News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Quality of life makes Decatur, Morgan County great place to live

By Mike McKean

What makes Decatur and Morgan County attractive for someone from Northern Virginia?

This is the primary question that government and contractor personnel affected by the Base Realignment and Closure ask and, it is the question most ask me.

My first response is to tell them to live somewhere else for about six months — preferably a large metropolitan area like Northern Virginia.

Most of our residents who have lived here for 10 or more years have become complacent and take too much for granted. In my leadership seminars I say complacency is the nemesis of success, in this arena complacency retards happiness and pride.

Wake up tomorrow morning and look around with a new set of eyes. We live in a community filled with family values, a strong work ethic and people who care and are willing to get involved.

I spent my high school years in Northern Virginia and returned 30 years later for another four years. Northern Virginia is crowded, expensive, impersonal and rushed. There is no time you can leave home to go to work, shop or for recreation when you are not in miserable traffic.

Although there is any type of shopping you desire, all the stores, banks, restaurants, etc. are major chains focused on one thing — making a profit — not enduring customer relations.

School systems have a good academic reputation; however, they are plagued by overcrowding, gangs and drugs. Jobs are plentiful and pay well; however, the standard of living is so high that both spouses generally work to make ends meet.

Now let me take you for a short tour through the Decatur-Morgan County community:

Decatur and Morgan County are a 20-minute drive to the Redstone main gate, and a 15-minute drive to our international airport. We relocated here and financed our mortgage through First American Bank to discover that this is a bank that serves Morgan County. It is a bank that is operated by Morgan County residents, for Morgan County residents and a bank that was helpful, friendly and treated us as neighbors.

My wife and I noticed that most customers were greeted by name.

Drive down the center of Decatur and find the old historic district of quiet streets lined with century-old oak and magnolia trees. Around the bend you will find a world-class park on the banks of the Tennessee River flanked by the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Driving south through town you will find fine dining, fast food, and shopping and friendly people. If you are lucky, you may come across Holaway's Food Market, a family-owned (since 1954) grocery store amidst the giants of Publix and Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Holaway's still cuts meat to order and provides ground beef suet to hunters during deer season and, most importantly, affordable meat specials for low-income families.

Driving out of town you will find golf courses, pastures with cows and horses grazing, and a soccer complex that brings in national youth-soccer tournaments.

Ours is a community that offers world-class medical care, with more than 600 doctors who represent almost every health discipline, and three modern hospitals.

To assist those wonderful residents who are employed and pay taxes, but whose income provides their family with little extra for discretionary expenses and health insurance, the county raised $1.5 million to establish a free clinic. Our doctors and dentists volunteer their time, demonstrating caring community values. We raised more than $1 million for our public education systems, showing the value of caring, and understanding that education betters the lives of our children.

Now let's move farther south into the county where we find magnificent homes interspersed with farms and rolling fields of corn, cotton and other crops. Driving down Danville Road you come across a school with manicured property and bright flags nestled between agricultural fields. You think you have come across a private school for the wealthy — wrong — you have found Danville/Neel Elementary School. You should go inside where only one word appropriately describes what you see: wow.

You just stand in awe and smile at the cleanliness, the upbeat colors and student art bedecking the walls and, most importantly, the positive and infectious attitude of both students and teachers.

As you enter Hartselle you will find Van's BarberShop, where Van and her barbers greet every customer by name and where the conversation is inclusive of everyone in the shop. That's community values.

The town is filled with boutiques, antiques, dining and, most importantly, people who say "good morning." I drive through the area and find myself behind the heartbeat of the county — a farmer on a tractor.

What a thrill; this is Americana — the old Southern charm!

THE DECATUR DAILY, one of the remaining few family-owned newspapers, brings international and national news of the caliber you find in The Washington Post, but never forgets to highlight our students' accomplishments in schools and higher education. It always finds time to talk about the Eagle Scout and our local service members in harm's way. It is about belonging to a community with compassion, character and values.

How about the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, where national-level entertainment is presented at affordable prices? I bought season tickets for two (meaning the entire professional performing arts series, special events and the lecture series) for about $400.

So, why would someone from Northern Virginia want to relocate to Decatur and Morgan County? How about for our quality of life?

Retired Col. Mike McKean has been a resident of Morgan County since 2003. He retired from the U.S. Army (Infantry) in 1996 and has been involved with defense industries as a consultant. Additionally, McKean provides motivational leadership seminars and training to companies within the U.S. He spent two years as the vice president of Norwich University in Vermont prior to relocating to Danville.

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