Since 1994, Dr. Troy Nash, a Kansas City native, has traveled to countless countries around the world with People to People International while serving on their board of directors. He has been to Cuba, Taiwan, England, Spain, South Africa, Vietnam, Egypt, Estonia, Tanzania, and Kenya, to name just a few. But ask which place he’s traveled to that captures his imagination the most, and you get an odd answer, “Definitely Marshall, Lexington, and Richmond, Missouri.”

He doesn’t mention people he’s met like world leaders, queens and kings, or leading corporate executives, but instead he mentions names like Ron Ott, Gary Vandiver, John Waters, and Pat and Gary Worth, who own the River Reader bookstore—all from rural Missouri. Troy has experience in economic development work to help communities grow and survive. His eyes light up as he talks about walking through family farms, learning about soybeans, cattle, corn production, and the local businesses. So how did a world-traveler from Kansas City’s poorest community, come to love rural Missouri?

What was it like growing up in Kansas City?

I’m a product of a single-parent home and was raised on public assistance in an economically deprived urban area. With no father in the home, I had to watch my mother struggle every day just to put food on the table. It was a rough life, but for me the US Air Force was the way off the streets. I escaped [becoming a] statistic through military service and education.

When did you first come to mid-Missouri?

I first had an opportunity to travel to Marshall when I met Bill Riggins, who at the time was the city’s economic development director. As a consultant, we worked together to find solutions to promote development in the area. It was through Mr. Riggins that I would go on to meet a number of farmers, bankers, politicians, and others in the community.

What have you found unique about rural Missouri?

Having spent time in Saline, Ray, and Lafayette counties, I have come to appreciate more fully the challenges facing rural communities. Because of where I was raised, I had no idea how my rural brothers and sisters lived on a day-to-day basis. People always talk about how different we are, but I found for the most part, we’re the same. We all want the best for children, safe communities, and decent work.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

It came from two men who took a special interest in me. One is a Democrat. The other is a Republican. One is a Methodist preacher and Congressman. The other is a successful real estate developer. One is black. The other is white. US Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II taught me you can be in politics and still be civil, saying, “Bees can’t make honey and sting at the same time.” Mr. Hugh Zimmer taught me the value of long-term investing saying, “It is better to go for the slow nickel than the quick dollar.” These men helped shape my thinking for the better.

Photo // Raye Jackson