Located eight miles south of Iola, Humboldt is a self-sufficient community that maintains its own retail and industrial base while also providing significant numbers of workers for manufacturing and service employers in neighboring communities.
Humboldt residents are proud of their community. They take particular pride in the quality of their school system, which consistently performs in the upper tier of school districts in Kansas. Significant investments in educational facilities have been made in recent years, including the 2006 issuance of bonds to construct the Humboldt Community Fieldhouse, which provides a first-class fitness venue for students and the general public.
Another major quality of life investment made by Humboldt was the 2008 approval by voters to issue a quarter-cent sales tax to finance improvements to the community swimming pool. Furthermore, the City of Humboldt has taken an aggressive approach in targeting nuisance properties and code violations in an effort to improve the community’s overall appearance, a move which has been welcomed by many. Much is going well in Humboldt. The community has its challenges, however. The community’s housing stock is aging, with 67.5% of homes constructed before 1969. Humboldt’s population is falling quickly, with a 7.3% drop since 2000. And the median age in Humboldt is 40.5 years, which is slightly higher than the county median (38.8) and 15% higher than the national median age. This means that the community is likely to experience a sudden and drastic drop in population in coming years if new families are not recruited to town to replace those who will die or move elsewhere.
Humboldt residents have opted to fight these forces. Through groups ranging from the CIA (Citizens in Action) to the Lions Club to Rotary to GALS FCE to the Humboldt Rebuilding the Public Square Committee, Humboldt is determined to be a small town that not only survives, but grows and thrives in the 21st century.
Very little detailed statistical data exists about the specific health conditions of Humboldt residents. Based on discussions with medical providers and firsthand observation, health conditions in Humboldt appear to be similar to those of residents throughout Allen County, however. Obesity ranks as the community’s most obvious health challenge, with heart disease, diabetes and smoking negatively impacting the quality of life of many Humboldt residents.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Humboldt and throughout Allen County, with less physically active children choosing television or video games over riding bikes or the playground. These sedentary lifestyles, combined with poor diets, have resulted in a generation of children that maintain unhealthy weights and whose life expectancies will be diminished as a result.
In response to these conditions Humboldt has aggressively confronted the challenge of improving public health among ALL members of their community. Through a grant funded by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City the “Healthy Humboldt” initiative has established a unique school/ community partnership to educate students and the broader community about healthy lifestyles while providing an array of new fitness and exercise programs for residents.
Healthy Humboldt’s programming includes weightlifting and exercise classes targeted to women; the “Walktober” program to encourage (and measure) walking; and Senior YogaStretch. The tremendous demand for these programs, and its eager acceptance by Humboldt students and residents, has far exceeded even the greatest hopes of its organizers. According to Healthy Humboldt Health Education Coordinator Erin Kepley, “Our community has needed programming like this for a long time. We will make a huge impact with Healthy Humboldt if everyone jumps on board and takes advantage of the opportunities this grant brings to improve public health..
Healthy Humboldt has been successful for a number of reasons. First, it bridges the gap between school and community, which helps provide a critical mass of participants that would be difficult to achieve with only one partner. Second, thanks to funding provided by B&W Trailer Hitches, Inc. of Humboldt the program has purchased a new BMI (Body Mass Index) machine to easily track and measure the progress of its participants. And third, Healthy Humboldt has a strong and effective leader, and the political support of school and community officials, to build it into a model program. The result has been an initiative that in a few short months has directly touched over one-third of all Humboldt residents and planted the seeds for longer, healthier and more productive lives.
By most statistical measures, Humboldt does not have enough doctors or dentists for a community of 1,854 residents. Yet the community is fortunate to have a base of medical providers that have invested in Humboldt, giving the community an advantage over many other small towns in rural areas.
Primary care services are relatively limited in Humboldt. The Ashley Clinic of Chanute operates a clinic in downtown Humboldt that provides services through a Physician’s Assistant (PA) on weekdays. This is the only stand-alone primary care clinic in Humboldt. The Ashley Clinic includes the Humboldt Pharmacy, the sole pharmacy in Humboldt.
One dentist, Dr. Sean McReynolds, provides full dental services at his clinic in downtown Humboldt. Dr. McReynolds is a second generation in his family to practice dentistry in Humboldt, having joined his father, Max, in practice in 1990. McReynolds has remodeled and expanded his practice multiple times, including in the past year, and he has a staff of three dental hygienists to serve their patients.
Dr. Robert Smith has provided optometry services to Humboldt for over 25 years through his clinic on Bridge Street. Dr. Smith is the only Allen County optometrist to maintain two offices: one in Humboldt and one in Iola.
Humboldt is also served by three chiropractors, Drs. David Weilert, Stephen Weilert, and Robert Weilert from their Bridge Street clinic. The Weilert Chiropractic Clinic represents another multigenerational family commitment to healthcare in Humboldt, with Dr. Robert Weilert joining his father and uncle in 2004 as the third generation of Weilerts to practice in Humboldt.
PARKS AND RECREATION
Community recreation services in Humboldt are coordinated by the Humboldt Recreation Commission, an independent body which receives its funding through a levy issued by USD 258. The Recreation Commission is led by Director Larry Mendoza and supported by many community volunteers.
The Commission also maintains the community’s two baseball fields, Sweatt and Manion Fields, plus an additional field that is under construction.
Humboldt has approximately 57 acres of parkland distributed between the city’s six main parks: Camp Hunter, Cannon Park, City Square Park, River Park, the swimming pool complex, and the Sweatt and Manion baseball complex.
