Buchanan named the Nicest Place in America by Reader’s Digest

BUCHANAN — Thursday morning, millions of people across the country learned Buchanan’s name.

Buchanan has been named the winner of Reader’s Digest’s annual Nicest Place in America contest. The announcement was made on NBC’s Today show Thursday, making Buchanan, a city of little more than 4,000 residents, known to more than four million viewers.

“I never expected that,” said Buchanan resident David Van Dyke, who nominated Buchanan for the contest. “I’m still processing it. I’m thrilled.”

The Nicest Place in America contest, now in its fourth year, is an effort on behalf of Reader’s Digest to find the nicest places in each state. According to its website, a nicest place is “a place where the people believe in kindness, civility and each other, neighbors help each other out, and strangers are welcomed as friends.”

In July, Buchanan was named the Nicest Place in Michigan as a contest finalist. Now, as the winner of the contest, an article and video about Buchanan are prominently featured on the Reader’s Digest website, and Buchanan will be featured on a cover of the Reader’s Digest print magazine.

According to an editor’s note attached to the story, several factors led to Buchanan’s win, including banners of veterans placed around town in place of the annual Memorial Day parade, which was canceled due to COVID-19 and a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest hosted after the death of George Floyd. The article also mentioned stories of young children raising money for the area’s food pantry, Redbud Area Ministries, and the city’s much-loved duck pond.

“In a challenging year for America, when the COVID-19 pandemic and the evil of racial injustice pushed so many places to the brink, what set Buchanan, Michigan, apart?” the editor’s note reads. “The 2020 Nicest Place in America is a town that would not be defeated by the coronavirus while uniting to say that Black lives do matter. It’s a place that has something to teach us all about caring for each other — even the least among us — not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.”

Jeremy Greenfield, senior editor of new product development at Reader’s Digest, said the nomination Van Dyke sent in for Buchanan was one of hundreds about the unity of small towns across the country.

“The reason we decided to tell Buchanan’s story on the cover of our magazine is because it is so exemplary of unity we saw all across the country,” he said. “If all you do is pay attention to the fighting on cable news and social media, you will miss the truth of what is happening in America, which is people are coming together and realizing that what unites is more important than their differences.”

Watching the announcement on the Today show Thursday morning was Heather Grace, the city’s new city manager. Grace and her family moved to Buchanan mere weeks ago to take over the position vacated by retiring city manager Bill Marx.

Though she is new to the city, Grace said she was welcomed with open arms by the community, making the new town feel like home already. She said she was thrilled to learn Buchanan was named the Nicest Place in America.

“It just seems so wonderful to know that the genuinely warm welcome I received is representative of the community as a whole,” she said. “[The Reader’s Digest article] did a really great job of nailing down what is great about our community — and that’s the people. I think this is going to be a source of great pride and a way to show the rest of the world what a warm, welcoming community this is.”

Van Dyke, who has lived in Buchanan for more than 17 years, also hopes the win shines a light on Buchanan to the rest of the U.S.

“This has made me proud of my community. This is a great silver lining to a hard year,” he said. “Our motto is ‘life is better here,’ and I believe that even more now. I want other people to see that’s true.”

From the Reader’s Digest headquarters in New York, Greenfield said he hopes people like Van Dyke and Grace share the word and message of the contest, believing that Buchanan’s story can inspire communities to step up and make the world a nicer place to live.

“Share this story,” he said. “We at Reader’s Digest believe very strongly that stories give people hope and inspire people to positive action. We hope that this story inspires people to say, ‘hey, I live in a place that like that. I want to make my town the nicest place in America next year.’”

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