Benkelman is a town with a view…and a view of the future
About as far south and west as you can go and still be in Nebraska, Benkelman is a town with a view, built on spectacular terrain featuring lookouts and ledges. Only three hours from Denver International Airport, you’ll find the hectic, high-priced urban lifestyle evolves into wholesome, affordable, rural living in Benkelman and Dundy County.
The lifestyle of the almost-mythical American rancher and cowboy come alive in Benkelman. There are more veterinarians than doctors in Dundy County, and no wonder: an estimated 70,000 cattle range on land that is all privately owned, with not a single commercial feedlot.
Fiber-optic infrastructure connects Benkelman to the world
Randy Raile, BWTelcom CEO, is the fourth generation of the Raile family in southwest Nebraska.
“BWTelcom offers the communication advantages of fiber optics terminals to our customers,” said Raile. “For example, the Circle B Motel, a progressive business here in town, provides wireless internet services to their patrons, and they handle reservations via their high-speed Internet connection.”
In addition to telecommunications, long distance service, computer sales/service, and cable TV, BWTelcom facilitates economic development for the region through a unique lending fund administered through the USDA under which entrepreneurial businesses may apply for start-up funding. (For more information on this program, contact Linda Melchert at the USDA in Benkelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Benkelman citizens do what needs to be done
Not long ago, Dundy County citizens saw a need for Jaws of Life technology. Passengers in roll-over accidents were sometimes trapped inside their vehicles and attempts to rescue them were difficult without the Jaws of Life.
“Dundy County citizens organized pot luck dinners, beef sales, a silent auction and in less than a year we raised $80,000 to purchase the Jaws of Life equipment for the county,” said Linda Melchert, a Benkelman community leader. “Many communities just complain about their circumstances; Benkelman citizens stand up and do something.”
When citizens expressed dissatisfaction about the appearance of the business district, a committee formed to improve the downtown.
“We gathered a group of women called the ‘Shady Ladies’, and planted 30 trees on main street,” said Melchert. “The trees are thriving and beautiful, and they add a pleasing ambience to downtown.”
Following that success, committees raised money and volunteered to plant and care for trees by the baseball diamond; cleaned, landscaped and installed an irrigation system for the park; and landscaped an empty lot in the business district.
The beautification committee also asked Benkelman adults and youth to enter a “Draw Your Dream Park” contest. The youth said they wanted a skate park, and instead of waiting for grownups to get it for them, the young people raised money to build it. Among many other projects, they raffled promotional materials that champion skateboarder Tony Hawk donated to Benkelman youth for fund raising.
A home-owned, home-grown carnival
When the carnival franchise used at the county fair cancelled Benkelman from its route because the county’s population didn’t meet their minimum, Benkelman leaders met with the Fair Board and voted to purchase a carnival of their own. Interested citizens traveled nationwide in search for carnival rides.
In time, they collected rides and games to appeal to all ages, including a Ferris wheel in Canada that they bought sight-unseen for $17,000.
The carnival’s crown jewel is a nearly 70-year-old carousel listed in the National Carousel Association’s historic register. A Benkelman couple who were traveling in Nashville, Tennessee discovered the carousel and informed the Fair Board, who arranged to buy it. The community raised the money to build a structure to protect it, and it was transported to Benkelman. Festooned with over 1,000 lights, it’s quite a sight on the Nebraska prairie.
The rides are inspected annually for safety, run by volunteers, and the cost per ride is affordable at 50 cents/ride. Says Pat Rotherham, community leader and the State Bank president. “This is the way the fair used to be, a rodeo, a demolition derby, a country western singer, and carnival rides and games for everybody.”
Dundy County Hospital (DCH) is southwestern Nebraska’s most respected and comprehensive health care organization, a county-governed, non-profit organization with heritage for nearly 5 decades of providing quality, compassionate, cost-effective care with over 9,500 outpatient visits and 1,250 inpatient days per year. Dundy County Hospital services a county population and adjoining area base of nearly 4,800 rural residents, with majority of patient’s residing in Dundy and Hitchcock Counties and encompassing a large Medicare population. Dundy County Hospital offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services, 24-hour emergency care, preventive health screenings and wellness activities through the knowledge and expertise provided through three active medical providers, twelve outreach specialty providers, 76 dedicated staff members, and over 17 volunteers working on the DCH Board of Trustees and DCH Foundation Board.
Youth benefit from high-tech school system
“Benkelman High School graduates usually further their education beyond high school, and many achieve beyond a bachelor degree,” said Dallas Watkins, Superintendent of Schools in Benkelman. “Community Foundations offer every student in good standing scholarships to pay for their first two years of college, and Dundy County graduates quite often receive scholarships to help finance their bachelor’s and advanced degrees.”
The school district recently built additions to the computer center, and added a new science room and lab to the high school. On the leading edge of Internet technology, the school is wired for interactive distance learning through the Southwest Nebraska Distance Learning Consortium, allowing seniors to take college coursework. Satellite courses are also offered at the schools for adult continuing education as well as medical education classes. Laptops are available for high school students, and every class has a mini computer lab.
Despite the high technology employed, the education infrastructure carries no indebtedness or bonds. The science and business labs and multi-purpose rooms recently were remodeled and upgraded, and all of the buildings are air conditioned.
“The infrastructure is strong,” says Watkins. “Within the next five years, we plan to add another computer lab, double the size of the woodworking shop so the students can build larger projects, and add a green house to teach horticulture.
Why not relax and enjoy life in Dundy County?
The community and the county welcome campers, bicyclists, horses and trail riders, birdwatchers, golfers, skateboarders, hunters and fishermen as well as balloonists and all other sports requiring open spaces. The deer hunting in the region attracts hunters from across the United States, and excellent fishing is available all year at nearby Lake McConaughy and Enders Dam.
According to Bob Prangley, a Southwest Area Development Corporation board member who discovered Benkelman with his wife in 1999, “We found the perfect location!”
“If a place with a magnificent view, high-speed internet access, quiet, peaceful streets, recreation opportunities for all ages, health and financial and education services, and a welcoming community appeals to you, come to Benkelman ,” says Prangley. “The cost of living is significantly lower, housing is affordable, school facilities are excellent, and the community infrastructure is sound.”
Once you’ve seen Benkelman, it would be hard to disagree.