The Free Net

By Carrie Park, Class of 2016

Let your mind drift back. Back to a simpler time. The year was 1991 and the world was a vastly different place. The Soviet Union was dissolving. Pluto was still a planet. People complained that Saturday Night Live was not as good as it used to be. Somebody named Clinton (not Hillary) was trying to get the Democratic nomination, while Republicans grew disenchanted with Bush (not Jeb) and a rogue millionaire businessman (not Trump) with no previous political experience took the political world by storm. The more things change…

Twenty-five years ago, Leadership Medina, a fledgling program whose stated purpose was to “develop leaders who would transform communities,” inducted its inaugural class. One could have argued that there was no need for such a program. After all, Leadership Cleveland had been around since 1977 and Leadership Akron since 1984. But according to Cary Blair, one of the founders of Leadership Medina County, Medina County had a unique situation that necessitated the creation of its own community-focused group. “One of our goals, outside of training leaders, was to unite Medina County,” Blair stated. “Back then, Wadsworth, Brunswick, and Medina were split. We had to make sure Leadership Medina united the county.”

The thirty members of that first class echoed this sentiment. When surveyed in 1991 and asked what critical issues Medina County faced, seventeen class members cited county unity and said that the cities needed to work together toward the same end. Not surprising, other issues the First Class brought up were education funding, job retention and creation, and anticipating and accommodating population growth. The more things change…

The Leadership program today is remarkably similar to what it looked like twenty-five years ago. Good ideas hold up well over time. The initial framework of the program was taken from Leadership Cleveland. This made sense since Cleveland had a model that was looked to as a national success.

Blair and his board added Agricultural Day in a salute to Medina’s rural component. As it turns out, however, “rural-ness” is in the eye of the beholder. In a binder from 1991, found buried deep in the archives at Leadership’s headquarters, a recap of that first Agriculture Day reads: “If you didn’t have an opportunity to watch the six o’clock news on Channel 3, the two-minute segment showed portions of our luncheon and also featured the farm [we visited] in Spencer. We were referred to as city-folk interested in learning more about agriculture in Medina County.”

Probably the most fascinating topic that the Class was exposed to that year was a discussion about something called the “Free-Net.” Class members were given an article from the Medina County Gazette entitled Democracy in Hard Drive. The “Free-Net” was defined as a community-based computer telecommunications system. It was, essentially, the early rumblings of the Internet and Medina was the sixth city in the nation to have this type of system. The “Free-Net” allowed users to post on an electronic bulletin board and do other things like access the library’s card catalogue. The system was able to support eight users at one time.

“Can you imagine an online system that only supported eight users?” I asked my son.
“Wow,” he said, and gave me a sincere look of sympathy. He is a Millennial, after all, and therefore views life before the Internet akin to life without running water.
“It says they were trying to raise $15,000 to buy a computer system that would double the memory capacity and therefore double the amount of users from eight to sixteen.”
“$15,000 for sixteen people to just be able to access the library?” he questioned. I knew by his look of complete wonder that he was pondering if we even had access to fire back then.
“Well,” I defended. “It says they could also reserve a book or video and have it delivered via the bookmobile.”
“Bookmobile,” he repeated, visibly confused. “So, it was like Amazon?”
“Sure,” I said, giving up.
But with Medina’s reputation for tackling new frontiers, it makes you wonder how the class who celebrates the 50th anniversary of Leadership will view us. After all, the more things change…

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