Just an hour southeast of Indianapolis, Rushville is a town without a mall, movie theater or Korean restaurant. Its population of 6,000 is ever shrinking as more and more youth choose to leave in search of greater opportunities.
Rushville is not the only small town seeing a population decline. Anne Bell, communications manager for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs in Indianapolis, says youth are moving away from many small towns in the state.
“I think one issue facing youth in rural communities is opportunities. If they are in an aging community, they may feel that there’s nothing for them there,” she said. “A lot of times the younger professionals, there aren’t very many of them and there’s not a whole lot for them there ’cause it’s a family-based environment.”
Even with limited prospects, young adults rarely leave the place where they have grown up without any regrets. A trip to Rushville revealed that youth are torn between two ideals – the small caring hometown of their childhoods and the big wide world of their futures.
Taylor Edwards, 19, graduated from Rushville Consolidated High School last year and is attending Ball State University in Muncie. She would like to return to Rushville after she gets her degree but knows that probably won’t happen.
“I like Rushville. It’s where my family is, but the job opportunities won’t be here, the ones I’m looking for,” she said. “Like if I had a perfect job here, I would live here because it’s so safe.”
Taylor is not the only one who enjoys the protective environment of her small town. To her and the other youth there, Rushville is a comfortable place where no one locks their doors. It’s also socially safe.
“Everyone knows each other, so everyone’s pretty much comfortable around each other. It’s pretty easygoing. I think that’s the way it should be,” said Corey Bostic, 18, a senior at Rushville High School.
This familiarity with one another creates a close-knit atmosphere that youth find reassuring.
“People have a lot of trust in other people here. At the place I work, some people are like, ‘OK, I’ll come back in half an hour, pick up my food.’ So they pay for it and come back. It’s like people just are good here,” Taylor said.
This faithfulness also is shown in the educational system. Students say they have close relationships with their teachers and counselors.
Mitch Columbe, 19, who graduated last year and is attending Vincennes University, said his counselors really helped him figure out where he wanted to go.
“The counselors like have all these scholarships laid out in the counselor’s office for people to come by and just check them out and read the literature on them. They can talk to us whenever we need,” he said.
“The counselors know you personally,” Taylor agreed. “They know your name in the hallway if you see them, and they can always help you.”
But Rushville’s small size has proven detrimental to students’ lives outside of school. The youth find themselves stuck repeating the same weekend activities—Mexican food and Pizza King.
“We didn’t have any Mexican restaurants a few years ago, and then we got this El Reparo in town, and everyone goes there because we don’t have anywhere else. We don’t even have a mall here. All we have is Wal-Mart,” said Taylor.
“It’s pretty dead at nighttime,” added Trevor Owen, 18, a senior. “There’s nothing to do at all.”
Youth in Rushville have to travel to surrounding towns when they want to catch a movie or go shopping. The closest bigger city is Shelbyville, 20 minutes away.
There are other downsides to living in a small community, including the xenophobic attitudes and behaviors of some residents and students. The town has very few minorities.
“My friends have been affected by bullying before because they are younger or they’ve worn something that was different. Especially one of my friends, he gets made fun of all the time because of what he wears and he gets called really bad names,” Taylor said.
Most of the students are looking forward to life outside of Rushville. Taylor eventually wants to end up at film school. Mitch wants to go into broadcast journalism. Trevor wants to study graphic design. Luther Bailey, 18, a senior, has enlisted in the Army.
However, some students want to stay in Rushville. Ryan Herbert, 18, a senior, plans to work with local farmers. He’s been taking welding classes at the vocational school.
“I plan on doing something in welding,” Ryan said. “More farmers in Rushville need help.”
Janna Green, 18, a senior, is bound for the University of Southern Indiana. She’ll be on the softball team and plans to major in geriatrics or business management of nursing homes. She could return to Rushville and work in the nursing home that she’s working in now, but she’s not planning to.
“I have no intentions of coming back here,” she said. “My mom and dad definitely will stick around, so I’ll be in and out, but like I said, I have no intentions of coming back, raising a family or living here. I just see myself in a bigger town with more opportunities.”
Most of the students do not see themselves returning either. They want larger communities where they can find more work and try new activities.
“Economically, Rushville’s getting smaller,” explained Luther.
However, Mitch says he really enjoys living in the country and would like to return eventually.
“After I retire, I just think this would be a cool county to live in because it’s real subtle, it’s real quiet, everybody minds their own business,” he said.
For most of the students, Rushville will always have a special place in their hearts. They enjoy the safe environment and friendly people and are proud of its farming heritage.
However, what youth most value about Rushville are the loved ones who will remain.
“This is comfort. This is where family is,” said Janna.
Editor Justin Byers, 19, contributed to this story.