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California highlighted in documentary

California highlighted in documentary

June 13th, 2018 by Michelle Brooks in Local News

<p>Sarah Sabatke</p>

California was highlighted as a roadtrip stop in the "The WPA Guide to 1930s Missouri," a federal writers' project of the Works Progress Administration.

Nearly 90 years later, an avid road-tripper fell in love with this town after following that guide for a class project at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Sarah Sabatke, who graduated this month with a bachelor's degree in journalism, was assigned a "small" documentary project. Not one to take the simple path, the Wisconsin-native said she has hopes of developing the assignment into a larger project in the future.

Not being from Missouri and not having a car until this most recent semester, Sabatke embraced the freedom of her assignment while challenging her videography skills and combining it with her family's road-trip influence.

"This was my completely solo road trip," Sabatke said.

Although she traveled the full project scope — Union to Sedalia, by way of Schubert and California — in segments, she said it was a "legit" road trip with music, gas station conversations and scenery appreciation.

In total, she spent about 900 miles on the road for this project, which followed the original state thoroughfare of U.S. 50.

"I chose towns of different size, but all with history," she said.

California was her first stop, contacting the California Area Chamber of Commerce who put her in touch with Jack Bowlin.

"I hit the ground running," she said.

After that three-hour meeting with Bowlin, her concept came together in her mind as the project it became.

"I was in tears," Sabatke said. "Such incredible moments are why I do journalism."

Bowlin's coffee table was piled with books and photos and his stories just kept coming. Then, he took her on a driving tour of the town.

"I could see his eyes light up, how important this is to him," she said. After that, she said "I have a responsibility to do this the right way."

Sabatke said the row of churches impressed on her the reflection of the community's character through architecture.

In each community, she found the church played a role, not just religious, but as "the string to tie the community together."

And a return trip in March further revealed the town's history on a tour with Pam Green of the Finke Theatre and the Eitzen Mansion.

"It was cool seeing history being preserved in those buildings," she said. "California was a really cool experience; it made me excited to find the next town."

Those included Schubert, Union and Sedalia.

Schubert, an unicorporate town, essentially existed as St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Union was a town intentionally created as the county seat. And Sedalia was the second hardest-hit community by the Great Depression in the nation, according to Life Magazine.

What Sabatke hopes results from her documentary is an appreciation for the importance of historic preservation, she said.

"It can take different forms — physical buildings or documenting stories," she said. "But, once those stories are gone, we can never get them back.

"I feel a huge responsibility to tell them in an accurate way."