When you enter the city offices of Alma, you are greeted by a community slogan that reads: “Alma is for YOU!” This is a statement quite fitting for a lakeside town that is anything but a seasonal destination.
Alma is thriving in the midst of revitalization as commerce and economic development continue to be the driving force in the town’s success. Vacant storefronts are a common sight in rural America but Alma proves that stereotype to be incorrect. As you look down Main Street the buildings are filled with not only businesses, but people as well. In the last year, Alma’s downtown district has been the setting for several ribbon cuttings which include the opening of the Lake Life Boutique, Waddell & Reed Financial Planners, Designer Dog Grooming, Sunrise Rental & Realty and Banner Capital Bank. The creation of one of those businesses in a small town is big news; the fact that all of these have chosen to open in Alma is paramount.
Small town resurgence
Other local services and retailers have joined in this small town resurgence. Stenger Plumbing moved into a storefront in downtown; the law firm of Duncan, Duncan, Walker & Schenker gave their brick and mortar a facelift; and Zeller-Zulauf recently completed an extensive remodel for their home furnishings business. Quantum Gymnastics also improved the aesthetics of Main Street with the construction of a new building to house their expanding enrollment.
Downtown is not the only section of Alma that is benefiting from a healthy dose of revitalization. Plans are approved and underway for the development of a new city pool and the completion date is set for the summer of 2015. The Arrow Lodge Motel recently underwent a renovation and joins the Super 8 and the Western Holiday Motel as excellent accommodation options for people flocking to Alma in search of rest and relaxation. The newly remodeled Pump & Pantry along Highway 183 continues to provide conveniences, as well as tasty Cinnabon treats, to tourists and truck drivers visiting this lakeside community.
If you want to get to know the town of Alma and learn about its people, start with a visit to any one of the venues where residents gather for morning coffee and a daily update on local happenings. Chances are you will meet enough friendly folks during your first visit that you’ll spend the rest of the day bumping into your new friends, ready with a now-familiar smile and another round of introductions.
Among the options is Joe Camera downtown on Main Street, a city-style coffee shop in a restored historic building where you can have your photos processed and look at local artwork while enjoying a cup of cappuccino, espresso, or “plain Joe”. More family-style is KJ’s restaurant at the corner of Highways 183 and 136, where you can have a full meal including homemade pie at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The serious fishermen gather at Fisherman’s Corner just across the street at the same intersection. Fisherman’s Corner has a lounge and package store that also sells bait and tackle, but it offers up a good morning cup of hot java and an optional free fishing report to anyone who wants it.
The southern shore of Nebraska
When you’re ready to head out for your day’s adventures, you will find that Alma has many more amenities than the average small town. Located right on the north edge of the Harlan County Reservoir, Nebraska’s second-largest body of water, residents and visitors enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities hardly more than a stone’s throw from their own homes.
Fishing, hunting, boating and water-skiing, sunbathing on sandy beaches, golfing at a water’s-edge 9-hole course, and camping in the many well-kept areas around the town and lake are popular from early spring to late fall. There are full service marinas located at Patterson Harbor and the North Shore recreation areas, both just a short distance from Alma, and tubing down the Republican River provides thrills and spills during water releases from the Harlan County Dam. The annual Governor’s Cup and Harlan Anglers’ Walleye Tournaments bring in hundreds of visitors, as does Alma’s 4th of July celebration, complete with a not-to-be-missed small town parade and late-night fireworks over the water.
Bird watching is a year-round activity in the area, with December through February holding rich opportunities to view bald eagles; follow-the-leader lines of waddling wild turkeys can be seen in the area all year long. Spring is a special time for birdwatchers during the annual arrivals of the white pelicans, shorebirds and songbirds; and both the spring and fall skies over Alma are filled almost beyond belief with the sights and sounds of millions of migrating ducks and geese.
Alma boasts a clean and attractive in-town park with modern playground equipment, a municipal pool as well as a paved, lighted walking and biking trail along the shoreline of the lake, with a gazebo for relaxing at one end and benches dotted along its route. For equestrians, there is a volunteer-maintained horse trail located just south of the lake at Alma Vista, and for motor sports enthusiast, a 470-acre ATV and dirt bike park just south of the Harlan County Dam in nearby Republican City. If you’re looking for a little hike, the River’s Edge Nature Trail east of the dam is accessed through the North Outlet campground and east past the spillway.
An exquisitely livable small town
The City of Alma maintains a small airport with a new hangar, runway and fuel service as well as its own library with a good in-house collection and an interlibrary loan program. Volunteers man a charming downtown movie theater showing a new current film each week.
High-speed internet availability helps support a thriving business community including banks, legal and other professional offices, insurance agencies, fast food and sit-down restaurants, antique shops, well-stocked grocery and furniture stores, medical and dental offices, gift and specialty stores, and many other independent small businesses.
The Harlan County Arts Council works to bring in quality entertainment to ensure residents have access to numerous cultural activities during the year. Clean, quality lodging is available at numerous motels and bed-and-breakfast facilities throughout the area.
An attractive mixture of affordable historic and modern housing lines Alma’s clean streets, and a can-do community spirit is alive and well, offering plenty of opportunities to get involved in the causes close to each individual’s heart. Especially popular among a small army of community volunteer operations s is the Caring Cupboard, a second-chance store and food pantry originally created by the local ministerial association. Seven churches with a variety of denominations are available in Alma, with many more in surrounding communities.
