As with many rural communities, it’s clear that times have changed for the small town of about 1,400 people, where manufacturing used to be a hub of employment and economic development.
Good things, however, are taking place in the town, which signs proclaim to be the oldest in Jasper County. One example is the Sarcoxie Community Foundation, which began in 2011 and has since distributed $604,000 into the local community. It currently holds 15 funds to benefit various local initiatives ranging from cemeteries to churches to veterans.
“I just feel really blessed that we were able to get this up and running,” says Gary Turner, president of the Sarcoxie Community Foundation, of the organization he has been involved with since its beginning. “There are different doors that are opened, not only to the school, but to the city, and to some other not-for-profits, to access those grants.
“It's really been a plus for us. It really has.”
A key area of focus through the Sarcoxie foundation, a regional affiliate of the CFO, is its school and students. When the Coover grant funding became available, it was Turner who alerted Lewis to its availability so the district could apply. Those alerts are something Turner says he tries to regularly do.
“It’s really good to try and unify your community in different ways,” Turner says. “In small communities, it’s difficult sometimes to do that.”
Like Feather — who graduated from Sarcoxie before returning to teach — Lewis shares an extended connection with the community and local educators beyond his role as superintendent.
He himself graduated from Sarcoxie High School, and was hired there as a P.E. teacher after college. After rising through the ranks, he is going into his third year as superintendent.
“I was born and raised here,” Lewis says, also noting his mother was a teacher. “It’s just kind of in my blood.”
That experience has personally shown him changes in the teaching profession, which has become more stressful than in the past — making the addition of the workout equipment even more welcome.
“We’re trying to promote wellness, trying to make sure our staff is as healthy as possible, and we couldn’t have done it without the grant,” Lewis says. “We’re very appreciative.”
“It’s a tough gig, and we want to help them out as much as we can.”
By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks