The Community Development Society has named Milan Wall, founder and co-director of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, as winner of the CDS 2021 Distinguished Service Award.  The award is presented annually to a CDS member in recognition of superior and longstanding service to the field of community development.  The Community Development Society is an international organization of scholars and practitioners focused on community vitality and sustainability.

The award, which was presented at the annual CDS conference, noted that throughout Wall’s 35-year career at the Heartland Center, he has contributed significantly to both theory and practice affecting communities in the U.S. and abroad.  He is the co-author, along with Heartland Center co-founder Vicki Luther, of several community development publications, including the book entitled “Clues to Rural Community Survival,” first published in 1987 and updated several times since.

The research behind the publication’s conclusions about small town vitality has been shared in 34 states and 12 foreign countries.  The book’s list of 20 “clues” represents characteristics that Wall and his colleagues have found consistently in thriving small towns.  All 20 represent what the Heartland Center defines as contingencies that are controllable by community leaders.  Among the clues are “Evidence of Community Pride” and “Deliberate Transition of Power to a Younger Generation of Leaders.” 

Milan has facilitated hundreds of workshops and training sessions, and he has presented at national and international conferences in the United States, Canada and overseas.  He has helped many communities develop a strategic vision to guide their future.  Most notable, perhaps, was the tiny community of Pilger, Nebraska (population 352), which was decimated by twin tornadoes in June of 2014.  Community and regional leaders reached out to the Heartland Center for assistance, and Milan assembled a team that helped the community reinvent itself. 

As a consultant to the University of Nebraska, Wall has been instrumental in shaping a new community development initiative known as Rural Prosperity Nebraska, which formed teams of specialists and extension educators who help communities become better places to live, work and visit.  The Heartland Center has partnered with the university and other colleges on numerous USDA Rural Development grants to implement community vitality strategies in counties across the state of Nebraska.

Wall was nominated by Kurt Mantonya, a Nebraska Extension Rural Prosperity Nebraska educator, and a member of the CDS board of directors.  His nomination supported by Mary Emery and Cornelia Flora, both former presidents of CDS.  Dr. Flora is a former executive director of the North Central Regional Rural Development Center.  Dr. Emery is head of the department of sociology and rural studies at South Dakota State University. 

Milan has succeeded in previous careers in journalism and higher education and as an elected official, when he served two terms as a member of the Board of Education in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He has also been a member of the boards of several community-based nonprofit organizations.