To the Editor,

†I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I walked out the door of the Center for Rural Affairs on Aug. 30. It was my last day.

After 37 years, the Center will always be a big part of me. And I will always be indebted to all who helped make it the nationís leading force fighting for the rural and small town way of life.

I first set eyes on the Center one summer Sunday in 1976, at the age of 21. It was based in an old, one room storefront with high tin ceilings on Main Street in Walthill, Neb. It was led by the balding and brilliant 29 year-old Marty Strange and the grizzled and thoughtful 32 year-old Don Ralston.

That day changed my life. And the Center for Rural Affairs changed the course of history in rural America, with a lot of help from you who share its commitment to creating a better future. Together, we upheld the value of strong communities with responsible citizens, genuine opportunity for all and stewardship of the land and water.

Together, we opened doors of opportunity to beginning farmers, small businesses and new leaders. Together, we fought important fights in Washington and state capitols to support family farms, ranches, small business, small towns and to care for the land and water.† And we won our share of those fights.

The Center has reached a crucial point in its history. Leadership change tests the mettle of organizations. Strong organizations thrive by growing their own leaders to step up when needed. Marty Strange and Don Ralston tutored and nurtured me. I in turn tutored and nurtured Brian Depew, who is taking my place. Brian hails from a Laurens, Iowa family farm and is deeply rooted in rural America.

After seven years working alongside Brian, I know he is prepared. I know the Center will march into the future with its supporters, allies and citizen leaders, as a strong champion for rural Americaís people, small towns, and the values we all share.

†Chuck Hassebrook, former Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs

Lyons, Neb.