Holdrege is poster town for mid-western values
If you were looking for someplace that embodied the kind of values America was built on – hard work, education, common sense, care for others – you wouldn’t have to look farther than Holdrege, Nebraska.
Located near the geographic midpoint of the country, Holdrege is one of those towns where all the downtown intersections are paved in brick. The churches near downtown – and there are many – are venerable and substantial, with traditional steeples and stained glass windows, many referencing having been founded in the 1880s or 90s. The trees are old and big – ash and maple and oak and elm – and the houses have spacious, well-kept lawns and generous, shady porches.
A community of about 5,600, Holdrege is the county seat of Phelps County and thus houses the County Courthouse in addition to a beautiful 1930s Post Office and City building as well as a whole collection of downtown commercial buildings with arched windows on the second story and fancy brickwork crenellations.
Bob Rager, city administrator says, “People in Holdrege take pride in the fact that streets are safe, parks well kept and attractive, and the city is managed efficiently.”
The city has ten fulltime police officers and a police chief, Rager said, and most crime statistics involve traffic infractions and other misdemeanors. “Holdrege residents are safe,” Rager says. “From a safety and emergency readiness standpoint, Holdrege is far above communities of a much larger size because the Sheriff’s Department, State Patrol, Regional Emergency Manager and City Police all work out of offices in Holdrege and work collaboratively.” The city’s all-volunteer fire department is also part of the emergency readiness team, Rager said.
A “New Neighborhood” in town
The recent recipient of a “New Neighborhood” grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Holdrege has a lot of new building planned. According to Charlotte Erickson, director of the Holdrege Housing Authority, the city is developing a property in northeast Holdrege that will include up to 60 single-family homes and townhouses. Erickson also said a park and a walking/bicycling trail will eventually connect the new neighborhood with the middle and high schools, football and soccer fields, North Park, the hospital and the YMCA of the Prairie.
Holdrege already boasts two spacious parks: walking trails, a fishing pond in which people catch trout, bluegill and catfish all year, picnic pavilions and a George Lundeen sculpture are notable attractions in North Park; tall elm and oak trees shade the municipal swimming pool, picnic tables and kid-pleasing playgrounds at South Park. South Park also connects with the Lake Seldom wetlands project and walking trail, a favorite spot of area bird watchers.
“Big City” amenities
The town’s state-of-the-art performing arts center, the Tassel, seats 818 and is considered by many one of the nicest auditoriums in a wide circle around Holdrege. The Tassel plays host to an extensive concert season every year as well as school functions and other special events.
The striking architecture of the YMCA of the Prairie, completed in the spring of 2006, is also exceptional for the region. According to Christine Jacobson, Membership and Marketing Manager, “The YMCA programs enrich the mind and spirit as well as strengthen the body.” Jacobson said the Y offers classes in art, personal finance, chess and skateboard basics along with traditional fitness programming like basketball, weight training, racquetball and swimming. The YMCA also provides licensed after school day care programming for 40 children.
Jacobson, says, “Our membership is stable at 3,200 individuals and families — pretty good for a county of only 9,000 population.”
Another well-used amenity is the Holdrege Area Public Library. With some 60,000 volumes, the library’s collection includes a wide variety of materials including audio and large-print books, an extensive DVD and video collection, a large, active children’s library and a periodical collection.
“We often see between 200 and 300 people a day,” Library Director Pam Soreide says. “We estimate that over 80 percent of the population in Phelps County has a library card. Soreide says the library hosts a number of popular activities, including movie nights for children and “game nights” for teens to get together to play Guitar Hero and other video games. Internet access from public computers as well as the library’s wireless hot-spot is also popular offering.
People helping people
Holdrege and the region reap benefits every day from several community-based organizations. The Phelps County Development Corporation (PCDC) is the primary agency in Phelps County charged with the retention, expansion and attraction of new business, among other initiatives.
According to Monica Boyken, executive Director of the Phelps County Development Corporation, “The county and the city’s unique economic quotient has made us right for growth and the envy of most towns. Our region has the big three industries- agriculture, fabricators, and medical,” and she adds, “I’m impressed with a community whose leaders commit not only their time but also their dollars toward community development.”
The Phelps County Community Foundation (PCCF), established in 1976, celebrates a long tradition of community enhancement. Vicky Lawrence, Foundation Director notes that many times in the community’s history, prosperous individuals have given back to the institutions they especially value. Major donations supported Holdrege Memorial Homes, an elder care facility, the hospital, the Tassel and the YMCA of the Prairie, among other projects.
Scholarship funds offering 60 awards valued at $130,000 for Phelps County scholars are among the many gifts returned to residents of Phelps County through the PCCF. Lawrence also noted the success of the Foundation’s “Future Fund” — a grant club primarily of people in their 20s and 30s, where members pool their resources in order to make an impact through group philanthropy. Lawrence said members have the opportunity to learn about endowment building and grantmaking while gaining leadership skills. “So far, 27 individuals have signed up to take part in this initiative. We think it’s a wonderful opportunity to get people involved in philanthropy at an early age,” Lawrence said.
A model healthcare system
Strolling through the spacious, sunlit halls of the Phelps Memorial Health Center (PMHC), CEO Mark Harrell says, “The Holdrege healthcare model differs from most small communities, in that the hospital — a critical access 25-bed hospital — belongs to and is supported by the community, whereas the doctors own their practices. Among the reasons Phelps Memorial Health Center provides high-level medical care in the region is physician leadership.”
In 2008, PMHC opened the Phelps Medical Plaza. The more-than-35,000 square-foot building, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design, was a collaborative effort between Phelps Memorial Health Center, Family Medical Specialties and Holdrege Pharmacy. The new facility houses a medical group, physical therapy and offices for numerous specialties such as oncology, cardiology and OB/GYN.
Harrell says, “Phelps Memorial Health Center hosts 24 specialists each month who provide services to the community.”
When people question the quality of rural health care, Harrell replies, “Rural hospitals have to be good to stay in business. In small hospitals, we can’t hide our faults, and when the word gets out about a problem, everyone in the county hears of it. In huge medical centers, it is easier to hide mistakes and poor practices.”
Patient satisfaction receives high ratings at Phelps Memorial Health Center. Five years running, PMHC has been awarded the National Award for Overall Best Performer by Avatar, a leader in healthcare research and consulting. Harrell says, “We know we are going to see the families in the region for generations, and our history with each family is important. We give the best possible care.”
A solid school system
The Holdrege Dusters do well on the athletic field, but they really shine in academics.
“Student achievement is high, and graduates of Holdrege High School hold a long, long tradition of doing well in post-secondary education, and they often reach the top of their career ladders,” says Cinde Wendell, Holdrege School Superintendent. Holdrege students score higher than state or national averages on the ACT, and Wendell says that 80% of Holdrege graduates enroll in college or technical training centers.
Holdrege offers advanced coursework in math (one-quarter of the students take calculus), advanced physiology, and an English honors program as well as a wide range of vocational courses including business, family consumer science, technical training in agriculture, woodworking and many others.
A high percentage of the students participate in extra curricular activities ranging from soccer to tennis, band, swing choir, chorus, speech, drama, and more. “Our fine arts, choral and band programs are second to none in the state,” says Wendell. “Our students do very well in art contests, and are often state and national winners.” The schools sports teams are regularly at the top of their respective leagues.
A storybook place
Holdrege may be the perfect Midwestern town. Big enough to attract business and maintain a strong economy, but small enough to foster a feeling of community among its residents; old enough to give you a real sense of history, but modern enough to compete in the world today.
It’s worth a visit. You’ll like it.
Who to Contact
Holdrege Housing Authority