Remember the innocent lure of River City in that classic movie The Music Man? Then you can imagine Smithfield, Virginia. This small town on the brackish Pagan River drums up the same finger-snapping community spirit. "Memorial Day to Labor Day, people gather at free Friday night concerts on the grass outside The Smithfield Times," says Rick Bodson, who moved here three years ago. "Everyone brings a picnic supper, and at intermission we all head to the ice-cream shop." His wife, Brenda Joyner, chimes in about the camaraderie: "You can practically stop cooking here," she says. "There are barbecue dinners, fish fries, baked-potato suppers, wine-tastings―something all the time to make money for a cause."
As Rick and Brenda saunter down Main Street, acquaintances appear as if on cue. With one passerby, Rick confirms tomorrow's time for sailing. There's a friend Brenda knows through her Master Gardener program and another from the Cultural Arts Center. "Hey y'all" rings out from fellow Relay for Life volunteers. In 2004, Smithfield ranked fifth in its population group for U.S. contributions to that cancer-research fund. "This county isn't rich," says Rick. "It's just folks digging deep into their pockets."
John Edwards, editor/publisher of The Smithfield Times, describes how the "digging" goes. Overhauling Main Street, he says, required townspeople to match a private grant. "One homeowner told me, 'If you said it's for economic development, I would have thrown you out. But for beautifying our hometown, I'll give.'"
Main Street's resulting brick sidewalks and fresh storefronts testify to generous donations. As a civic benefactor, Smithfield Foods Inc. leads among businesses. Founded in 1936 by the still-prominent Luter family, the pork producer tallied $11.4 billion in sales last year and remains committed to Smithfield.
Newcomers such as Rick and Brenda, who spent 25 years in big-city corporations, share Smithfield's optimism. John Edwards says people like them "give new manpower, organizational skills, computer technology, and personnel management to our activities." They also bring respect for this place's past. The 17th-century settlement grew up here "because it was a safe harbor," says Brenda. It still is, she adds. "Rick and I moved to Smithfield to be part of a real community."
Smithfield & Isle of Wight Convention and Visitors Bureau; 757/357-5182 or www.smithfield-virginia.com