Former small-town newspaper owner Bob Willis has become the new director of Nebraska Rural Living, an online magazine that promotes the advantages of living and working in rural Nebraska.
Willis will take the reins from Nebraska Rural Living founders Betty Sayers and Nancy Herhahn, who started the non-profit organization and website in 2006.
Sayers said that she is ready to take on new challenges and was looking for someone to expand the reach of Nebraska Rural Living and take it to the next level.
Willis, former owner and publisher of the “Frontier County Enterprise,” has a background in internet technology and is a big thinker and a great writer, Sayers said. He’s also a transplant to the area and loves rural Nebraska.
“We have everything in place, and I just think Bob can make it soar,” Sayers said.
Willis and his wife, Tori, moved to Curtis in 2002 after purchasing the Frontier Co. Enterprise. At the time, they were living in Boulder, Colo., when Willis lost his job working for a technology company. Willis is originally from Arizona, and Tori is from the Grand Island area. Their children were young, and Tori encouraged Bob to consider moving to Nebraska to raise their children.
“She had these rose-colored memories of growing up here,” Willis said of his wife’s motives for moving to Nebraska.
He found the newspaper opportunity online, and they visited in late 2001. He distinctly remembers the school yard having an impact on their decision to make the move.
“All the kids’ bikes were just lying out in front of the school, not locked up,” Willis said. “I thought, OK. I think I could live here.”
The Willis’s children are grown now, but the couple continues to reside in Curtis.
“The air is clean. The water is clean. Relative to other places, the crime is low,” Willis said. “It was a great place to raise our kids.”
Tori continued to lead operations at the newspaper until they sold the publication in 2016, shortly after a fire destroyed the building. Willis has worked remotely for IBM since 2006 as a Client Enabled Services Manager and directs a team of 15 employees around the world as they help major clients like Macy’s with technology and digital analytics.
Willis will continue his work at IBM while leading the Nebraska Rural Living team, which includes Editor Kristine Jacobson, Web Manager Kim Woods and several writers and photographers around the state. Willis said he wants to be careful to carry on the dream and vision for Nebraska Rural Living that was started by its founders.
“We will stay with the vision and mission of what’s gone before,” Bob said.
The monthly magazine features essays about life in rural Nebraska, articles about rural Nebraska “Foodies,” and stories about successful rural Nebraska entrepreneurs. It also contains stories about Dynamic Rural Nebraska Communities and recently added a juried online art gallery that showcases rural Nebraska artists.
Willis has a particular interest in entrepreneurs and hopes to expand that section by adding podcast interviews with successful rural Nebraska business owners.
“I am committed to quality content and engaging with the readers,” Willis said.