Recently, the aging of Americans has been a wide-spread topic of discussion, from the latte houses of New York City to the coffee shops of rural America.

In the 2000 census, it ranked the oldest counties according to the percentage of residents ages 85 and older. As might be expected, counties in the High Plains states dominated the top 25 list, with a number of position ties. Kansas lead the list with eight counties, followed by North Dakota, with six; South Dakota, three; Nebraska, two; and one county each in Minnesota, Nebraska and New Mexico.

In McIntosh County, ND, ranked first "oldest" in the survey, 6.6% of the county's residents were 85 years old or older. Towner County, SD, ranked 25th, reported 4.6% of its residents were 85 or older.

This survey says several things. If you want to live to a ripe, old age, move to the High Plains area. It must be because there is less crime, the air isn't as polluted as it is in the large cities, people are neighborly, the food is good, people live active life styles and there is adequate medical care, if you drive 50 to 200 miles to one of the state's population centers.

On the other hand, it says most of these counties have a very small population base. And many are losing more population each year. Deaths outnumber the number of children born each year, in many rural counties. Or, when the kids graduate from high school, they go off to college and the majority don't return to their small hometowns. There isn't anything for them to do with their college education.

There are many reasons why people move to the cities. And there also is a higher reason why the High Plains area continues to exist. It produces the majority of the food and fiber enjoyed by consumers. From the land comes the crops and livestock that feed the world. And for better or worse, one American farmers now can feed over 125 people in this country and overseas. This productivity has nearly doubled in the past 25 to 50 years, and the result is one-half the number of farmers and farm families remaining on the land to support the small, rural towns and counties. Somewhere, it was said, when 10 farmers leave the land, one town business closes.

In the past 50 years, we have become a very mobile society. We sometimes think it is easier to drive 50 miles to buy a new TV at a discount store, than to pay $10 more and buy it from a hometown merchant.

In this day and age, in the High Plains area, most everything and everyone is getting older. The good old days were just that--good.

We live in a very different society today. Everything has to be accomplished with the latest equipment and as quickly as possible--that is called efficiency. We want all the modern conveniences--that is called progress. We want to get from point A to point B as fast as we can, so we may have more time to relax--that is called interstates and jet airplanes.

And when we really want to relax, visit the distant cousins and "get back to our roots," we go "home," and then wonder why things aren't like they used to be when we were kids!.

As Jake, in a Cowpokes cartoon, once said: "Anyone can get old, if they just have the time."--gh.

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