Small Town Proud


Written by Jacob Van Blarcom


I never thought that growing up in a town of 5,000 people was anything out of the ordinary until I moved to the 16th largest metropolitan area in the nation. Perhaps the stars were too big and bright in my eyes and had me convinced that life in the city would not be altogether different from what I had always known. As I was tucked away in the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, I always dreamt of moving off into a small apartment somewhere in the middle of a concrete paradise, getting lost in the crowd, and rejecting my rural upbringing. What I found by immersing myself in the city and adopting an urban identity though only made me appreciate my humble, hometown roots even more.

I’m from a unique and small town called Viroqua, Wisconsin. Located a short drive east of the Mississippi River and hidden in the heart of the beautiful Driftless Region, Viroqua is essentially everything one would hope a small town would be. With a bustling Main Street riddled with restaurants and mom-and-pop shops in historic buildings, tight-knit social groups where everyone knows everyone (and unfortunately- their gossip, too), and endless farms, forests, and open spaces with natural wonders, my hometown is the epitome of the American small town experience.


Although it was easy to grow bored of the slow-moving pace of rural life as a restless teenager (there were only 70 kids in my graduating class, and a mere 300 in my high school), I kept busy with friends on the weekends with car rides on country roads, hiking, biking, and swimming at local parks, and finding creative outlets for mischief.

But by the end of my senior year of high school, I was beyond ready to be everything that the city of Minneapolis was. I felt certain I was meant to end up here at the University of Minnesota, and was leaving the hills for good. I craved a lifestyle that looked more full on the surface. Once I made the move for my freshman year of college, I looked to the city lights dancing on the skyline at night as if they were the answer to every doubt I held about myself. I was excited about the people, the sights, the food, the museums, the culture, and the opportunities that were all right there before me.

I fell headfirst into becoming a city kid. I made friends with kids from the suburbs. I took public transportation. I ate at funky ethnic restaurants. I wandered and explored each street as if they were my own. After a while, I found a certain stillness lurking amongst all the glitter and hustle in my new life in Minneapolis. I became a part of a culture where anything I could ever want was just minutes away.

Now that I’m finally tucked high up in a shiny apartment complex like I always wanted, only a two-minutes walk away from Target (no longer the 50 minute drive that I’m used to), I can say that growing up in a town where I had the time and headspace to pursue my interests in writing and photography without being flooded by shopping malls, chain restaurants, and other modern marvels of enterprise was one of the greatest things to happen to me. My opportunity to grow and pursue my passions organically in Viroqua is something that showed me I do not need everything within reach of my fingertips to feel complete.

So when someone in passing asks me, “Where are you from?”, I get the unexpected satisfaction of diving into the story of not only where in the state of Wisconsin I am from, but how I’m proud to be from a small town because of the authentic experiences it allowed me to pursue for myself.