A couple of Saturdays ago, the same conversation came up twice with two different groups – the bigger number of young families that used to live in Aberdeen.

Elaborating on the first instance at a church retreat in Tupelo, I remember being a member of a vibrant youth group. It wasn’t just the Episcopalians or the Catholics; the Baptists had active programs at more than one church, and the Methodists did too.

Younger families working wherever they worked helped populate those church pews, the school district and neighborhood streets, where skateboards, bikes and four-wheelers used to roam.

Later that night, back in town, I saw a friend from high school who has spent the last few years moving around to different parts of the world. The way he described his recent trips to Wendy’s and into town vocalized something I realized a while back – it’s weird to not see people you recognize from your past.

Like I told him, I’m used to talking to childhood friends’ parents now, even though I haven’t talked to most of their kids in years. Way back when my Saturdays were spent on a Huffy mountain bike, I could name every single family in our good-sized subdivision, and the majority of them had children within 10 years of my age.

Now when I drive through, I can say who used to live in this and that house, since so many people have gone elsewhere.

People say it all the time how they’d love to get the Aberdeen they knew in the ‘80s and ‘90s back. It was a time when you could rent movies from four different businesses uptown and downtown. There where baseball and softball leagues playing at the Dixie Youth fields and the church league fields off of Big John Road. There were traffic snarls at the red light that used to be at the high school in the afternoons.

Aberdeen still has some great attributes, and right now is one of the best times I can recall since the late ‘90s. Main Street is vibrant, and Highway 145 is more active than it has been in a while. There are active civic groups and individuals heading up efforts to better the town. Most importantly, people are coming together as one.

We’re right there, and we just need a little bit more of a push to move forward by taking a step back in time.

To the candidates running for office in next month’s primary and May’s general election, thank you for your interest in wanting to make Aberdeen a better place. Thank you for taking your time to politic, spending your money on campaign signs and sending the message that you’re a leader.

To the candidates running for office, what are you going to do to bring young families back to Aberdeen? Sure, a new manufacturer would bring them in and, yes, bringing new jobs may be part of your platform. As competitive as a global market it is, how are you going to do that and what all does it take?

Quality of life is a big magnet, too, so what’s your game plan to enhance it? What specifically do we already have drawing people in and how can you improve on that to make them want to relocate here?

Education. Education. Education. Tell me specifically what the school district is doing right now to set itself apart from other schools anywhere close. Tell it to me with excitement, then tell me how you’re going to attract more young families with kids to fill those classrooms.

Aberdeen is a commutable distance to Columbus, Amory, Starkville, Tupelo and even Sulligent and Winfield, Alabama. It’s fine to be a bedroom community, but what are you going to do to market that?

When I drive through Amory in the afternoons, it’s hard to take a left onto Highway 278 because of the traffic and young people roaming around aren’t hard to find. How can you bring that back?

The Monroe Journal is in week two of a series stressing the importance of accurate census counts. We’ll know in a few months what the population and age demographics are now compared to previous decades.

I can say now the numbers won’t mirror the Aberdeen of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, but the next four years will start setting the tone for the 2030 census count. Specifically, what are you going to do to help bring that back?

Ray Van Dusen is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.

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