Small-town pleasures worth visiting


Living in the hills, this may come as a surprise to you: I am a girl of the prairie. Born in Eureka, S.D., my ancestors are the farmers who helped turn this land into the wheat capital of the world in the late 1800s.

Today, like many prairie towns, Eureka fights to survive — to generate new blood in an aging population .

I went to Eureka with my daughter this week to show Kara life in a small town and the spiritual connection between the people and the land. It turns out, Eureka’s most famous citizen had the same idea.

Allen Neuharth, founder of USA Today, has moved back here, to the place where he lived until fifth grade. Now 77, Neuharth has purchased his childhood home and the house next door, giving a huge boost in ego (not to mention population) to this tranquil town.

The newspaper mogul and his wife have adopted six young children and want them to experience small-town life in the same way I want my daughter to see it. So they’re coming each summer to swim in the lake, play in the park and, on special occasions, eat at the town’s hot spot — the Luncheonette. Even the menu reflects a rebirth in spirit. The Friday special is now seafood chowder and enchiladas.

Windmill power

Spending the last two weeks in farm country, I’ve seen hundreds of windmills, but none as spectacular as the 200-year-old windmills in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Thankfully, after years of decay, the first steps are being taken this week to save these civic treasures.

Oakland architect Cindy Sterry is part of the restoration project that involves sending the South Windmill’s 40-ton dome to the Netherlands for repair. To see the windmills operating in a colorful Dutch garden with an education center and trails is a grand vision indeed — and a group of people are making it happen. Just one more reason to celebrate life in the Bay Area.

On another note

Thanks to civic leader Ann Wodell for reminding me that the Oakland Municipal Band starts its 91st season of summer concerts on July 14 at the bandstand in Lakeside Park. These are fun, free, old-fashioned concerts the whole family can enjoy while stretching out on a blanket each Sunday afternoon through Aug. 11. Add to that a special Fourth of July concert at the bandshell (1 p.m.), and you have the makings for an all-American celebration. Organizers say flag waving is encouraged.

Getting around

When you’re no longer content to tool around town in a car, see Steve Steinberg. This local guy is “pushing” a new kind of vehicle: the XKate Powerboard motorized skateboard. With a handheld throttle and brakes, this baby can go up to 22 miles per hour. Steve says Olympic skier Johnny Mosely has been riding a board like this across the Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito to San Francisco. You can be the first one on your block to have one; they’ll be available this fall for just under $600.

Human error

Everyone makes mistakes. But when a columnist makes one, it gets plenty of attention. David and Kelli Bordessa tell me they were quite surprised to read, last week, that they were moving their business, Montclair Fitness. What I meant to write was that Fitness Connection of Montclair was moving (next to Rite Aid). Meanwhile, Montclair Fitness is doing quite well in its location, two doors down from Wells Fargo Bank. That’s especially good news for one of the gym’s clients, who still works out at the age of 85.

E-mail bag

Here’s proof that one person can make a difference. Reader Jill Ellis is working to educate the public on the issue of newborn hearing loss. Turning a deaf ear to this problem, not one hospital in Alameda County screens healthy newborns for hearing problems, she says. Early detection could mean a baby as young as 6 months could be outfitted with hearing aids and given special education. To help, Ellis has founded the Center for the Education of the Infant Deaf. For more information, look on the Web at http://www.ceid.org.

Fun fair

I’ve been to my share of fairs, and the Alameda County Fair gets the blue ribbon. Go through the gates and head straight to the garden exhibits, where the waterfalls and lush landscape offer a cool oasis from the searing heat. The 4H building is another favorite, where a buck gets you a piece of homemade cake or pie. Then top off the day with the free 6 p.m. concert in the outdoor amphitheater. Two Bay Area favorites play the fair this year — Tower of Power (tonight) and father-daughter combo Pete Escovedo and Sheila E (July 7). An East Bay institution for 90 years, the Alameda County Fair is one of the best summertime deals around.

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