Rural Missouri - June 2011 - (Page 29)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 109 people lived in Plato in 2010. That’s just one more than what turned out for this town photo following a home baseball game in May. In the middle of nowhere Plato, Mo., is now the center of population for the United States by Jason Jenkins “We’ve been kind of overwhelmed with all the news media,” says the 66-year-old retired staking engineer from Intercounty Electric Cooperative, which provides electricity to the village. “Some have asked what it’s like to live in the middle of nowhere, and I tell them, we live in the middle of everywhere.” Bob says Plato is like a lot of little rural towns. The village struggles to make ends meet. Plato receives gas tax from the state and the proceeds of a 1 percent village sales tax. Problem is, it’s been tough in recent years to keep businesses in town. Plato still has a bank, a post office, a little café and a welding shop, but other businesses are few and far between. The grocery store closed last year, the gas station the year before that. It’s been even longer since a doctor has hung a shingle in town. Depending on your carrier, you may or may not have cell phone reception Plato in Plato, and you’re still more apt to find dial-up as your connection to the Internet, though DSL is available. “The school is the only thing that really keeps us alive,” says Bob. “Not much else goes on.” The Plato R-V School District, home of the Eagles, comprises about 300 square miles, making it one of the largest districts by size in the entire state. About 650 students in preschool through 12th grade come to Plato for school each day from nine communities within the district. Some will spend up to an hour each morning and afternoon riding a school bus. Because of its location near the “back gate” of every L ike most rural communities across Missouri, the village of Plato has lived in relative obscurity for most of its existence. This little town of about 100 residents, nestled in the Ozark hills along the banks of the Roubidoux River in Texas County, has gone about its business with little to no fanfare since it was first settled in 1874. No one truly world-famous has come out of Plato; no one infamous either, thankfully. The bank was robbed a few years ago. That made the news, as did the boy’s baseball team winning the state championship in 2005. But otherwise, while Plato was on the map, it was off the radar. That is, until this March, when it was announced that the new center of population — the point at which an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all residents counted in the 2010 Census were of identical weight — was located just east of town. It marked the fourth time a Missouri town has held the distinction, following De Soto in 1980, Steelville in 1990 and Edgar Springs in 2000. Since the U.S. Census Bureau announced the new distinction, there’s been a buzz around Plato as all sorts of people have been asking questions about the town, says Bob Biram, a lifelong resident and the village’s board chairman. • Fort Leonard Wood, Plato has become a bedroom community for military personnel, both active and retired. What Plato may lack in services, its residents more than make up for in volunteerism and concern for the community. “People here really care and go all out to help their neighbors — and anyone is their neighbor,” says Barbara Hurley, Plato’s postmaster since 2001. “If they know of a need, they’re always there.” Bob adds that the town is 100 percent volunteer supported, from the leadership on the town board to those maintaining the streets and sewer system. “You don’t have to be here very long to realize how these people lean on one another,” said Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, following a ceremony in May when federal, state and local officials unveiled the official monument marking the center of population. “There is a spirit in this village that doesn’t take long to pick up.” Groves identified access to broadband Internet as the most pressing need for rural America. Surrounded by friends, family and the beauty of Missouri’s Ozarks, it seems that for most Plato residents, it’s easy to live without the day-to-day conveniences many Missourians take for granted. “Some might think we’re missing something because we’re small, but for the life of me, I don’t know what that would be,” said Bob during the monument unveiling ceremony. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” Learn more about the Census at JUNE 2011 29

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - June 2011

Rural Missouri - June 2011
In the beginning
The Missouri Lyon hunt
Mail Bag
Beaver Creek Paylake & Fish Fry
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
In the middle of everywhere
Around Missouri
Restoring Stover

Rural Missouri - June 2011