Candlelight vigil 2

Last night, a group of people gathered in a park with candles to honor the life of one of their own.

It was a beautiful display of camaraderie and compassion. It could happen anywhere, but it’s different here. Since I started working at the Daily Union in 2014, I’ve struggled to put into words why Junction City is different. I’m going to try again.

I always laugh silently to myself when people refer to Junction City as a small town.

I come from a small town. Wilson, where I was born and raised, is home to 750 people at its most generous estimate. Most of them know who I am. Some of them might be reading this right now. Hi, Wilsonians!

The reason I mention my hometown is that it’s so small, you know everyone whether you want to or not. It’s just part of the culture — people know you. And when you need help, they help you.

But in Junction City, it’s different. People don’t have to know you, but when there’s a cause here to rally around, Junction City folk rarely disappoint.

Whether it’s the Stroda family and its battle with cancer, keeping the doors of St. Xavier Catholic School open, or much smaller things, like Mayor Phyllis Fitzgerald’s never-ending conquest to keep the streets trash-free, or John Hagerty and his mission to give Special Olympics athletes in Junction City and across the state the best experience possible.

This past few weeks has really served to reinforce my belief in the giving spirit of this town. Last week, I received an email forwarded to me by Mayor Fitzgerald from Peter Paras, Junction City Troop 41 scout master.

Paras wanted the Mayor to know about his Troop’s recent trip to Wichita for a class on wilderness first aid.

While there, Troop 41 encountered a Wichita scout who was all alone, and took it upon themselves to befriend him and welcome him into their group.

After the class, the lone scout’s mother sent a message to the class organizer, letting him know that her son has Asperger’s syndrome, meaning that his ability to interact socially is impaired. But the Troop 41 scouts made him feel included, which had moved his mother almost to tears.

That’s the spirit I’m talking about. The spirit of this town that moves its residents to act not because they’re obligated by acquaintance or relation, but because of the human condition. Junction City folk don’t need to know your name to help you.

They just need to know that you need help.

When the group of people gathered with candles in Heritage Park last night to honor the life of Brandon Stroda, that spirit was apparent — the same spirit that will likely envelope Terrah Stroda and her two boys for as long as it’s needed. The same spirit that routinely welcomes and holds out its hand to anyone who finds themselves on hard times.

DEREK SMITH is the editor of the Junction City Daily Union.

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