Lone Wolf, named after a Kiowa chief, has changed a lot since the 1930s. More than 1,000 people lived there then. Most of them have left.

Fewer than 400 people now call the southwestern Oklahoma town home. Almost all businesses have closed down.

“I have vivid memories of its prosperity,” Lone Wolf Mayor Renae Vitale said.

She grew up in Lone Wolf.

“It was an old car wash and that’s where we used to hang out in high school,” she said.

Now she said, “It’s so different. When I grew up, we had two grocery stores, a butcher, a hardware store. Our main street was really lined with these businesses.

The city is trying to rescue stories from the past and bring them back to the present. They have saved pieces of a recently demolished bank and will display them in the community park, where it used to be.

“So we are trying to redirect things. Something that matches where we are now,” Vitale said.

Lone Wolf is not alone.

“It is very worrying. I’m a small town boy. I’m from Burlington, Oklahoma, a city of 157 and I had 10 in my class,” Commerce Department Executive Director Brent Kisling said. “I appreciate that lifestyle. I also appreciate the importance it has to our economy – not just in Oklahoma but across the country.

People are moving from many rural locations to urban and suburban areas. Commerce Department data shows that Cardin has lost 46 people over the past decade, or 100% of its population. Pitcher and other communities experienced similar losses. OKC and Tulsa and their suburbs saw big gains.

“It’s the very remote areas – that’s where we had the biggest problem,” Kisling said.

Kisling said not only do these remote areas hold the state’s rich and unique history, but their impact was anything but minimal.

“We have electricity today. Most of that electricity will be generated in rural America,” he said. “Every time we come home tonight and have dinner, that food was produced in rural Oklahoma and rural America. These things don’t just happen with robots. You have to have people there to maintain those natural resources.

How do you keep people in small towns?

“A lot has happened to put rural America in this kind of strange place,” said Tom Mueller, assistant research professor at the University of Oklahoma.

For example, he said, “we’ve seen manufacturing largely pull out of a lot of rural places…and things haven’t necessarily moved in to fill that void, so there’s just not a lot of jobs.”

Employment is one of the biggest problems.

“A lot of people are leaving these rural areas and going to college now, but there aren’t necessarily jobs back home afterwards,” he said.

One thing that Lone Wolf and some other communities have that gives them a fighting chance is good schools.

Lone Wolf has about 130 children enrolled.

“Our enrollment has increased by 30%,” Vitale said.

As long as the school is thriving, families want to live there, even if there aren’t too many jobs in town.

“We really are a dormitory community,” Vitale said. “You find a job where you need it to further your career and come home at night. You are home at night and home on weekends.

The city is working to redefine its future while remaining true to its roots.

“They still deliver mail here,” Godfrey said. “These are the great outdoors. You don’t have traffic problems.

But not all small towns will make it. Still, Vitale doesn’t see such a thing happening to Lone Wolf anytime soon.

Another saving grace for small towns – online shopping sites such as Amazon. Every time someone enters an address for a place like Lone Wolf, that place collects sales tax on the purchase.

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