Ashley: A Town Doesn’t Make Itself, The People Do

Ashley: A Town Doesn’t Make Itself, The People Do

Recently our little town here on the prairie was the talk of a local North Dakota talk show on KFGO. On the show, Daniel Gunderson was discussing all the reasons why a person wouldn’t apply for a job opening in Ashley. It wasn’t a hit at Ashley, specifically, more-so a narrative on all the reasons why nobody wants to live in a small town. 

It is true, Ashley is a small town and if you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know what that is like. In a small town it’s easy to develop a negative attitude. People talk, people are nosy, businesses struggle. But when you look beyond those imperfections and choose to see the beauty in what’s around you, you will find that there is something about a small town that sucks you in, it inhabits you, and eventually you become a part of its’ history.

Ashley is most notably known as one of the most elderly counties per capita in the U.S. That typically garners many jokes. It is very true you may get stuck behind a car going 10 MPH down Main Street. And you may get asked in the grocery store, “who do you belong to?”

But it is because of all of those things that make Ashley special. Those things make Ashley unique. 

Now I don’t know about you. But as someone who as established roots in Ashley, North Dakota all the way from California, I want our town to be known for more than just the things mentioned on some talk show or even the ones I’ve mentioned above. 

I’m sure glad that the picture I paint of Ashley looks much different than the picture painted on the show. The picture I paint of Ashley is much more welcoming, much more loving, and much more beautiful than what meets the eye.

The picture I paint involves all of the loving and friendly people that make up this community. It isn’t the town that makes itself, it is the people who live here. 

If there is one thing I love about our small town of Ashley, it is the heritage they hold onto here. The recipes, the stories, the memories of the struggles that the people here on these prairies experienced to settle here and form families of generations. Holding onto those traditions and sharing those stories before they are lost to a new generation is something that this area in North Dakota does well. 

Whether it be a church service out in a field that used to be home to one of the first established churches with a sermon reminding us to “never say No to God”, continuing Centennial tradition that requires men to grow beards, or sharing recipes that have been made here on the prairies of North Dakota for generations, continuing traditions and telling these stories are something the people of Ashley hold dear. 

The other thing you can’t help but notice when you become immersed into the community of Ashley is how much the community comes out when a person is in need. People in this community aren’t afraid to reach out when you’re struggling and Ashley is home to some of the strongest prayer warriors I know. I am sure we all can recall a time when the people here in Ashley made our hearts swell with love. 

This community time and time again pours its heart out in times of loss, banding together for good causes like West Nile awareness, or a whole group of farmers taking time out of their busy schedules to plant fields for another fellow farmer in need

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And maybe many of these things I’ve mentioned about Ashley could apply to many small towns across North Dakota or the Midwest. The thing is, small towns aren’t something to fear and they certainly aren’t something to bash. If there’s anything I’ve learned since I moved to this small town in North Dakota, it is that small towns are what you make them. And Lord knows, I wouldn’t have moved all the way from California to call this place home if I didn’t believe that this place was something truly special. I wouldn’t have moved here if I didn’t believe Ashley, ND was somewhere I could find myself truly becoming immersed into. 

I recently came across this beautiful piece on small towns. And in the piece, there is one quote that sums up my thoughts perfectly. “It is this sort of connectedness to place and people and the past that that makes small towns different. It is not an easy set of slogans that can be trumpeted by a political party or captured in a sound bite. It is the shape of the small town itself which has embedded itself in its people. That shape takes the form of a web that connects that person to a multitude of places and people and past experience. That web becomes the stuff of that person; it is his identity.”

Now I know my take on things may not be as comical and certainly my headline won’t garner as many clicks. But it is honest, it is true, and it is loving. And if there is one thing that Ashley is, it is that. The people of Ashley are what make it special. And the people of Ashley are what will continue to put their name on the map for generations to come. 

Those are the memories I want written down in the history books. Those are the things I want Ashley to be known for.

How about you? 


  1. Mary Ann Babitzke
    March 6, 2017 / 8:10 pm

    My father, Douglas Babitzke, was born in Ashley ND in 1925. His family relocated to Wishek, where they weathered the Dust Bowl. He tells stories of how the grasshoppers ate everything, including underground onions and the fence posts looked as if they were sanded and polished from them. At least the chickens survived on locust carcasses. My dad became an expert level marksman during WWII because of the bounty paid by the US government of one cent per gopher tail. He is still kicking at 91. True to his ND heritage, he is active in the community. He regularly does veteran related charity projects and holds American Legion, 40X8, and VFW posts.

  2. April 18, 2017 / 10:23 am

    You definitely make an amazing point of how the people and the community is what makes a small town so great. Thank you for sharing this!