Milbank became the first rural city in the upper Midwest and only the second city in South Dakota to be added to AARP’s list of age-friendly communities. Milbank joins Sioux Falls and over 300 other cities nationwide. A recognition ceremony was held in Milbank on Friday, January 31, at the Milbank Visitors Center.
Eric Gaikowski, director of AARP for South Dakota, said, “The goal is to improve people’s lives whether you are eight years old or 80 years old… to help communities thrive not survive. He stated all the honorees in the upper Midwest have populations of 20,000 or larger. “I hope other rural communities will replicate what Milbank does as they go forward with their plans for an age-friendly community.”
AARP is one of the members of the coalition Livable 605 which works with South Dakota communities to build partnerships, develop resources, and implement strategies to enhance livability for all ages. Their network includes dozens of members from community sectors such as business, education, foundations, government, health care, and the media. The members serve as go-to resources for creating an age-friendly and more livible community.
Bobbie Bohlen, director of the Grant County Development Corporation, spoke to the attendees and said, “605 Livability will serve as a guidepost to help us to continue to grow our own definition of success and to maintain a solid foundation. Rural communities are a lifestyle choice. It is not a second choice; we do not sacrifice quality of life by living here. We have access to opportunity as long as we dream big and work hard. The partners we work with will help us to make a difference.”
On the way to Milbank’s age-friendly designation, Bohlen and the members of the GCDC sought to answer the perennial question of how to maintain the population in a rural area. But, even more so, they were motivated to create a deep and long term solution for Milbank. They sent out a survey and manned main street listening posts to give people a chance to voice what matters most to them.
They also created a Milbank index. The Milbank index is nearly the same index AARP uses to create a livability-oriented community by focusing on the segments of lifestyle, health care, education, and community connection. The board decided to put their energy toward improving those categories and define success accordingly. They believe sales tax revenues and population growth — typical measurements of community vitality — will follow.
As Milbank continues taking steps in building a better place for future generations, current projections on worldwide aging suggest adults over the age of 65 will outnumber children age 18 and under by 2035. Older Americans tend to be more concerned about access to healthcare. Rachel Sherad Vice President of Avera Health Care addressed the group and said she believes livable communities go hand in hand with Avera. Avera opened the doors to their new Milbank hospital three years ago. The campus was made possible through local donations of $5 million. Sherad said, “Milbank can also be proud of the local scholarships they award each year to high school seniors, so they can go out and make a difference. A livable community invites the students back home. How much better can it get?”
She also stated, “Milbank is a border town and many communities will look to you for what you have and will accomplish.” Milbank plans to start sharing their successes with communities in the US and around the world.
Milbank Mayor Pat Raffety said, “We worked hard to get to the standards necessary to achieve this honor. We have a lot of good things on the horizon, and it is a great time to be a resident of our community. Our foundation is solid and there is nothing but opportunity before us.”