Lemmon Squeezes the Most out of Community Life
By: Andrea Schmidt
Optimism. Creativity. Hard work. Committed citizens. It all adds up to a growing, thriving community, even in the most unlikely of places.
Lemmon is a community of just over 1,200 people. It sits in extreme northern South Dakota in the western part of the state, surrounded by endless prairie and open sky. Like many rural communities, Lemmon has seen its share of difficulties. Its population declined by 25% between 1990 and 2010. Many houses were dilapidated, and the overall attitude was the acceptance that the town just couldn’t turn things around. It was a dying town.
Today, all that has changed. Lemmon is seeing a revitalization. More young people are returning after getting their educations. There is a thriving art community – with growing tourism as a result. They are building a new school that will open in 2021. The town even has new businesses, including a grocery store that brings in people from much of the surrounding area.
Improving the housing situation is the personal mission of Cathy Evans, Executive Director of the Lemmon Housing Authority. She was tired of seeing old, rundown houses in her community, which is why she joined the city council as well.
“Just this last year, we’ve torn down 11 houses, and then we put six more on the list for this fall and winter,” she says. “We built a fourplex last year, and that had the town abuzz.”
They built the fourplex with some of their own seed money and an additional $568,000 which they borrowed from two places. They got half from a zero-interest loan from the South Dakota Housing Opportunity. The other half was a Community Development Loan from Dakota Resources.
Lemmon and Evans had an existing relationship with Dakota Resources. They have taken advantage of Community Coaching, and Evans is part of the Learning Network. That created a level of trust. Plus, Evans says the Community Development Loan process was very simple.
“The Dakota Resources loan is an unsecured loan, so I didn’t have near the paperwork I did with South Dakota Housing. Dakota Resources was just, kaboom, and it was all done for me. I believe they really did their homework on Lemmon Housing – we had to provide financial statements and do an extensive interview – but it was so easy.”
Continued investing in the housing community
All the units in the fourplex are occupied now, and there is a a waiting list to get in. Evans says the once they have their loans paid off, the Housing Authority will invest in more housing.
They currently own several lots in town, and they are willing to donate them to a family who wants to build there.
“We’ve got that offer out there for someone who wants to build a house,” Evans explains. “I’m okay with that because that house is going to generate great taxes in a few years. Plus we’ll put in a new sidewalk, and new garage, it makes the whole place look nicer. We actually have a young couple who is interested in those lots.”
The attractions of Lemmon
Lemmon has a definite advantage when it comes to attracting people – a thriving art community. John Lopez is a native of Lemmon who has made a name for himself, creating large format sculpture out of scrap metal. He turned an old bar into an art gallery and studio called the Kokomo Inn Gallery. It attracts people from all over while serving as a sort of cultural center for the town. While people are there, they often visit the Petrified Wood Park and Museum, and the Shadehill Reservoir, where Hugh Glass had his famous run-in with a grizzly bear.
Evans credits the Kokomo gallery for bringing people to Lemmon, and finds hope for the future in its visitors. “I really believe that the arts are important for every community. It brings in tourism. It brings in people to your community. They see how great it is, and maybe someday they’ll want to live here.”
Message to the young: You don’t have to leave to succeed
Evans is encouraged by the number of younger people who are choosing to come back to Lemmon after getting an education or beginning their careers elsewhere. Because of the excellent Internet service, people can work for any company and live in Lemmon – something that became more apparent during the recent pandemic.
“It used to be that you’d encourage your children to work hard in high school, go to college and have a career, but you have to leave to have that career,” she says. “Now, it’s different. In our family, we have three of our four kids living close now. They’re all very successful. Even our daughter who works for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester is coming to visit, and she can work from here. I’m crossing my fingers that she will come back if that’s what she wants to do.”
What is your community doing to encourage people to stay? Have you made positive changes during the pandemic? Tell us about it! Share at [email protected].