I've spent a good bit of time in Spartanburg. Like everyone else in Spartanburg, I've driven past the tree-lined Milliken fortress and wondered what goes on in there, marveled at the trees that the late billionaire Roger Milliken contributed all over the city.
I've eaten at the Beacon, both when there were major political figures holding rallies there and when blue lights went racing up the hill behind it at night.
I've taken Sunday afternoon drives through Una and praised the freedoms that people have in South Carolina to live as they choose, park any furniture they like on the front porch, and fly the flags of their choice in the front yard.
I've read the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and been excited at the professionalism of the whole county's law enforcement, featured nearly daily in various reports of criminal activity.
I've visited Hatcher Gardens and Woodland Preserve, still so small and intimate, unencumbered by funding from the city or state.
I've felt a real spirit blanketing the city on Sunday mornings. I happened to be in Spartanburg on the morning after Election Day of 2008 and watched the pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg kneel on both knees beside his pulpit, pleading for strength in organizing and leading his church.
I know of the educational leaders of Spartanburg and know that while there are pockets where teachers get little real support from their administrators, there are some really fine leaders, too. Superintendent Jim Ray of Spartanburg District 3 has been an examplar for his colleagues in Spartanburg and across the state, winning state and national awards by the armload for visionary support of school technology and his educators.
I've witnessed great efforts by non-profit organizations to revitalize Spartanburg's downtown area, so hard to accomplish without great public investment. Hub City Writers Project, for example, perseveres into its sixteenth year -- a small but committed group of artists, leaning on one another and their colleagues from North Carolina and elsewhere.
I know a bit of Spartanburg's history, and its pride in textiles and manufacturing; that Philip Weaver of Rhode Island opened the city's first textile factory in 1819, just 11 years after the state's first factory opened in Charleston, and I know that even though Weaver fled the state in 1826 because of financial difficulties and his opposition to slavery, he'd firmly planted manufacturing in the county for the next two centuries. And what a legacy: Dexter Converse was able to endow Converse College with the proceeds from his Converse Manufacturing Company, opened in 1866. And it was John Montgomery and C.E. Fleming, who opened Pacolet Manufacturing Company in 1882, who established an important relationship with Deering-Milliken of New York just two years later. Without these pioneers, Spartanburg would never have become a land of successful mill villages, offering opportunities to poor people across the region after the Civil War.
And I know the city is blessed with gifted and well-connected political leaders. When former Vice President Dick Cheney needed a place from which to watch former President George W. Bush's debate with Sen. John Kerry, he came to the home of then-Speaker Pro Tem Doug Smith in Spartanburg. When former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee came to South Carolina during the 2008 presidential campaign, he made a beeline to this city first, to speak at First Baptist Church.
I read the extensive coverage of last year's Congressional race, when Spartanburg's own District Attorney Trey Gowdy took on and defeated the ultra-moderate Rep. Bob Inglis in his primary. What could be better than having your member of Congress live in your own county?
And even when the state's most influential leaders don't come from Spartanburg itself, they now live only a stone's-throw away: both Sen. Lindsay Graham and Sen. Jim DeMint are from right next door in Greenville.
So, with these freedoms, this spirit, these leaders and this deep history, I cannot understand why Spartanburg ranks so low in a survey of contentedness.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index interviewed at least 1,000 U.S. adults every day in 2010. Nearly 353,000 people age 18 and older were surveyed.
Participants, selected and called at random throughout the year, were scored according to how they measured their emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and basic access to necessities crucial to well-being, such as clean water, medicine and safety. Residents also were asked to evaluate their present and anticipated future life situation on an index of zero to 10, where “zero” represents the worst possible life and “10” represents the best possible life.
All but one of the categories for Spartanburg residents measured in the fifth and lowest quintile. Spartanburg's “healthy behavior” ranked 131st, putting it in the study's fourth quintile.
Spartanburg's lowest ranking was in physical health. The county's residents ranked it 181st in the nation. The physical health index includes information on items such as sick days, health problems that get in the way of normal activities, obesity and feeling well-rested.
The number seems to contradict the county's rank for healthy behavior, which factors in healthy eating habits, smoking, consumption of fruits and vegetables and exercise. Residents said they have poor physical health, even though they're making at least some attempt at a healthy lifestyle.
One local non-profit administrator offers a different, surely a rare, view of factors in Spartanburg's quality of life.
Trez Clark, program director for the PACE Center, a local nonprofit that provides mental health services, said a community's emotional health is directly related to other factors touched by the health and well-being survey.
People with poor physical health or a stressful work environment tend to be more depressed, she said. The study bases emotional health on factors such as worry, stress, depression and how much a person smiles or laughs.
“There's a part of me that's not surprised (with the survey) because we see so much (poor emotional health),” Clark said. “... So much is related. Physical, emotional, spiritual — it's related to the whole person.”
I can hardly see how Spartanburg's emotional and spiritual needs aren't being addressed. Its churches are generally large and regularly well-attended. It's a rare Wednesday night that the city's middle-class youth aren't keeping busy at the Hangar.
And I'm uncertain of how to interpret the survey's last point, as the language is not very clear:
Spartanburg residents ranked 177th on the well-being study for factors such as job satisfaction, their ability to use their strengths at work and how their supervisor treats them.
Perhaps it is the vagueness and ambiguity of the questions that yielded such poor results in this survey. If so, I hope that the sponsors will draft clearer questions if they intend to repeat the survey. Results like these are unhelpful in maintaining a sense of well-being about one's community.