Humboldt voters approved in 2008 the issuance of bonds to expand and improve their city swimming pool. These improvements, which will be completed in 2009, will expand access for seniors and those with mobility limitations through the addition of a zero-depth entry, construction of a new ADA accessible bathhouse, and a 1,500 square foot addition to the pool.
And finally, the Humboldt Community Fieldhouse, a $3.5 million facility completed in 2007, is the crown jewel of Humboldt’s recreation infrastructure. The Fieldhouse boasts a competition gymnasium, indoor elevated walking track, two cardio rooms and a weight room. The facility is made available to the general public through a $5 lifetime fee, and it receives heavy use by students and the public alike.
The availability of good quality affordable housing is a major challenge to Humboldt. There are approximately 926 housing units in Humboldt, of which approximately 10% are vacant, and the vast majority of which were built prior to 1969. Communities with aging housing stocks must proactively attack housing deterioration before it spreads and damages entire neighborhoods and property values. In the past two years the City of Humboldt has undertaken an aggressive program to raze substandard homes and abate code violations, with more than two dozen substandard structures being razed in this period.
Humboldt has had relatively few houses built in recent years. The annual rate at which houses are being built is exceeded by the number torn down, with three permits issued in 2008 for new homes and 17 houses razed.
Efforts are underway in Humboldt to identify opportunities to build new housing, in conjunction with recruiting new residents to town (or getting former residents to return). This effort includes a survey conducted by the Rebuilding the Public Square Housing Action Team. This survey showed that there is interest from some who work in Humboldt but live elsewhere in moving to Humboldt if the right opportunity presented itself.
Humboldt offers tremendous quality of life advantages, particularly including education. When combined with the right package of incentives the community has an opportunity over the next decade to reverse the decline in housing units and attract new residents.
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY
Humboldt’s economy is anchored by two key manufacturers: The Monarch Cement Company, and B&W Trailer Hitches, Inc. These employers dominate the economic landscape of Humboldt and are the community’s largest private sector employers. Yet while these manufacturers employ a large number of Humboldt (and other Allen and Neosho county) residents, 45.7% of Humboldt residents are employed in “white collar” occupations, including management, financial services, sales, or administrative support.
It could be argued that Humboldt’s biggest challenge now is to sustain and grow the momentum that has brought so much positive change to the community over the past two years. This enthusiasm among residents, if properly channeled and sustained, is the fuel needed to meaningfully tackle the community’s problems, but sustaining it over the long-term will require focus, determination and stamina.
Housing lies at the root of many problems in Humboldt. With the construction and rehabilitation of homes Humboldt has an opportunity to attract new residents that can add to the momentum and help reverse the community’s declining population. That said, wages in Humboldt are generally too low to justify the construction of large new subdivisions without significant public incentives. With the current economic slowdown it is possible, however, that the community could lure private developers to Humboldt if the right package of incentives were assembled.
Retaining and recruiting new business to Humboldt has been a longstanding challenge. In order to maintain itself as a self-sufficient community Humboldt must be able to offer a full array of retail services to serve its residents. This is difficult, though, because the community does not have the volume of customers to enable many stores to compete, on a price perspective, against large volume discount retailers in Iola and Chanute. Encouraging Humboldt residents to support local merchants, particularly by stressing the service advantages that local retailers offer, is critically important to allowing Humboldt to maintain its existing retailers and to attract new ones.
Finally, citizen health, and the availability of healthcare, will remain a major challenge for Humboldt into the foreseeable future. Efforts like Healthy Humboldt must identify sustainable, long-term funding sources if they are to remain viable. Investments must continue to be made in recreational and walking infrastructure, including sidewalks, in order to encourage healthy lifestyles. And Humboldt would be well-served to provide incentives for the construction of a new Allen County-based medical clinic with a doctor available on a full-time basis.
Conventional wisdom might say that Humboldt’s greatest weakness is geography. As it turns out, Humboldt has discovered that geography is actually its greatest opportunity. Being centrally located between two larger communities gives Humboldt an excellent opportunity to provide a major employment base for Iola and Chanute industries and businesses without bearing the financial burden of providing the incentives to recruit these employers. If Humboldt is successful in developing new housing it stands to compete well against surrounding towns in recruiting young families moving to this area to work in Iola or Chanute, thanks to the performance of its school system. With modern and well-maintained highways there are few disincentives to living in one community and working in another.
Humboldt is blessed with a sense of community that is among the strongest in the county, if not the region. It seems likely that the community could recruit some portion of those who grew up in Humboldt but left for other opportunities back “home” if it engages in a concerted effort to do so. There are many advantages to living in Humboldt—access to high quality schools, a low cost of living, very little crime— that make a return potentially attractive for some, particularly retirees. (Attracting retirees in larger numbers may require new and expanded medical services in Humboldt and hospital facility improvements in Iola, however).
And finally, Humboldt is fortunate to have strong leadership at a time when it desperately needs it. Humboldt’s Mayor and City Council, in conjunction with its city administrator, have made difficult, and often controversial, decisions about public infrastructure investments, code enforcement, and city services. These difficult decisions have come at a cost, but have been made out of a belief that investing in one’s community is necessary in order for the community to survive. It is repeated often at City Council meetings that “we don’t want to leave this burden on our children,” which is a refreshing approach that is not heard often from elected officials. With this forward-only approach Humboldt has a fighting chance not just to grow, but to thrive.