Since then she's struggled to find a full time job. "There aren't any." So she works at the local J-Mart gas station. "It's an excellent place to work, it's just that I get maybe 21-22 hours a week. I get up at 3:30 in the morning, that's tough." When she's done working at the gas station, she cleans houses and waits tables. "I've come to realize I am never going to make $12.50 an hour again. I will settle for $8 bucks and hour and benefits," she said.
One of the big difference in small towns like Stockton is people weren't just laid off. Major employers like the Stockton Correctional Facility, Schult Homes and Brooke Insurance shut down. So there's very little chance those jobs will come back. "It's a strong community but there's still only so much you can do," said lifelong resident Don Hamit.
There's not much they can do because there aren't many jobs or people living in Stockton to begin with. The town and the rest of Rooks County have the highest unemployment rate in western Kansas, 7.3% which equals 188 people. "It's made an impact for sure," said Hamit.
"If I were in a bigger city, I probably wouldn't have any financial problems," said Marian Conyac. She runs the End of the Line Hobby Shop. She does it so there's one less empty store front on Main Street.
But lately she often finds her place empty of customers. "These difficult days, you have too rely on the Lord. Everyday I pray for each and every business in town," she said. Conyac says somehow her bills always get paid. She's had a customer come in three times and buy about $600 worth of model trains. Each time that covered her bills. She calls him her guardian angel.
Conyac says although she's grateful, she can't keep her doors open that way. She says only a few locals support her business, the rest are people driving through. Main street in Stockton is where Highway 24 and Highway 183 cross. But she's determined to keep going, so she's going to start selling her merchandise online. "I think that's the only way I'm going to survive. You have to be competitive and everyone is wanting to shop the easy way," she said.
Positive Things Happening
Not everyone is wanting to shop the easy way. Dick and Cynthia Sherbondy moved to Stockton to help support the community. "He wanted to know if I wanted to be a Kansas farm girl," Cynthia said. The two met online. Dick, a Stockton native was a lawyer in Denver and Cynthia was a dentist in Oregon. They got married and moved to Stockton two years ago.
"She bring in 10 people from at least 30 miles away each day. When they're here, they buy gas, groceries, beer or whatever they want," Dick said. If his wife wouldn't have moved here, Stockton would likely have lost its dentist. The man she bought the practice from was in his 70's. "I feel appreciated. People are just happy here to have their tooth taken out and they all say thank you afterwards," Cynthia said.
The community is thankful to anyone working to keep Stockton alive. "But there's just so much one person can do. It just takes everybody working together," said Conyac. She says they need help to attract more customers for business owners and jobs for people who need them.
"I would hate to see this turn into a ghost town," Palmer said. That's because she and everyone else in Stockton want to both live and make a living in the town they love. "I'm kind of proud to say I live here," she said.
Help for Rural Kansas
Stockton isn't alone in its struggles. Many small Kansas town face similar problems.
There is help out there, the Kansas Sampler Foundation is an organization working to preserve rural life. It helps communities find ways to promote themselves, connects towns to help solve problems and teaches residents how they can contribute to their communities success.
Stockton business owner, Lin Cross says towns do benefit from the encouragement of the Kansas Sampler Foundation. She says it brings awareness that rural Kansas is important and people shouldn't just let small towns die.