The sign at the edge of Hillsdale on M-99 (Photo: Greg McLogan / Courtesy).

Hillsdale College’s  Richard Péwé thinks that Hillsdale’s unof­ficial city motto, “It’s the People,” doesn’t “say any­thing about the town,” and that what really stands out in Hillsdale is the college.

The people in question are absolutely right to dis­agree.

If Hillsdale College and the Hillsdale City Council are really inter­ested in improving rela­tions between the two com­mu­nities, their decision to replace the city’s iconic “It’s the People” M-99 welcome sign is a serious blunder.

After the Col­legian reported on the upcoming change (“It’s not the people anymore,” 8/31/16), a “Van­ished Hillsdale” Facebook poll found that res­i­dents favor the “It’s the People” sign by a margin of nearly 6 to 1. Many com­ments on the typ­i­cally amiable page were bitter.

“Hillsdale College is taking over this town and it’s sick­ening,” Hillsdale res­ident Tracy Johns wrote. “The town is more than just the college.”

This probably isn’t the kind of rela­tionship Péwé hoped the signs would produce.

The current sign, with its cheerful slogan sur­rounded by the badges of local service clubs and orga­ni­za­tions, is a cel­e­bration of Hillsdale’s res­i­dents and the com­munity they have built. It is mem­o­rable, instantly rec­og­nizable, and widely beloved.

The replacement sign will swap that com­munity flair for the slick branding of a mar­keting brochure, wel­coming trav­elers to the “Home of Hillsdale College” in the white and blue of official college signs. Vis­itors will pre­sumably have to find about about the Garden Club and the Rotary on their own.

The old sign had its draw­backs. The wicker design showed its age, and the lack of any mention of the college was awkward. This won’t even be the first time Hillsdale’s welcome signs have cap­i­talized on the college brand: according to a 1962 Col­legian photo, the pre­de­cessor to “It’s the People” also pro­claimed the town “Home of Hillsdale College,” with an enormous drawing of Central Hall to boot.

But the new design goes a step too far by casting the city of Hillsdale as one element of the college, rather than the other way around. No matter how big the school’s national brand may be, the city of Hillsdale belongs to the res­i­dents, and those res­i­dents are jus­ti­fiably keen to maintain an identity dis­tinct from that of the college.

It’s also worth asking what the college hopes to gain from a new sign in the first place. Its brand thrives on radio ads, on Rush Lim­baugh spots, on the cir­cu­lation of Imprimis, and on its online courses, not on a six-foot board twenty miles from any inter­state. There’s no reason why the college shouldn’t be content to leave the regional branding to the group inter­ested in building a regional brand: the city of Hillsdale.

To local res­i­dents upset by the change, all we stu­dents can say is that we’re bummed too. After all, “It’s the People” has united the college com­munity just as strongly as it has the city. The phrase has made an appearance in the past three freshman con­vo­ca­tions. Stu­dents and alumni sharing the news on social media voiced the same dis­ap­pointment and disgust as res­i­dents.

“One reason I got more knowledge than a lot of people at the college was that I spent so much time in town and had so many friends among the locals,” Joshua Rice ’14 wrote on Facebook. “The ever-deep­ening rift between the school and the town is dan­gerous, dam­aging, sad, and largely the college’s fault.”

In the end, that’s the biggest irony here. The sign that links college and com­munity best is the sign we already had. When it’s gone, we’ll all be worse off.


Egger is a senior studying history.

  • Penny Swan

    Seri­ously Mr Pewe ??? He doesn’t get what “It’s the people” says. I thought he was a deep thinker and can see “It is the people”.

    It’s our amazing radio station that is AWAYS there for us when we need them, the radio com­prises of people. We have a true jewel in our radio station.

    It’s our amazing framers, that give us all the won­derful fresh local food we have, like the local farmers market.

    It’s our local hardware store, that has most any­thing you want or they will get it, they have been family owned for a very long time, more “It’s the people”

    And it is the college people also.

    The amazing con­certs and plays that are open to everyone free, more “Its the people”

    “It is the people” in every town that makes up the town.

    There is such a division between the college and the town, and moves like this just makes that division wider.

    I am fully in favor of both being in our signs.