A sense of belonging
Opportunities for both satisfying service and neighborly interaction can be found through baseball, softball and T-ball leagues; volunteer fire and emergency service groups; a wide variety of committees and boards; and periodic community projects and events sponsored by organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Alma Rotary club, and others.
To help businesses start up or expand, the City of Alma voted for tax increment financing (TIF) as well as a 1% sales tax to stimulate economic development, and connections within the community’s political life are within easy reach.
“People in smaller communities communicate face-to-face,” says Mayor Hal Haeker. “When constituents want to talk to the mayor, they stop me on the street or come to my office.”
In addition to the mayor, the town is guided by four elected council members, and other Alma residents serve as elected officials with seats on the Alma School Board, Harlan County Board of Supervisors, and the Lower Republican Natural Resources District Board.
The City also maintains a website at http://www.almacity.com where they publish meeting agendas, minutes, reports, and other information. The service-oriented, friendly staff members at the City office help new residents link to various community services, and they handle rental procedures for clean and attractive publicly-owned facilities that can be used for family reunions, weddings, and community events.
Impressive modern health care facilities
Alma has an exceptional health care system for a small town, under the leadership of a forward-thinking and energetic recent transplant to the community, Harlan County Health System CEO Manuela Wolf. The Harlan County Hospital doubled in size in 2007 when an additional 17,000 sq. feet were added to house state-of-the-art emergency and operating rooms, a hazmat containment area, diagnostic imaging and an ever-growing list of specialty services.
The critical access hospital is Medicare-certified and provides acute inpatient care and skilled nursing care; cardiac diagnostics; x-ray and CT scanner services; mammography, EKG, bone density measurement, and MRIs; ultrasound; anesthesia and pain management; chemotherapy; physical, occupational and speech therapy; as well as gastroscopy and colonoscopy services. The hospital has a full service laboratory and on site pharmacy, and specialty clinics include cardiology, pulmonology, urology, podiatry, ophthalmology, prosthetics and orthotics. Hospice services are also available.
“Whenever we are looking towards the future regarding this hospital and the quality of care we provide, we have three primary guiding principles,” Wolf said. “Those are customer safety, customer service, and our efficiency. As a small hospital we know our limitations, but our goal is to be the best critical access hospital you will ever seek services through.”
High quality life for seniors
Many of Alma’s senior citizens are able to maintain a quality, community-based life in their own homes or in clean and attractive, well-maintained, low-cost public housing. The Good Samaritan Colonial Villa and Hillcrest Terrace provide home health care services, nursing home services, and assisted living in three separate on-site houses. Each house has 12-18 residents and its own director of nursing instead, allowing for more flexible schedules and a home-like atmosphere.
Residents have options regarding the time and style of their meals, and a wide variety of activities, games, and gatherings are scheduled throughout the week and on weekends. Dozens of community volunteers visit the facilities to interact with residents, as well as serving as companions and assistants during off-site trips for shopping, cultural and outdoor activities. Volunteers also deliver meals to homebound residents and provide transportation to out-of-town medical appointments.
The Harlan County Senior Center in downtown Alma provides low-cost meals, games and activities, and at-home services such as housekeeping and lawn care for seniors. Many area residents who are not seniors also visit the Senior Center for the delicious lunchtime meals, providing seniors with further opportunities for daily community interaction.
Small classes, high technology
“Parents consistently tell me they appreciate the fact that we have very few incidents of violence in our schools, as is true in most rural areas,” says Superintendent Jon Davis. “We maintain this safe environment through extensive staff training and support, an excellent security system, and cooperative work with local law enforcement.” The school also has a very high rate of attendance by parents at parent-teacher conferences, Davis said.
The school has high-tech capabilities across curriculums, with interactive smart-boards in many classrooms, a one-to-one laptop program in grades kindergarten through twelve, and wireless access throughout the building.
“The technology focus, along with progressive distance learning and guidance programs, ensure students can be well prepared for college entrance as well as futures in business and other fields,” Davis says.
The school maintains a consistent staff from year to year, with very low turnover, thus benefiting students through both experience and stability. ACT scores among the school’s students are consistently among the highest in the region.
Alma’s school offers the full range of traditional competitive sports and always scores well in speech and drama competitions.
“We are especially proud of our Alma Cardinals band and music programs, which receive extremely high rankings every year,” Davis said.
Historic town with an eye on the future
Alma resident, Emily Anderson says the town remains vibrant by keeping its roots in its history and its eyes on the future. She says Alma is a safe community with traditional values, but that there are also a core of active citizens who stay abreast of new trends and the popularity of new types of activities, and try to make sure those things are available to residents and visitors.
“Alma also has worked hard to keep its business and residential districts active, successful and clean,” she said. Anderson notes that Alma maintains the friendliness of a small town, has a great location, has the benefit of modern services, and provides a wealth of additional amenities.
“To me,” Anderson said, “if you were a young family, this would be a perfect place to live: both historic and modern, with a lot to offer.”
Whether you are looking for a dynamic destination to visit or a place to call home, perhaps the small town motto rings true; maybe Alma is for YOU!
Who to Contact
Alma Public Schools
PO Box 170 Alma, NE 68920
Jon Davis, Superintendent
Galen Kronhofman, Principal
Colonial Villa/Hillcrest Terrace
719 Brown St, Alma, NE
Michael Feltes, Director