Friday, April 3, 2009

Stimulus money hearkens to noble past


My memories of the Great Depression include my father, whom we called "Pop," walking the floor with worry, while my cousin Dale would say, "Why worry, the way we eat?" My mom was a genius at making "ice box stew" out of leftovers.

However, my strongest memory is of Pop helping to fill a huge gap in local jobs and income when he was mayor of Idaho Falls, a small rural town back then, long before the Idaho National Laboratory. One time he told of getting money to build and staff a new public library. Today that building is a major natural history museum. Another time he got money from the Work Projects Administration to help build one of Idaho's first public golf courses, Pinecrest. Its truly beautiful clubhouse is still in use today. A third project was a rodeo ground and viewing stand at Tautphaus Park, which now serves as a regional recreation center. He also got WPA money for adult education, books for students and even art supplies. From that effort came one of Idaho's well-known artists, Fred Ochi.

These efforts put Idahoans back to work back then and meet essential needs today. From northern to southern Idaho, we still use the canals, forest roads and trails, bridges and dams built by the Civilian Conservation Corps 75 years ago. In urban areas such as Boise, look at the Boise Art Museum, the Log Cabin Literary Center and the old Ada County Courthouse with its controversial but beautiful murals. It's where the Legislature meets today. Canyon County is filled with similar sites, including Van Buren and Lincoln elementary schools in Caldwell.

All were built with New Deal funds—stimulus money. Similar legacies can be found in almost every Idaho county. We've not had public works on that scale since. These projects did more than build things. They changed lives. My grandfather Burnet headed up a CCC camp at Mountain Home, which provided impoverished big city kids with work, training and cash to send home to sustain entire families. That big, tough Westerner and those kids came to respect one another. He prepared many of them to serve in the world war that was to come.

Now President Obama wants to build infrastructure again and, if we look to the past, he's on the right track, once again improving the country one bridge at a time while educating young people and training them for the future.

I find myself out of patience with the naysayers—short-sighted governors who refuse money to help their citizens and legislators who can't learn from the past how to get us out of this economic mess.

To Roosevelt and to Obama and all those with the foresight and strength to give help a chance, I say, "Right on!"

Bethine Church is the widow of former U.S. Sen. Frank Church of Idaho and a director emeritus of the Sawtooth Society. She lives in Boise.

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