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Published: Monday, 12/9/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

Fayette focuses on community life

New Normal Project works to re-create relationships

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kathleen Fix, left, and Julie Miller look at photographs and postcards of Fayette that date from the late 1800s to the present. The Normal Project, a patchwork of initiatives and programs, aims to develop what an organizer describes as Fayette’s social capital. Kathleen Fix, left, and Julie Miller look at photographs and postcards of Fayette that date from the late 1800s to the present. The Normal Project, a patchwork of initiatives and programs, aims to develop what an organizer describes as Fayette’s social capital.
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FAYETTE — With conversation, with the conversion of a building into a history center, and with concentration on a slate of new projects, the village of Fayette in Fulton County wants to re-create the sense of community life.

“We want to re-engage the community,” said Tom Spiess, director of the Fayette Community Fine Arts Council, as he sat at a table in the Fayette Opera House, a home-away-from-home of sorts for him and other residents who have pumped countless volunteer hours into the popular place that hums with a variety of performances and productions.

Now, under an umbrella called the Normal Project, organizers are stitching together common threads through a patchwork of ideas, initiatives, and programs to develop what Mr. Spiess describes as Fayette’s social capital.

The new Normal Project refers to both the former Fayette Normal College of Business and Music (the name survives in the town’s Normal Memorial Library) and “The New Normal,” a concept developed by author Robert Putnam as he examined how communities are built and sustained in the 21st century.

The project’s goal is to strengthen Fayette’s sense of community by providing forums for civic discussion; engaging youth in acting, dancing, singing, and other such activities, and reaching out to new audiences to participate in the opera house programs.

On a recent day, Mayor Ruth B. Marlatt popped in and out of the opera house, kitty-corner from the new Bean Creek Valley History Center, seeking tools to help decorate the new center that will benefit from an event next week as part of Seasons’ Rambles.

Initiated in 2013 in conjunction with the emerging history center, the rambles series aims to restore the understanding of community and how residents work together to build confidence and trust. Every ramble, whether held in town or on the road, has food and fellowship on the agenda.

Colleen Grisier Rufenacht, who lives five miles south of Fayette in the Bean Creek delta, views the new history center as about people first. “Its purpose is not to be a museum,” she said, but rather a place where people can gather to discuss history, share stories. A place where residents talk to one another and learn from each other. Archival materials, a research library, Internet access, and a printer will be available at the center, but “the true purpose is people,” she said.

The Bean Creek Valley History Center, housed in a storefront on Main Street, will be operated by local and regional residents of the Bean Creek Valley. While its focus is on history, it will collaborate with the arts council to develop stories and events that depict the history and traditions of this region of Ohio and Michigan. Fayette is 40 miles west of Toledo.

The “let’s talk it over” focus will be played out, in part, through the new Steinem-Nyce Series, dedicated to civil discussions and civic engagement at the local level. The series is named after two Fayette residents, the late Dr. Robert Nyce and Bill Steinem (first cousin to Gloria Steinem).

Other history to be shared involves the years when an elephant lived in Fayette — to help set up tents. A new play commissioned by the arts council will tell the story of the Norma Ginnivan Tent Show, which featured a three-act play and vaudeville-style skits. It traveled during the summer months within a 90-mile radius of Fayette until 1942, when it shut down.

Plans also call for a summer theater program where teens create and perform Up the Creek, about growing up in the Bean Creek Valley. Assisting with that facet will be Susan Burke of Sarasota, Fla., a Fayette high school graduate. Immediate past executive director of the Florida Arts Alliance in Education, she recently created a Web site, operahouse-fayette.org. She is active in the Normal Project as well.

Although Fayette is a crossroads community of about 1,300 residents, thousands of people travel through the town each day. Getting motorists to stop and shop, dine, or take in a theater production has been a longtime goal. And, for years, Fayette residents have worked hard to put a positive spin on the town — enough spin to put Fayette on the radar.

Although rich in culture and history, and known as a creative community, Fayette is on the lowest rung, income wise, in Fulton County, Mr. Spiess noted.

“Everyone is wishing for good jobs,” he said, noting that wishing isn’t going to bolster the town’s economy. “People underestimate the value of this region.”

Some jobs are heading to Fayette, Mayor Marlatt said. Details have yet to be announced. It’s not expected to be hundreds of jobs, but jobs are jobs and the village readily welcomes whatever jobs come this way.

Because Fayette is continuing to face tough times, the conversation to reconnect needs to get under way, Mr. Spiess said. It’s time, he said, to identify common connections that tie people, and the past, together and then from there “we figure out what do we do” about Fayette’s future.

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com or 419-724-6006.



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