    • J & D

      Sorry, Penny. I don’t get your com­plaint because, I haven’t seen much exciting about “the people.” Why don’t you spend an afternoon in the town, viewing it through the eyes of a stranger and you will see that “the people” of Hillsdale is NOT a com­pliment. Being a college-proud town doesn’t mean you don’t have a farmers market or a hardware store…but it may mean some­thing besides inbred, meth heads because you get a sheriff’s department and judicial system that put the hurts on crim­inals, even when they are related to the “old guys” on the council. You seri­ously do not see how sad Hillsdale truly is to the out­siders.

      • Penny Swan

        Yes we have the problems every other city has with drugs and other nas­tiness.
        We also have many other amazing “people” in this town. That’s all that is being said. I am all for embracing the college, I am not all for letting go of Hillsdale and the people who live and work here year around. “It’s the people” includes “All” the people college and town.
        We both(College and Town) need to embrace each other and respect each other, and work for the greater good.

  • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

    When talking about towns, what do you think about when you hear a name, if not from around here what’s the only thing you know about the town, the college. Lacking the college, the town would be even more a ghost town than it is.

  • Sandy Daze

    Well said, Andrew Egger.

    It’s the People.

  • J & D

    I moved to this area 11 years ago. Frankly, hillsdale has very little to offer except for the college. The people in charge of the town have kept this place stunted and it is very behind. I have lived near several other college towns, grew up near Grove City and they, in embracing their college, developed their town into a lovely place. It’s more than a college with up-to-date shopping, fun places to poke your head in and browse, a good variety of places to eat and a culture. Hillsdale has high taxes, a lot of cor­ruption and not much else except for around the college. It was poor planning on their part to strive to be ‘seperate’ from the college. They should have developed a rapport, become a support system for the college who would, in turn, support the town. Seri­ously, it’s either rich or poor in Hillsdale. No real middle class. There is no shopping for the college kids, no where to eat after 8pm and not a lot of places to attract a college kid to eat. I think Hillsdale should dump their corrupt town council and get people whof are forward-thinkers and not “1960 let’s keep Hillsdale like it was when we were young.” Why aren’t the people of Hillsdale proud of their college? Why is it two sep­arate entity’s? I don’t get it — I think its pathetic that the college is a stranger in the town where it exists. A l.o.t of money gets spent in other places because Hillsdale is too stuffy to use a valuable resource. (We don’the shop much in Hillsdale either. There’s…no where to really shop.….eat.…)

    • Ellsworth_Toohey

      Mr. J&D:

      I really wanted to dis­agree with you. I wanted to show how wrong you were. So I went over your post trying to find some­thing. The problem is the more I read, the more I agreed with you. No shopping. No middle class. Lack of forward thinkers and poor planning. I really didn’t quite under­stand why I wanted to do a snappy comeback with you. Then it dawned on me, you really don’t know what is going on behind the curtain do you?

      It was you stating “I think Hillsdale should dump their corrupt town council and get people who are forward-thinkers” that made me realize this. Not that I dis­agree with this statement, I’ll hold open the dumpster for you, but it was you not real­izing what makes up the core of the council and the cities eco­nomic devel­opment. People with close ties to the college. Two college employees including a board member. One retired employee on a pension. A current PhD student and then another recent grad. And the cities eco­nomic devel­opment department con­tracted out to a firm owned by a well known college pro­fessor.

      Saying the rela­tionship is cozy I think it more then fair.

      Now, if you knew this, power to you, you are a man integrity. But if you didn’t would you still feel the same way, knowing the college has largely assim­i­lated Hillsdale City gov­erment, the very people you want to kick to the curb?

      Now I wasn’t going any­where with this other then to just point this out. Frankly the biggest defense of the sign and standing up to the col­leges efforts have come from none other then Hillsdale college stu­dents. For it’s one fault that you didn’t mention that is the single most toxic thing in this com­munity.… citizen apathy.

  • Sandy Daze

    I am a bit stunned with some of the invective casually thrown in Hillsdale’s direction.
    One com­menter says, “No shopping. No middle class. Lack of forward thinkers and poor planning” another bemoans a lack of “up-to-date shopping, fun places to poke your head in and browse, a good variety of places to eat and a culture.

    Really? Seri­ously?

    I am not sure what one thinks is the right mix and ratio of stores, eateries, or other
    enter­tainment venues in a town of +/- 8500. But the dis­sat­is­faction these writers present, I think, says more about them than it does about Hillsdale.

    Not good enough? Are you kidding?

