A Tale Of Two Towns

Stateline, Nevada nevadatravel.net

Velma Dempster Falgoust has lived in tiny Vacherie, Louisiana her entire 69 years, and she can trace her roots in the state back to the 1700's.

When asked why people like to live in Vacherie, Velma says: "It's country, and they really like it here. Everybody's friendly."

Here, in this Cajun community of roughly 5,800, about an hour out of New Orleans, folks like Velma have taken the concept of "all in the family" to a whole new level.

Velma's sisters Rosa and Mildred both live down the street. The rest of the family lives within shouting distance: Velma's sons Brian and Tad and her daughter Myra, Rosa's daughter Cornelia and her husband Michael, Mildred's daughter Susie, kids and grand kids and great grand kids. They stop in for dinner every Sunday and Monday night.

One family member, Joane, admits that she dreamed of moving to Hollywood and becoming a movie star.

"I dreamed that, but I want to stay here with my family," Joane explains.

She's not alone. It turns out that according to the 2000 census, Vacherie Louisiana is the least transient place in the whole country. Ninety-eight percent of the citizens here were born in Louisiana, while nationally, only about 60% of Americans live in the state where they were born.

Elton Oubre, a resident of the town, details his diverse heritage.

"I have some ancestors who are German, some ancestors who are Canary Islanders, some ancestors who are French soldiers, some ancestors who came from Canada down the river and settled in this area." Oubre says.

Oubre was so fascinated with his hometown that he compiled a 600 page history of Vacherie, which, incidentally means "Dairy Farm," after the one that used to dominate these parts. He says black families make up about half of the town's population, descendants of both slaves and free people of color, like the Kellers.

Oubre says the Keller family probably arrived "shortly after the civil war into Back Vacherie. Probably having to do with the availability of land also being sold in Back Vacherie, which was cheap enough for them to afford to buy."

Like so many Vacherie families, 69-year-old Gufeille Keller and his children live all along the same street. His daughter Barbara's house is just across the road.

"You can live here and in 30 minutes go in any direction and get anything you want," Barbara says. "But you can come back home to neighbors and you know, leave your door unlocked, and your car unlocked, and walk around barefoot and in your bed clothes, and go to the store in your nightgown."

Guilfolle says that little has changed throughout the years. "The harmony of the people is more or less the same. I mean, you know, technology's moved in and what have you. But the harmony, the love of the people [remains.]"

But as much as the people in Vacherie love their community, there are important reasons why they have the luxury of sticking around: well-paying jobs, in chemical and other plants along the Mississippi are readily available, and land is cheap.

"When land is subdivided, usually, you sell it to a relative so that's one of the other elements that keeps people here," Oubre notes.

If by now you're thinking that places like Vacherie are fast disappearing all across the country, you're right.

"I think we can tell that there is a lot of mobility over longer distances than there were in the past," says William Frey, a Demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He studies census figures to track American moving patterns.

"About 16 percent of the [American] population moves somewhere in a given year. It could be across the hall in the apartment complex. Or it could be from Maine to southern California," Frey says.

So where are we moving to and from?

Of all the States, only North Dakota has actually seen a recent drop in population (-0.4%, 2001-2002). California (33,871,648) and Texas (20,851,820) are still the most populous states. But they are not the fastest growing -- that distinction belongs to Nevada, (up 3.6%) Arizona (up 2.8%) and Florida (up 2.1%) (2001-2002).

"Those places are you might say revolving door states in some ways. Because people come in, if they like it, they'll stay. If they don't, because they've had this experience moving, they move out again," Frey says.

Of course America has always been a nation on the move. Expansion and exploration are as much a part of our character as home and Mom and apple pie. In the past, folks at the lower ends of the economic spectrum, usually renters, moved more often. But Frey believes that the new economy has created a new kind of mobility.

"The thing to focus on is what's happening with the younger generation," Frey explains. "The gen x'ers and gen y'ers who aren't used to thinking about having a lifetime job in a company that pays them the full pension and they can stay there forever and have their family taken care of and so forth. I think they're going to be prepared for this kind of more mobile lifestyle."

"I can't imagine a place where you grow, you live, you die as your grandparents and their grandparents before that," says 21-yeard old Amanda Bullock.

It's no wonder that she's drawn to Stateline, Nevada.

We decided to look for the flip side of Vacherie, Louisiana, and found it in this gambling resort community of about 1100 permanent residents, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, near the California border. Stateline, more of a Post Office district than actual town, is considered the most transient community in the whole USA. Only 4.5 percent of the people who call this place home were born in Nevada.

And Bullock, a native Texan who has come to work at the Front desk of Harrah's hotel and Casino, definitely sees herself as just passing through.

"People my age, it's usually the college kids who are here for the summer or just here for a season to get some money together and that kind of thing," Bullock observes.

Stateline is the direct opposite of Vacherie in other ways too. Those seasonal jobs are low paying, and land here is scarce and expensive. Houses are being snapped up for vacation homes by rich Californians who can afford $800,000 for a part-time residence.

"I take in rents all the time. I know how people struggle up here with making the rent every month," says Serena Roher, 25, who lives in Stateline with her husband, Jake.

The Rohers live and work in Tahoe Shores Trailer Park, one of the last affordable spots in Stateline, but they are about to become Stateline Statistics. They say they and their daughter Shalayla have loved being in Stateline, but after less than two years, they are already planning a return to Portland Oregon, where they both grew up.

"Most of the people I know, they live here with their spouse or by themselves," Jake says. "But their kids are gone, or their parents never lived here. I don't try to pry into their business too much, but it just doesn't seem like families live here together."

That of course is never a problem in Vacherie, where residents never tire of seeing each other.

  • Austin Burke

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