Monday, September 15, 2008

Calvin Beale, USDA Demographer, 1923-2008

How many times have I cited the Beale Urban Influence Code? or before that, the Butler and Beale Rural-Urban continuum? Lots!

Now I read in the Daily Yonder of the death of Calvin Beale, USDA demographer. He died on Sept. 1 at the age of 85. Read stories about him in the Washington Post here and in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. All three stories have marvelous quotes from Beale and anecdotes about his life. Here are two excerpts from the stories that express well both his knowledge and understanding of rural America.

This is from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
[Beale] elegantly explained the struggles and opportunities of rural America. In 1985, Beale reflected on a billboard he saw in Wisconsin: "WELCOME TO GALESVILLE, the Garden of Eden, Industry Invited."

"Here, in a nutshell, the basic modern dilemma of rural America is expressed," he wrote. "On one hand there is the ardent assertion of the idyllic, fulfilling quality that life in a small community can have, but then tempered by the necessity to invite the serpent of industry into the garden if people are to have the means to live there."

This is from the Washington Post.

Two or three times a year, Calvin L. Beale would leave his desk in Washington and travel to the University of Wisconsin to speak to graduate students. . . . After his lecture, Mr. Beale would join [Professor Glenn] Fuguitt and the grad students for dinner. In his characteristically reserved but attentive way, he asked the students where they were from. He would then recite the name of each student's county, no matter how remote, and detail its primary businesses and cultural history.

As a final flourish, he would describe the local courthouse.

The Daily Yonder shares some of the many marvelous photos Beale took of county courthouses around the country, and others are online here. Of the 3,140 counties in the United States, Beale visited about 2,500.

Postscript: NPR's Weekend Edition ran a feature on Beale on 21 September. Have a listen here.

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