Photos by NRL Rural Art Gallery Artist Suzie Wahlgren of Gothenburg (see the work of more Nebraska Rural Artist Here)
We have interviewed hundreds of rural Nebraskans during the 11-year history of Nebraska Rural Living. Some grew up in rural Nebraska and have moved back. Some are transplants and have relocated from cities or other states. And, others were born here and never left. Whoever the source has been, it seems a few common themes continue to emerge about why people chose to live and work in rural Nebraska: The simplicity of rural life, the sense of community and belonging in small towns and the benefits of raising kids in rural Nebraska.
We asked some of our recent sources and our Nebraska Rural Living writers to share their thoughts about why they think rural Nebraska is a great place to raise kids. Here’s what they said:
Reason No. 1 – More Time
My biggest enjoyment raising children in rural Nebraska stems from the amount of time we have together as a family. Sure, we have activities we’re constantly running to, work and life we have to balance just like every other family. At the end of the day though, we don’t have massive commutes like we used to and spend that time together. We eat breakfast and supper together as a family nearly every day of the week. Time is a finite resource, and we only have a certain amount to give. Make it worthwhile.
Caleb Pollard, Chief Mover of Units and co-owner at Scratchtown Brewing Co. in Ord.
Reasons No. 2, 3 & 4 – Independence, Small Class Sizes, Involvement
We can trust children to be independent growing up in a small town. They have small teacher-to-student ratios at school. Our kids know all of their classmates and neighbors, and we know all of the teachers in school. They have the opportunity to do whatever they want to do – sports, music, 4-H, FFA, etc. Parents can be involved in community/school through many volunteer opportunities. Daycares are smaller and more intimate, and it’s more affordable to raise kids in a rural area.
Cody & Ashley Gerlach of Cambridge. The Gerlachs own the Cambridge Clarion and other small-town newspapers and are parents to five children. Ashley also works for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
Reasons 5 and 6 – Low Crime and Clean Water
When NRL Director Bob Willis first considered moving to Curtis from a large metropolitan area, there was one scene that encouraged his decision. He recalls his first tour around town and seeing kids’ bikes parked at the school with no locks. That helped Bob and his wife decide to make the move. He also appreciates the clean air and clean water (The National Rural Water Association concluded in 2014 that Curtis has the best-tasting water in the nation!).
Bob Willis, Director of Nebraska Rural Living and former owner of the Curtis Enterprise
Reasons 7, 8, 9 and 10 – Affordability, Short Commutes, the Entire Community Helps and Freedom
I can send my child to a week-long Y summer camp in our small town for $90 a week. My kids played baseball for $35 for the summer season (not counting shoe costs or travel) and didn’t have to try out to be on the team. I can drive from my house to the middle school or high school in less than two minutes and to nearly anywhere in town under five minutes. It’s nice knowing the kids are so close. One of the biggest advantages of raising kids in rural Nebraska is that the entire community helps raise our kids. They can’t get away with much without us finding out. One day in middle school, my son took a walk with a girl (which is fine!), but we heard about it from about five people! We know nearly everyone in our small church, and the other parents and older members also help guide our children and keep them on the right moral path by checking in with our kids and taking turns teaching religion classes. Our kids have the chance to play in the mud, learn to raise animals on the family farm, breathe fresh air and run or ride bikes around the entire town with friends.
Reason 11 – Less Opportunities Equals More Opportunities
It sounds strange, I know, but while it’s true that rural communities don’t have every kind of sport, club, or league, there are plenty of opportunities for things that matter. Many kids in rural communities are exposed to a variety of activities, which often includes time outdoors and early work experiences (in addition to school-related activities and sports). My daughter has been working since she was 11 and has already held five different types of jobs (most are summer jobs), where kids in larger communities can have a harder time finding employment until they are 14 or 15 years old. I also feel the independence gained by living in a small community is important. My daughter gets herself to school, work, the swimming pool, the park, and her friend’s house all on her own, with what she needs, when she needs to be there. Everywhere she needs to go is within walking distance. She learns responsibility and gains confidence in doing these things herself, and I have peace of mind knowing there’s an entire community looking out for her. I also love how our school and community actively work together to provide students with opportunities to volunteer in the community. It’s helped her to become a good citizen and understand why it’s important to contribute to your community—she often gets to see the direct effects of doing so.
Reason 12 – Opportunities to Learn Respect and Kindness
We arrived back in the Great Plains 11 years ago, with the expectation that our children (then we had one and now we have four) would experience the same communal accountability that we had growing up. If you acted out of line, the nearest adult had no fear or compunction about telling you to stop and invoking appropriate discipline if you did not. I’ve seen it experienced by my children, and it serves as a welcome backstop to our efforts as parents, having those lessons of respect and kindness reinforced by friends, neighbors and even strangers.
Matt Howe, owner of Chez Bubba in Goehner. Matt lived in DC with his wife, Julie, before moving to rural Nebraska.
Reasons 14 – Safety and Opportunities to Compete
I feel like there’s quite a bit of safety in our community. I don’t think I would ever be afraid to let my kids walk home from school. I want my kids to be able to go to a local school and have the chance to do the activities that I was able to do growing up. I know in the city sometimes you have to pick one thing or decide what you want to devote your time to…. It gives you more of a chance to find out what you want to do and what you are good at. I started on the basketball team, started on the football team and started on the baseball team and golf team here. If I was in Lincoln, I might have been on the J.V. squad. I probably would never have been in a position where people would have ever looked up to me or been able to be a major player if I was in a Class A school.
Reason 15 – Small Schools
We moved back to rural Nebraska in 1983 from Lincoln so that our kids would be able to attend a small school where everyone knows everyone. Rural Nebraska, Elwood, is a place where we feel safe. It is a place where we took our kids and now take our grandkids to the county fair, which is locally owned and everyone watches all kids to make sure they are safe. I would not change rural living for anything.
Jim Baldonado, owner The Home Agency