Can One Conservative Impact a Community?
As conservatives who advocate for principles such as the importance of communities and subsidiarity, it’s crucial that we practice what we preach and give of ourselves in ways that personify the philosophy we claim. There is a myriad of examples of conservatism in practice, but one that has visibly and undeniably impacted her community and myself is Annette Kirk.
Annette is the widow of Russell Kirk, the best-selling author who is known as the founder of modern day conservatism. Russell passed 25 years ago, leaving Annette to uphold his incredible legacy as the president of the Kirk center for Cultural Renewal in the village of Mecosta, Michigan. Beyond the village, Annette has worked with various presidents including Ronald Reagan and held leadership and chair positions on various boards. While Annette does incredible work publicly and politically, she holds a deep understanding of the importance of making personal connections and giving of herself to her local community.
I sat down with Annette, her intern, and multiple Mecosta locals to learn more about Annette’s story. The overwhelming theme that emerged from each conversation was Annette’s willingness to give of herself. Mecosta boasts of her hospitality and generosity toward them. Dr. Gleaves Whitney, a close friend of Annette and Russell, says “She has a personal presence, a personal commitment, to befriend people. And it’s genuine. It’s not just out of a public relations stunt; it’s truly a genuine warmth and desire to know people. And that example has proved very weighty in the American conservative movement.”
Annette and Russell took in a homeless man for six years, as well as several groups of refugees and escapees of communism. “Back in the ‘70s...back in the ‘80s they were taking in people from all over the place. And, you know, refugees from Africa and from behind the Iron Curtain and in the Eastern European Soviet orbit, people who had been oppressed”, says Dr. Whitney. They also took in women who were dealing with problem pregnancies and gave generously of their time and money without question or judgement. Today, she hosts college students, scholars, and conservatives of all backgrounds at the Kirk center.
Another close friend of the Kirk says, “The place exists as a haven for all those wearied from battling the degeneracy of our own age, and Mrs. Kirk has refurbished the armor of many a way-worn pilgrim. She possesses a seemingly endless energy and has an amazing faculty for remembering names and people. She exhibits the lady-like elegance of a more refined age in America; one which many believe passed forever with the closure of “Camelot” in the early 1960s, but which Russell Kirk knew would live on in her. She combines genuine hospitality and wit with penetrating reason; a rare combination.”
Many locals say that Annette’s hospitality has put the tiny village of Mecosta on the map and increased traffic there dramatically. She is proof of what one person can do for a community; and this is what conservatism in action must look like. If we clamor for small government and localized assistance for the poor, we must fulfill the duty of actually being those beneficiaries, as Annette Kirk does, in order to make conservatism possible.
Gabrielle Temaat is a senior at Arizona State University studying economics. She is currently working as a writing tutor at ASU and a communications intern at the Acton Institute.