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Indomitable spirit keeps Bertrand vibrant and dynamic
“To make a small community thrive, you work together.”
Bertrand is thriving in great part because this solidarity message is spoken in many different ways and by people of all ages and occupations in Bertrand. The town is bustling with committees planning the Bertrand Rodeo, the famous Bertrand craft show, a talent show, theater, music and sports activities, and fund raising events for families in need. Businesses also thrive in Bertrand. Over 72 businesses handle most wants and needs in the community, including a medical clinic and a weekly newspaper, the Bertrand Herald, which was recently sold to new owners.
According to Brenda Johnson, co-owner of the Countryside Market, “Bertrand’s infrastructure is in good repair; no derelict buildings stand for long in the community. We have access to high-speed Internet; taxes are reasonable; housing is available and less expensive in Bertrand than in nearby communities.” She also notes with evident pride that the school census increased in Bertrand last fall because families moved in to take advantage of the excellent school, welcoming community and moderate cost of housing.
Bertrand’s location on Highway 23, only 16 miles south of Interstate 80 and near the mid-point between McCook, Cambridge, Holdrege and Lexington, offers short commutes on less traveled roads for jobs and recreation in the region.
“Affordable, walkable and livable describe Bertrand,” says Bob Dahlgren, President of the Bank of Bertrand. “If being known by your neighbor, living in a clean, safe community with a minimal tax burden, and being among people who take time to form friendships is important to you, you will enjoy Bertrand.”
Rodeo and parade capital of Nebraska
Proclaimed by the Governor as the “Rodeo and Parade Capitol of Nebraska,” Bertrand has earned a statewide reputation for a fun-filled fair, parade and professional rodeo in June of every year.
“In Bertrand, as if it were written into law, our children and grandchildren return home for the fair, parade and rodeo,” says Jerry Johnson, Chamber of Commerce president. “They plan their vacation time at the end of June and they come home.” Bertrand Days always are scheduled for the last weekend in June.
Johnson says the community plans for 500 people per night at the fair and rodeo and arranges camp chairs on Main Street for over 1,000 people to watch the parade — almost half again the entire population of the town.
The Bertrand fair and rodeo is locally managed and paid for. Mary Jane Tonjes, a community leader, takes a deep breath and ticks off the main events. “We have a horse show...a volley ball tournament...the Bertrand/Smithfield alumni banquet...community worship where all the churches come together for a service...a barbecue...a car show...a Kiddies Parade on Sunday night where we invite all the children to dress up and parade...grandstand entertainment...the election of a Miss Bertrand...a livestock show...games and contests for all ages...a professional rodeo sponsored by the Nebraska State Rodeo Association...a carnival...and an amazing parade on the Tuesday afternoon before the rodeo.”
Johnson says modern rodeo facilities attract highly rated rodeo competitors and many fans. A generous donation from the Roy Gardine family, long-time residents of Bertrand, jump-started the new rodeo grounds. “The community came together and worked very, very hard to build new pens and a stadium,” Johnson said.
But resting on past successes doesn’t hold up in Bertrand.
“Our committees keep reinventing themselves,” says Johnson. “We have a meeting only one day after our annual volunteer appreciation dinner to hear new ideas.” During one of these “reinventing” meetings, they learned that crowds complained because they had several hours to fill between the parade and rodeo and nothing to do. The complaint inspired a popular, new event called “The Walk Down Medina.” A wide, tree-lined and shady street, Medina connects the downtown with the city park. Neighbors on Medina Street, with help from the community, plan games for the children, food booths and displays for adults.
“We usually have a coin toss, and some of the displays have included bird houses, quilts, vintage clothing, tea cups and tea pots, dolls, bears, table settings,” says Johnson. “It’s great fun and people enjoy it.”
Inventing and improving continue in dynamic Bertrand. Tonjes says, “A new Senior Center and a library are among the goals for future projects.” Another project under discussion is to create a carnival midway. Finding a carnival to setup in Bertrand is a challenge and most ask for guaranteed sales. Tonjes says organizers want more of the money to stay in the community and will provide games and concession and eventually carnival rides as well.
“I believe everyone is born with the volunteer spirit, and if your family teaches you by example to be a volunteer, you learn to do it at an early age. We are usually doing something for Bertrand because we were raised that way,” says Tonjes. Adds Brenda Johnson, “When you’re blessed like that, you like to pass it on. We teach our children to work, play, be together and give back.”
A school system that works
The Bertrand school system meets and then surpasses its mission to educate students.
“Great students and a high level of support from parents and the community combine to form an excellent school system in Bertrand,” says Dennis Shipp, superintendent of schools. “We know our educational system is effective because over half of the students take the ACT tests, and they are often the highest achieving in their conference. Bertrand student scores are nearly always higher than state averages in Nebraska, and Nebraska averages usually top other states.”
The Bertrand community recently raised over $2 million through a tax override to build an extension onto their gymnasium and a wrestling deck. Shipp said the community had started a booster club to handle fund raising activities and its success is just another example of deep community involvement in the school.
Student involvement in school sponsored activities is another indicator of success in the classroom and high graduation rates.
“Seventy-six out of seventy-eight students participate in Nebraska School Association sponsored activities,” Shipp says. “From music to sports, speech to one-act plays, Bertrand kids participate and do well, and our graduation rate is top notch.” He adds, “The students are respectful and good kids. Seldom is discipline a problem in the Bertrand schools.”
Green space, slower pace
Proximity to green space and superior recreation facilities also attract families and retirees to Bertrand.
“Families buy or build a home in Bertrand because they want a safe community, a low cost of living, a slower pace of life and easy access to recreation,” says Craig Mickey, banker and Bertrand booster. “Within one hour’s drive, I can fish in four reservoirs with statewide reputations or play golf at courses in Holdrege, Alma, Oxford, Johnson Lake, Cambridge, Elwood, Bertrand and Arapahoe.” He adds, “My house is three blocks from the Hi-Line Golf Course, the nicest nine-hole golf course in the region, and a family membership costs only $300 a year.” He noted that both bird and game hunting are also excellent in the Bertrand area.
Newcomers feel accepted soon after they arrive. “People take you in very easily here,” says Tonjes. “We are a welcoming community.”
Johnson adds, “We even attempt matchmaking in Bertrand. We match people’s talents with the variety of community opportunities in Bertrand. You might say that we bank people’s skills so that when the talents of an artist or an actor or a sign painter or so many other skills are called for, we know who to call.”
In a very plainspoken way, Martha Ford, Bertrand entrepreneur and educator, sums up what living in Bertrand and rural Nebraska is all about to her. “Rural Nebraska offers a simple life and a good life. Our pace is slower and we take time to do the things that matter in the community. Our living expenses are lower in a small rural community. We still cook for ourselves and often grow our own food. We eat fresh foods, and we eat in, so we eat better. Rural life is different from urban life. We are so comfortable with ourselves. We trust each other, and we like being together in our community work.”
If that describes the kind of life you’re looking for, you won’t find it in greater abundance than in Bertrand.
Who to Contact
Bertrand Chamber of Commerce
Jerry Johnson, President
106 Kellog St.
Bertrand NE 68927
Mary Jane Tonjes
Facebook—Jane Dahlgren Tonjes
Countryside Market profile on Nebraska Rural Living
Phelps County Development Corp.
City of Holdrege Building, 502 East Avenue, Second Floor
PO Box 522
Holdrege NE 68949-0522
Fax (308) 995-4158