We learned just this week that John Prager died in mid-February. John was 84 years old and was living in a nursing home in Bastrop, Texas.
Prager was a Renaissance man — a Navy vet who attended graduate school in literature at the University of Texas before moving to a cabin in Bastrop County. He grew grapes, told stories and became an expert in the ecology and history of Central Texas.
John Prager spent decades fighting lignite mining in Bastrop, and he was largely successful. His fights with the power company that wanted to open mines in the area were legend. We lived in Bastrop during the most pitched battles of the lignite wars and throughout that time Prager was a knowledgeable and honest source.
He was also an example of what makes rural America so special. Most counties have residents like John Prager — do-it-yourself researchers and activists who take it upon themselves to become experts in the issues of the day. They fill their houses (or cabins or outbuildings) with file boxes of maps, ancient reports and complicated calculations. In the best democratic tradition, they devote themselves to the place where they live because they love it.
That was Prager, and because of him the county organized to protect its groundwater, the county government and its citizens opposed strip mining and people in Bastrop learned more about their history. He did it all from a cobbled together cabin in the woods near Webberville. (You can see an interview with Prager here.)
On the headstone of his grave at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery there is an inscription. It reads “AN AMERICAN SON.” We would add, An American Original and Rural Hero.
• Interesting not-necessarily-rural demographic news:
First, the Pew Hispanic Center reports that only 31% of eligible Hispanics voted in 2010. Some 49% of eligible white voters went to the polls in 2010 and 44% of blacks voted. The tally for Asians was about the same as for Hispanics. Although the absolute number of Hispanics voting increased in 2010, the gap between those who voted and those eligible to vote widened.
Second, American women have passed men in obtaining advanced degrees. This is a first. Women passed men in getting bachelor’s degrees some time ago. Women outnumbered men in college beginning in the 1980s.
• The New York Times takes us along Louisiana’s “Zydeco Trail.”
•AgriPulse reports that climate change experts are telling congressional staff that the latest forecasts of global temperature increases will lead to a 5% to 15% reduction in crop yields and a 200% to 400% increase in the areas burned by wildfires across the western U.S.
Corn yields are forecast to drop as much as 20% with a 2 degree warming and 40% decrease with 3 degree warming. (These are in Celsius.)
• Iowa Independent’s Tyler Kingkade contends that declining support for higher education (and soaring debts for students) hits rural areas the hardest.
• The Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star recalls how a fatal plane crash near Hebron, Nebraska, 35 years ago led Lincoln doctors to invent build an advanced trauma network in the state.
In February 1976, the pilot of a plane that crashed near Hebron had to hitch hike to town — and was then told to wait outside the hospital until a doctor arrived. The story was often told among trauma professionals and led Nebraska to create a trauma network across the state.