Opposing moral decline Pride: In New Concord, Ohio, patriotism is strong, but residents worry about the nation's moral fiber.

July 31, 1996|By SUSAN BAER | SUSAN BAER,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW CONCORD, Ohio -- Lying face-down in an old chest that antiques dealer Jack Bogart recently bought was a dusty, yellowing poster from 1962. "New Concord Salutes John H. Glenn Jr.," boasted the big, red letters splashed across a picture of the hometown boy just returning from space.

In many ways, this quiet village of 2,200 people in southeastern Ohio is still as patriotic and proud, still as gleefully all-American as it was when Glenn, now the state's senior U.S. senator, paraded down Main Street after his history-making orbit of the Earth.

On the Fourth of July, flags waved from well-groomed middle-class houses. Eagle Scouts spent the day giving the town's 71 fire hydrants a fresh coat of sparkling red paint. There are no bars. No unsightly motels or fast-food joints. Life revolves around school and church and Little League. And everybody knows your name.

"It is difficult to sin in New Concord," jokes David Sturtevant, a retired history professor at Muskingum College, a liberal arts college in the center of town.

But even in this gem of a village built around Route 40, where you can still leave your doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition, residents worry that the country's moral fabric -- and even their own -- has become as faded and tattered as the decades-old poster of their favorite astronaut.

"People are so busy, so stressed out, that something has been lost in the shuffle here," says Jane Blazier, 61, who has decked out her home, herself, even her deviled eggs, in red, white and blue.

A common refrain

Although plentiful jobs, a good economy and safe streets make for generally sunny dispositions and hopefulness here, Blazier's is a common refrain. Up and down Main Street -- from grocer George Shegog Jr., a Democrat, who was offended when a local newspaper ran a front page photo of militia members hanging an American flag upside down, to school principal Doug Winner, Republican, who says the only heroes today's kids know are the "bad boys" of professional sports -- you hear talk of the nation's moral slide.

Some in this town -- where the heavily Republican population is diluted by the less conservative staff and students at Muskingum -- see it as a lack of values, a lack of discipline and responsibility. Others see it as a lack of respect -- between children and their elders, between parents and teachers, society and its institutions.

They are not finding direction from today's political leaders. In fact, disillusionment has resulted in numerous undecided voters in this battleground state. Both Democrats and Republicans remark that Clinton lacks the moral compass they hold dear, but Dole is not forward-looking enough.

Blaming pop culture

But aside from the perceived dearth of inspiring national leaders, they blame this sense of an America lost on a pop culture filled with sex and violence, a work ethic that has been replaced by indulgence and, most of all, a crumbling family structure.

"There were a lot of things wrong in the '40s and '50s, like all the racial injustices," says Robert Owen Jones, 55, an opera singer who teaches music at Muskingum. "But the family structure was far healthier."

Many residents -- like Delores Moore whose 11-year-old son has a "Daddy Shaun," his stepfather, and a "Daddy Jim," his biological father -- note that small towns are not immune to high divorce rates.

"We go up to my kids' functions at school and hear other kids say to my boys, 'Is that your real dad?' " says Maggie Thomas, 35, the mother of two boys. "That's just a common question now. It's sad. When I was growing up, we had one kid in our entire school district whose parents were divorced."

Others, like Sharon Bogart, who with her husband runs a bed-and-breakfast and antiques shop, believe the increase in two-career families has contributed to a breakdown in family life.

"I don't want to sound like I'm this wonderful little woman who has no problems, and it's not that I don't believe in women working, but I truly believe if more women could stay home and take care of the children they choose to have, the country would be a lot better off," says Bogart, 48, the mother of three daughters. "Yet today, two people have to work because we want everything -- we want new cars, new houses."

But others in New Concord, many of whose residents work in nearby Zanesville, believe the problem with families today goes deeper than divorce or working women. Doug Winner, principal at the East Muskingum Middle School and the father of three, notices a lack of responsibility and accountability in parents today that is trickling down to children.

'Always an exuse'

"There's always an excuse, it's always someone else's fault: 'If I'm too busy to help my child with his homework, it's not my problem, it's the school's problem,' " he says, echoing what he hears from parents.

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