When searching for a house to rent just before my relocation to Uvalde five years ago this summer, I met a man whose words still ring in my ears.
“I’m from Llano,” he said as he showed me around the new, expensive-looking apartment complex off Main Street. “Uvalde is big-city.”
“I know big-city,” I thought without telling him. What could Uvalde possibly have to offer that could rival that?
I had agreed to move to Uvalde that spring as a concession. Though we lived in San Antonio, my husband was working for a company here in town and would regularly commute the two or more hours to work. Monday morning, he was up at 3:40 a.m. to make the drive – and I was up with him to make him breakfast and act as moral support. Wednesday night, he would drive back home, only to go to bed early and do it all over again Thursday morning. If he was working so much out of town anyway, why not simply move to where the job was? I was none too eager, however, to whittle my pool of neighbors to a mere 15,000 people, instead of the one million-plus I was used to.
In one sense, Uvalde pales in comparison to a place like San Antonio – the one has near-endless shopping, tourist, and entertainment opportunities, I admit. But there is something Uvalde has that San Antonio finds it hard to beat: a real sense of community. For all its fine dining and fine arts, the idea of community is all but lost on such a large population. Many San Antonians, including myself, look the other way when the word is mentioned because we think it is someone else’s job – one for the mayor, the city council, or the local YMCA. But here, in “big city” Uvalde, the job lands squarely on our shoulders: We know the mayor by name, our neighbors make up the city council, and our school board members are elected by a margin of tens of votes. If we don’t participate in community, who will?
It’s called involvement. And it’s a lesson I learned first-hand as a reporter for the Uvalde Leader-News. There I met people like Judge Bill Mitchell, Superintendent Hal Harrell, and library director Mendell Morgan – men of integrity who have their neighbor’s best interests at heart and who embody the sense of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. I also learned of an initiative called Team Uvalde made up of ordinary citizens with connections to everyday businesses and services who strive to meet the needs of local people as they hear about them.
The idea of community gets lost amid the throng in San Antonio, but here it’s a vital part of the life of the city. It’s Uvalde’s lifeblood and the air we breathe. Were it not for Mitchell, Harrell, and others – good-natured folks who pour their lifelong energies into this small town – Uvalde would just be a collection of buildings with an impressive opera house in the middle of it. The thing that Uvalde has which rivals anything San Antonio can do is the power of concerned individuals to care for and labor over this community to make it one we can all be proud of.
So maybe Uvalde cannot rival the shopping experiences offered in bigger cities. Maybe its rental market still falls short of the big city’s revolving door. But maybe Uvalde has one better.
Some friends of mine, originally from Houston, have lived 18 of the last 25 years here. Each time they move away, they yearn to return. I now understand why.
Working at the Leader-News has taught me the value of community and the importance of being involved in it. I have now lived here longer than any other place except San Antonio, my hometown. If I move away, one day I may find myself yearning to come back here, too.
Growing up, I would hear that San Antonio is a “big city with a small-town feel.” But thanks to the Leader-News, I know what that “small-town feel” feels like. And San Antonio doesn’t hold a candle to it.
Jennifer Fry is a former staff writer for the Uvalde Leader-News who came to the newspaper from Uvalde Classical Academy. She and her husband, David, welcolmed their first child in November of 2018.