“Hello! My name is Elise Osteen and I’m interning at the Regional Economic Development Headquarters!” seems to be the top phrase of today’s adventures. My job today was to annoy the people of Sumter with oddly personal questions, such as where’s your favorite restaurant? What’s your favorite part of Sumter? Would you like to buy a box of Thin Mints? (I’m obviously kidding with that last one.) There’s a whole community of amazing and interesting people with different stories and backgrounds that I’ve gotten the chance to explore around town. With my assignment today just being “people,” I was a little nervous if I’m being completely honest, but, contrary to my prior beliefs, it was actually a relatively simple task. Basically, just meet new people. That doesn’t mean I went and introduced myself to every stranger on the street (don’t worry), it just means I was able to find out more about someone than just their label, such as waitress, store owner, or cashier, which ended up being incredibly fascinating to a teenager who used to see Sumter as another boring small town. I’m here to tell you it’s NOT. The people here make all the difference in the world to building an enjoyable and close-knit community like this one.
The first of many I had the pleasure of meeting today was Joe Perry, who is the Communications Coordinator for Sumter County Government and, additionally, claims that he is “good at lunch.” He’s been working and living in Sumter since 2005 but took time off to be a stay-at-home dad for a while. Perry also creates content for the county website, which Matthew Morse, who works in the tourism communications office, has been working on revising for a couple of months now. He claims it’s been more work than he thought, but the new and improved Sumter website will now have features such as being able to register online. There’s a lot more work than I thought that goes into tasks like these, I sure couldn’t do it, but shoutout to Perry and Morse for always helping out and looking for new ways to improve the county.
I stopped by my dad’s office at Coldwell Banker to say hello, like the sweet daughter I am, and to also ask for money, but that’s not important. I talked with one of his co-workers, Jay Davis, about his Sumter experience after living here his whole life. He said he wouldn’t change anything about Sumter and personally likes the downtown area. With two of his kids being in my class, he added that he feels it’s a great place to raise your children. I talked with another man at Little’s Cleaners who has also lived here his entire life, and even though the thought of living one place my entire life kind of freaks me out, Gary Elmore loves the small town, personal feel to Sumter. He said he gets the shakes if he goes too far out of town (which concerns me a little bit, but I assume he’s kidding.) It’s provided a place for his whole family to live, and a place to open his family’s dry-cleaning service that’s been in business since 1997. Despite Sumter bringing in new restaurants downtown, his favorite restaurant is his backyard. After I left, Garry stopped me in the parking lot to share with me his work (and life) philosophy: “The greatest human characteristic is to anticipate the needs of others,” which is now added to my “possible senior quotes” list. Thanks Gary.
Today I did something I never thought I’d do: visit the library. I met with Robert Harding, the director of the Sumter County Library and lover of Side Bar, who was also born and raised here. He informed me that it’s more than just a library, it’s a center of community. I also learned that they offer a number of programs for children, teens, and adults. Since I am, in fact, a teen, I learned more about the program, which allows people ages 13-18 to meet and talk about programming, explore, and get involved with the library. So, if you’re a tech wiz or a book nerd (or not, that’s fine too,) I highly suggest checking it out.
Since all I found to eat for breakfast in my pantry was a flavorless oatmeal packet, I decided I would grub at one of my favorite restaurants in Sumter for lunch, the Thai House. I ordered the spicy crab roll which I rate a 10/10. I get it almost every time I go, and it never disappoints. I keep telling myself I’ll branch out and try something new, but we all know that isn’t going to happen. My waitress, Saengduean, is from Thailand and has been living in America for 10 years now. She loves Sumter, even though she says she has no idea why she came, but nonetheless enjoys raising her three kids here. So, the next time you’re driving down Bultman, I suggest you stop by and try the spicy crab roll.
I had the wonderful opportunity to be my dad’s guest at Rotary, where we played a round of Kahoot to start us off. I’m not gonna lie, when I heard the Kahoot theme song start playing, I started to freak out because I’ve never heard that music outside of school, and I didn’t think I would hear it again until late August, but that’s okay. Two new members of Rotary spoke and told their stories to introduce themselves. Never did I think that Miss Nebraska would be joining the Sumter Rotary Club, but as I always say, life’s crazy. I learned that because of Rotary, the Polio disease has been reduced 99.9% since 1988 and that this year’s theme is “be an inspiration.” It was definitely an hour well spent.
Because my car’s A/C decided to break in the middle of July, naturally, I thought it would be a good idea to get a snow cone from Pelican’s, A.K.A. Sumter’s new hotspot. I was informed that one of the most popular flavors was strawberry cheesecake, so I decided to try it. There’s also a dill pickle flavor on the menu, but considering I hate pickles and that sounds disgusting, I passed on that one for now. I actually hate how much I liked strawberry cheesecake flavored ice, but yeah, I highly recommend it. The only downside is it turns your tongue bright red, which honestly is more of a bonus now that I think about it. So, if you’re ever wondering what to do in Sumter, sitting in your car listening to good music and eating flavored ice is a pretty solid option.
Since I still had time left after half of my snow cone melted from the lack of airflow in my car, going to look at animals seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I whipped on over to Petco to look at the cats and ferrets they had out and took some pictures. I went to look for someone to interview that worked there, and it just so happens that the girl behind me at Pelican’s was at the cash register (crazy, I know.) So, I talked with Beth about this strange encounter (and if you’re wondering, she got a fruity pebbles flavored snow cone) and found out that she thinks just like most other 20-year-olds living in a small-ish town. Like most people around my age, the goal is to get out as fast as you can and move as far away as possible, but, if you take step back, Sumter can actually be a really enjoyable place to live in our younger years. There’s a lot more to do than we think, we just have to venture out explore new possibilities. Even though Sumter might not have everything Columbia or the beach have (like a beach) like Beth said, it really does make up for that with the people in this community.