Residents Wear Many Hats In Tiny Town

Dr. Robert Morrow i i

Dr. Robert Morrow is not only a dentist, but he's also the county coroner. Through volunteering, helping and leading by example, Morrow has found happiness by trying to keep the town of Walsh, Colo. alive. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Dr. Robert Morrow

Dr. Robert Morrow is not only a dentist, but he's also the county coroner. Through volunteering, helping and leading by example, Morrow has found happiness by trying to keep the town of Walsh, Colo. alive.

David Gilkey/NPR

The town of Walsh, Colo., would just fly by if you were driving across the empty grasslands of southern Colorado and didn't need a coffee or a soda.

Even for the town's 700 residents, the place can feel distant from the rest of the world.

"I'm just amazed you would come to our little community," the local dentist, Dr. Bob Morrow, tells NPR. "We're usually kind of on the outskirts of the edge of the world."

In addition to his dentistry, Morrow is also the former mayor and fire chief and current city council member. Oh, and he's also the county coroner.

There are downsides to holding that particular job in a small community, he says. He remembers being on duty as the coroner in the 1990s and being dispatched to his foster mother's house. She had just died.

That was an impossibly hard day for Morrow, but he remembers the sense of duty, a feeling that he had a job to do that day. And for a place this small to survive, it requires lots of people to step up and wear different hats.

That's the kind of leadership Morrow's son, Mike, wrote about in an e-mail when he suggested NPR visit the town of Walsh.

NPR went there as part of a road trip known as "Take Me To Your Leader." The trip is an attempt to get away from the hype surrounding the political conventions in Denver and St. Paul, Minn. — and to talk to people from Chicago to Phoenix about whom they see as their leaders.

After introducing himself, Morrow shows off the corner grocery store. About two years ago, the company that owned the store said they were closing down and moving out. For a time, that meant a half-hour drive out of town to shop. That's when the community took over. A group of residents came together to form a co-op and sold $50 shares around town, and the store reopened.

Rick Mills chairs the grocery store's board. He also owns the auto supply store on Main Street. The grocery store, he says, brought in more than $1 million in its first year and has been the engine of the little economy.

"Once the dollars leave, they don't come back," Mills says. "They're gone to the city and that's where they stay. People from the city aren't going to come to Walsh, Colo., to do their grocery shopping — or any other shopping, as far as that goes."

A few blocks away, Morrow visits his wife, Dolly. She teaches in Walsh's K-12 school system and is also known in town for starting the Walsh Arts Center.

She says she may not have been able to swing an arts center in a larger city.

"You get all bogged down by the bureaucracy," she says. "The 'theys' and 'thems' and everything. ... The 'us' and the 'we,' it's much more powerful."

Morrow then walks to the town's small theater, where his wife's organization runs performances. The doctor takes us to see the firehouse and city hall. This is a tour he's proud of.

"This community refuses to die," he says. "That's why it's still here. It moved here when the railroad came. It should have been gone a long time [ago]. But people love each other. And they're not going to die."

Produced by Thomas Pierce

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