PLATO, Mo. (May 9, 2011) — Local community leaders, state and federal officials, and hundreds of students from the Plato R-V School District joined U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves Monday afternoon in unveiling a stone pedestal marking their community as the center of the United States population, based on 2010 census data.
Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves and Juliana Blackwell of the US Geodetic Survey show off the new monument Plato village board chairman Bob Biram.
“Our village may be small but it has a big heart,” said Plato village board chairman Bob Biram. “We care about our neighbors because we are small enough to know who our neighbors are.”
Unlike many rural communities, Plato is rapidly growing. The census data show the population within the incorporated village limits grew from 74 in 2000 to 109 in 2010; the school district has grown so fast that the school doesn’t have enough space and has to put some students in portable buildings.
Much of that growth is due to the presence of Fort Leonard Wood, the Army’s largest training center which trained more than 100,000 military personnel last year — even higher than its prior peak training load during the Vietnam War era. Particularly for personnel assigned to training duties on the south end of Fort Leonard Wood, living in Plato allows a much shorter commute to work with significantly lower housing costs than the St. Robert and Waynesville areas.
“We are thankful for our Fort Leonard Wood military families who become part of us for a while before they move on to another station… we are proud to be part of rural America where you can ask your neighbor if you can fish in his pond or borrow his saw for a project,” Biram said. “Some might think we are missing something because we are small, but for the life of me I don’t know what that would be. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Col. Charles Williams, the post’s garrison commander, noted the presence of numerous veterans including one with a World War II veteran cap.
“We are your Army,” Williams said. “That is probably the finest military post I have ever been on… This is probably the best place we have ever been for one reason, and that is because of the community. The most genuinely patriotic community we have ever lived in. You don’t know if you’ve never left here, but not everyplace the United States military is at is feeling the love.”
“The community wraps its arms around the military here,” Williams said.
The center of population for the United States has been in Missouri since 1980, when it was located in Desoto; subsequent years placed it in Steelville and Edgar Springs. Plato’s location is 23.4 miles west of Edgar Springs, reflecting growth of American population — now 308.7 million — in the South and Southwest compared to traditional population centers in the industrial states of the Midwest and East.
Groves outlined the history of the U.S. Census, noting that beginning with the first census in 1790, the census has been conducted even in times of war and economic depression to determine how many representatives each state should have in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We need to remember why we do it; it’s part of the roots of how we govern ourselves, and it’s a good part,” Groves said.
Groves noted that Biram had never expected the attention to his community the census designation has generated.
“Hopefully the mayor from Edgar Springs can tell him that it’s not all bad,” Groves said. “Nice people drop by through the decade and they’ll stop by and see this monument.”
The actual location is about two miles away from Plato in the middle of woods on a privately owned farm belonging to Robert and Mary Hartzog, but Groves said the Missouri granite pedestal and commemorative disc were placed inside the village of Plato so people could actually locate it.
“We did this symbolic memorial here so you’ll pick up all the tourist trade from being the center of the population,” Groves said, noting that he’s been told that a group of Japanese tourists have already come by to see the community.
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