As I stared out the window on Highway 70, I realized, ironically unlike Dorothy, I was in Kansas. Last November, before COVID-19’s breakout, I had the amazing and unique opportunity to not only visit, but also experience a community unlike the one that I’ve lived in my entire life. For two weeks I lived, went to school and experienced life in a town with a population barely surpassing 900. I lived in the town of Quinter, Kan., which is roughly 565 miles west of St. Louis.
When I was younger, I lived in Sydney, Australia, with tall buildings and city life right outside my window. Comparing St. Louis to a metropolis such as Sydney or New York would be unreasonable; however, St. Louis still has a feeling that resembles an urban area. Living in quite literally “the middle of nowhere,” Kansas was quite different.
My reason for visiting such a secluded, distant and practically unknown place was to experience a new way of life. My plans were met with question and backlash, but if I had listened to the haters, then I would have never found such a welcoming and warm-hearted community.
The first idea that popped into my mind when the trip was confirmed: there would be no Jewish people. This initally worried me, but as I got closer to the homestay, I became intrigued with the world of Catholicism and looked forward to comparing it with Judaism.
During my two-week stay, I had the opportunity to attend two Sunday masses and two Wednesday religious study sessions. To my delight, the teacher created an environment so that I wouldn’t be uncomfortable or feel awkward. The meal that was to be served was kosher chicken instead of their usual pork hot dogs or other non-kosher food. Even though I was asked about Judaism, I was never in any discomfort as everyone who I met was sincerely accepting of me and seemingly anyone else who ventured through this small town.
What I loved the most was that I was never excluded or thought of as an outsider; I was immediately accepted into the Quinter family. Throughout my stay, I visited an array of farms, including dairy and cattle ones as well as a feeding lot and a chemical plant. In addition, I attended a cattle auction, where groups of cows were bid upon and sold for prices exceeding $10,000. Learning about the life of farmers and the business of farming was very interesting. I learned that farming is not only a very lucrative business, but one that is tremendously expensive. The amount of money that goes into equipment, feed and chemicals used to sustain a single family’s lifestyle is considerable.
When I attended school in Quinter, all the teachers and students did not view me as an observer, but a participant, as well as a valued member of the community.
During my experience, I became so attached and integrated into a society that was the polar opposite from the one I knew in St. Louis. What attracted me so much to this new lifestyle was the town’s morals and definition of community. For instance, in athletics, the whole town would come out to support the one and only sports team it had: the Quinter Bulldogs, the high school’s football team.
The idea of coming together as a community during not only the good, but bad times shows the strength of the bonds, connections and relationships that are held in the small town that most would miss while driving through the great Midwest. The values that rest in Quinter are some that one would never find in the big city. I am so fortunate to have been able to have visited such an obscure place yet one that’s rich in ethics and kindness. If you ever find yourself on Highway 70 in Kansas, I recommend getting off at Exit 107 to go visit this hidden gem of the Great Plains.