Like many small towns in Kansas, Onaga in Pottawatomie County was drifting into dormancy.
A task force on rural issues, appointed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius shortly after she took office, recommended a pilot project where the state would focus on several towns and try to help them grow economically.
Those selected were Onaga, Smith Center and a group called ABCDE for Atlanta, Burden, Cambridge, Dexter and Eastern Cowley County.
The towns have been working with the Kansas Department of Commerce to identify needed improvements and ways to make them happen.
In Onaga, for instance, leaders of the town of approximately 680 decided they needed to increase and improve local housing stock.
Lois Loucks, who had worked as a Main Street manager in Winfield before retiring and moving to Onaga, grabbed the bull by the horns in her new hometown, helping spruce up the main street and working with the Commerce agency.
"Sometimes a town only needs a cheerleader, and that's the way I view myself," Loucks said.
The town tapped into some state and federal grants and programs and has put in place incentive programs for home improvements, first-time homebuyers and new housing development.
"I'm just amazed at that small community, the focus that they brought to the housing issue," said Patricia Clark, director of operations for the Commerce agency.
"They've been a fun and inspiring community to work with," she said.
While working on housing, the town also received an $800,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation to improve the downtown area, and the town is raising funds to build a new playground.
Loucks said towns like Onaga are worth saving because of the sense of community felt by those who live there.
"In my opinion, Onaga is what America used to be like. Some of us are determined that we don't want that to die," she said.
- Shrinking population vexes rural Kansas
- Basketball refs needed in western Kansas
- Regents' AccessUS program a slow-go
- State's rural population continues to shrink
- Corkins, Morris not well-received in tour out west
- Corkins, Morris to visit western Kansas
- School districts struggle to fit funding fight into budget
- Hanston, Pawnee Heights merge into same elementary school