Great school is only one jewel in Axtell’s crown
Surveys tell us that one concern of people considering the change to a rural lifestyle is the quality of rural schools. They shouldn’t worry. A recent Department of Education study found that nationwide, rural children did better than their urban counterparts in science and math, and that rural educators were more likely to report being satisfied with their working conditions.
The town of Axtell in rural south central Nebraska is a perfect example of what’s going on in rural education.
“More students want to opt into the Axtell school system than we can teach,” says Axtell Mayor Glenn Frecks. “Currently, the town is foreseeing the need to add another elementary school.”
Altogether, Axtell Community School has 310 K-12 students, with an average class size of only 22. The facility is thoroughly modern and recently remodeled, and the curriculum includes band and choir as well as a full range of extracurricular and sports activities. According to Axtell School Superintendent Tom Sandberg, Axtell students compete and shine in the Nebraska Quiz Bowls, area science and math competitions, and speech and music match-ups.
“Only one student dropped out of school in the last five years,” says Sandberg. “Our staff looks out for at-risk youth and stimulates the gifted and talented students.”
The school system is only the beginning
But proud as they are of their school system – and they are proud – Axtell citizens delight in talking about all aspects of their community. With the zeal of a salesman, they describe bike and walking trails, clean and safe public spaces, and affordable housing. They can tell you dramatic stories of the fire department saving lives and protecting the community, and of churches working together for the good of everyone in the county.
Being nearly equidistant between Kearney, Minden and Holdrege gives Axtell a high score for convenience. Plus, as Mayor Frecks says, “Our housing is affordable, lots are spacious and reasonably priced.” He also points out that sewer, water, and trash services are charged at a flat, based on lot size, of between $50-$70 a month, and that, “Taxes are minimal for a town of this size.”
Axtell particularly appeals to entrepreneurs and people who work from their home says Jim Messerer, Axtell Post Master and the secretary/treasurer of the Axtell Chamber of Commerce. Messerer said they counted 50 home-based businesses in Axtell two years ago and believe the number of home-based business is increasing.
Jeff England, fourth-generation banker in Axtell, counts among the community assets a skilled and well organized all-volunteer fire department. During the 2007 ice storm when power was out for nearly two weeks, England said fire department volunteers checked on the residents of every home in the county, and organized emergency shelters for those in need and a meal service for 600 people every day until power was restored.
“Axtell is prepared for emergencies,” says England. And they can prove it.
A history of compassion
“The Axtell story is people,” says Kathy Johnson, owner and manager of Katz Market and Attitudes Café. “We watch out for all of our families,” Johnson goes on to describe a project initiated by the Presbyterian Church in Axtell and supported by community donations. During the summer the church serves a hot lunch to 70 youth in the region and provides a box lunch for them on Saturdays. After lunch, the youth are invited to play board games and to read with the volunteer staff. Future plans involve expanding the program to include art, drama and music, Johnson said.
The tale of how Axtell became an enduring rural community possibly began with its storybook history. Although incorporated in 1885, a more significant date in its history might well be 1913, when a Swedish immigrant and Lutheran minister named K.G. William Dahl arrived in Axtell.
Having committed his life to Christian principles, Rev. Dahl believed it was the duty of people who followed Christ to provide for society’s outcasts. He established a home on the outskirts of Axtell for abused and abandoned people, and named it Bethphage. The first resident was a person with epilepsy. Bethphage staff soon were caring for children and adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities as well as elderly without money or family.
Inspired by the leadership of Rev. Dahl, the members of the Lutheran Church in Axtell gave money, grew garden produce and prepared meals for the residents of Bethphage Village. The first volunteers were Lutherans from across the nation who volunteered a year of their life to develop the project. Many chose to settle in Axtell and their generous heritage lives on.
In 2003 Bethphage Village was consolidated with Martin Luther Homes and became Mosaic. Mosaic now serves more than 3,500 people with disabilities through agencies in 15 states and Great Britain.
Mosiac and Axtell’s relationship is mutually beneficial. Mosaic employs some 200 people and is Axtell’s major employer. Twenty-four percent of Mosaic employees live in Axtell, and Mosaic buys groceries other supplies locally. Both entities also benefit from a modern five-mile bicycle and walking trail that circles a recently restored wetlands and a handicapped accessible fishing pond adjacent to the Mosaic campus.
The town that celebrates together, stays together
Axtell citizens define community by safe streets, knowing the people you meet by their first name, neighbors helping neighbors and joining neighbors during town celebrations.
The annual Memorial Day celebration sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce launches the community celebration season because it coincides with the Axtell all-class reunion. The Chamber organizes a parade, games for children, a water fight supervised by the Axtell fire department, a horse shoe tournament, homemade ice cream, and a barbecue.
The Bethany Lutheran Church sponsors a community picnic on Mid-Summer Eve., reminiscent of the community’s Swedish heritage.
And then on the Fourth of July the town turns out for a community barbecue, entertainment and a city-sized firework display. Says Erica Hurley, Pastor of Presbyterian Church said, “The Fourth of July party is family friendly, no alcohol allowed. We set up volley ball, badminton, whiffle ball, and the football field fills with kids. Cindy Biehler, who’s a Nashville star but an Axtell High alum, sang at the 2007 celebration. The community appreciates home-town talent, and they all came out to hear her.”
Axtell is a town with spirit, whether turning out to cheer on the high school teams or just turning out. Axtell is a place you can really belong.
Who to Contact
Axtell Village Board
Axtell Community School
500 Main Street
School Phone: (308) 743-2415
Superintendent: (308) 743-2414
Principal: (308) 743-2416