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Wholesale Observations: Greenville, Il.
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

A dozen or so years ago, my wife was looking to broaden her work history and improve her earning potential. She had done well enough where she was, and in the couple of jobs she had had before then, but didn’t see any prospects ahead for long-term growth, and wanted more. So she looked around, and two opportunities that looked interesting were a newspaper position in a town near Pittsburg, PA, and a communications director position at an electric coop in Greenville, IL.

When she asked if they “got any snow” in the Pittsburg area (western Pennsylvania), the answer came back, “Yes, lots! And winter sports are very big here.” She being a Southern girl, and not used to snow at all, that took care of that.

The job in Greenville, IL – southwestern IL, about 45 minutes east of St. Louis -- sounded more like what she had been doing, and came with a salary that was about 30% more than her current position. So that was intriguing. Her phone interviews went well, and they asked her to come up for an in-person interview, and were willing to pay her travel expenses. That made it even more appealing. So she arranged for a Friday interview, and we made plans to fly up Thursday, and come back Sunday. (I paid for my own expenses.)

Greenville was a small farming community, so small it didn’t have a motel of its own, so we got a room in a nearby town just west of there. I ordered a visitor packet from the local chamber of commerce, and got a slick brochure outlining all the area festivals and recreational facilities over a multi-county area. It also advertised “rolling green hills,” a phrase we long remembered once we saw the area. It looked like a lovely area, We had friends who once lived in St. Louis, and I had been there once before for a conference; they told us it was a nice area, but did get “occasional snow.” So we flew into St. Louis in late March, and went to pick up our rental car; the counter agent gave us a small flat-handled paddle with the keys. “What’s that?” my wife asked. “A snow scraper,” came the answer. Uh-oh!

As we drove the 45 miles east to Greenville, all we could see around us was flat farm fields, with nothing in them; harvests had come and gone, and spring planting was not yet here. We finally hit a small bump in the road, and had a laugh. “That must be the ‘rolling green hill’ they advertised,” I said.

We found the hotel where we were staying, in Belleville, I think it was; and then drove on to Greenville. It really was a small town; only one grocery store, a few small apartment buildings, a couple of churches, and a tractor dealership. Plus a Bible college in the heart of downtown, which at the time had maybe 1,000 students. One café and one coffeeshop, as I recall, and the only bookstore was a small one that sold mostly Bibles and related religious items. No movie theater or even a video rental place. The one grocery store was open seven days a week, and though relatively small, it sold beer, wine, and hard liquor – also seven days a week. That was a surprise.

While Anne went for her interview the next morning, I drove around the area a bit. A very rural area, not much else to see. We did go by the large Catholic church for Mass that evening, and were invited to join in the parish hall chicken dinner afterwards. Very friendly people. Saturday we spent looking around a bit more, but the weather reports coming in forecast a snowstorm the next day, so we cut our visit short a bit and booked a room in a motel across from the St. Louis airport for that night, instead of driving in the next morning. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:15 Sunday morning, so we got there early and boarded when the doors opened. The plane was fully boarded and ready to leave by 9 AM, but the controllers made us wait until the scheduled departure time, and by then it was too late.

The snow had started coming down pretty heavily by then, the plane had gone through de-icing twice; and by 9:30 the flight was cancelled. So we all got off, had to find a hotel room for the night, and wait until the next day. By then the storm had passed, and we took off without incident.

My wife decided to pass on that opportunity, but we didn’t regret the trip. We learned that seeing a place in person is invaluable; that a big raise isn’t necessarily worth it; and that there were no “rolling green hills” in Greenville, IL, despite what that marketing brochure said!

I still get those brochures, periodically, all these years later. It is interesting to see what the area enjoys in the warmer spring and summer months. Perhaps if we had visited then, it might have turned out differently. But I don’t think so. We are still “Southern” in our bones!

Rafe Semmes is a local writer. He attended Savannah High and UGA.

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