    They seem­ingly scream, “ENTERTAIN ME.” Golly, in addition to a non-stop series
    of enter­tainment oppor­tu­nities at the college — whether sports, music, theater, art, or public dis­course (Clarence Thomas in May; Victor Davis Hanson all/ALL Sep­tember long) etc , there is no lack of other local oppor­tu­nities. During the sum­mertime, con­certs in Mrs Stock’s Park, BPU movies there too. There is a cinema in town, the Sauk in Jonesville (okay Jonesville isn’t Hillsdale, but is Jonesville too far away to be con­sidered local ???). Other potential venues for enter­tainment, for instance the Hillsdale First United Methodist Church concert series, ongoing.

    Not good enough? Are you kidding?

    If you want cute and bou­tique shops like Ann Arbor, well we do have Toasted Mud,
    Maribeth’s, the Jilly Bean and Checker Records among others. “Hillsdale Brewery” will open soon as will “HandMade” in the old Oakley’s. We’ve got the Farmers’ Market every Sat­urday for five months every year, and now, the overflow market too. It may just be me, but I can spend hours in a Gelzer’s hardware store, not to mention getting lost in the cav­ernous Walmart. Cer­tainly Tractor Supply meets my needs for our life out here… (ok, ok, the last two are in Jonesville too, but they are close enough, I think).

    Not good enough ? Are you kidding?

    Hillsdale is the site of the Most Popular Fair in the World. ‘Nuff said. Not good
    enough ? Are you kidding?

    Hillsdale has the American Legion which will make a meal for anyone almost anytime — make sure you get there for the fried fish dinner. There are other civic
    groups all engaged; some with fan­tastic culinary offerings (Moose, Eagles) and some with tremendous civic cam­paigns like the Kiwanis Flag project. This stuff is great. Not good enough? Are you kidding?

    Hillsdale’s Hos­pital – com­mitted to caring for our com­munity for over 100 years
    now. Not good enough? Are you kidding?

    Outdoor recre­ation is superb, including the great Baw Bees lake and park area, other
    parks, rivers, steams for hunting and fishing or simply walking. Not good enough? Are you kidding?

    Hillsdale might not be a BIG CITY with all of the accou­trements, but we’re only 90
    miles from Detroit, 190 miles from Cleveland or Chicago. Within that radius we’ve got Lansing, An Arbor, Jackson and numerous other cities. South Bend is only a hundred miles away.

    I think of Hillsdale as a family. Yes, there is some dys­function, crazy Uncle Joe up in
    the attic, etc . But, Hillsdale has a proud and dis­tin­guished history, dating from the land grants in the early 1800s. You can tell a lot about a com­munity by its ceme­teries. Here, whether Oak Grove, Lake View, St Anthony’s or some of the smaller out­lying final resting places, there is a metic­ulous concern for the final resting place of Hillsdale’s cit­izens. A com­munity looking to the future, looks to the past for both inspi­ration and to carry the banner of its fore­bears. Were each of these men and women perfect? No. But they con­tributed in way both large and small to make this com­munity, no less than today’s leaders con­tribute. They tried to do the best they
    could with the small amount of time God granted them to be on this earth. Which brings me to another thought, if one has spent over a decade of one’s life in Hillsdale and finds it so dis­agreeable — why stay here? Go some­where where you can enjoy your life, have the enter­tainment that sat­isfies you, that meets your emo­tional and
    physical needs. Goodness, life is too short to live in a place which is so dis­cordant to one’s sen­si­bil­ities.

    At the end of the day, when one adds up all the bits and pieces, one dis­covers that in Hillsdale, it truly is the people.

    If one finds that Hillsdale is not to one’s liking, then one is duty bound, I submit, to either be the change one wants, to move to a location more con­genial, or to keep one’s mouth shut.

    My 2₵.

    Thanks for letting me play.

    • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

      Living in the past is how ghost towns are estab­lished. Move on, or watch the town waste away, your choice. Insisting that the past was so great is a certain way to ensure it never is great again.

      Most popular fair, are you joking? As voted by the people in Hillsdale, yeah, I’ve been past other fairs that have the exact same claim, or one equally dubious.

      As to moving away, yes, planning on it. A state and town that want to stay in the past, reliving the good old days, no thanks, I’ll move some­where that sees tomorrow as better than today, proud of the past, but not stuck there.

    • Gra­ma­janice

      Yes, I’m and old lady that’s lived here my whole life. But I agree with Sandy. Life is what you make it. If you can’t help move on. If you can..step right up. We are what we are. That doesn’t mean we are not open for change. Enjoy yourself in our com­munity. And…Welcome.