This is my last column for The Orchard News.
As you read this, I’m probably neck deep in moving boxes, fishing my cat out of the dark corners of a messy apartment and trying to clean out my fridge before heading out to California.
But before I head out, I want to take some time to say thank you.
I’ve often told my friends in Antelope County that, although I’ve lived in places like Africa and South Korea, rural Nebraska is the most foreign place I’ve ever been to.
While here, I’ve learned about tanking, mutton bustin’ and the dangers of keeping pigs (who knew they could be so vicious).
I’ve also learned what community support looks like. As a city girl born and raised, imagine my surprise when the very first story I reported on in Antelope County was the benefit held for Brian Maronde. I couldn’t believe that entire communities had come out to organize an event for their teacher who was in the hospital.
Then, as the months passed, I got the chance to talk to some of the most amazing people I’d ever met. Angela Cuffe, who won a national award for her perseverance and hard work; Marvin Haswell, who has faithfully served in the fire department for 65 years; and, most recently, Levern Hauptmann, whom aside from advocating for the arts and history, has spent a lot of his energy advocating for minorities.
Orchard, and Antelope County, is full of extraordinary people who’ve quietly worked hard and it’s been my pleasure to tell some of those stories.
Even the harder stories, like the site location dispute between Clearwater-Orchard, was eye-opening for me. Being from a big city, an issue like site location at first felt trivial and insignificant. Boy, was I wrong!
Readers, thank you for the patience you’ve shown me through all my mistakes. It’s because of you that this paper is alive. Our office is full of young people like me, always trying to be better and do better for you. Your support made the long hours and stressful moments worth it.
Keep supporting each other and keep supporting our local businesses, because I told my husband that mutton bustin’ is the best thing I’ve ever seen kids do, and when I have kids of my own, I plan on coming back here, to Antelope County, just to make them ride on a crazy sheep.
After three weeks of exploring Orchard’s unique and unprecedented growth, I’ve come to one conclusion.
Orchard is growing because of you.
These past three weeks I’ve talked to families who have moved back, businesses who are growing and supporting the community, and, most recently, some of the local clubs who work hard to give back.
One theme that has ran throughout every story is . . well . . . you. Your dedication to the town, why you choose to stay, the work you put into making sure activities and clubs stay alive-that’s the reason Orchard is growing.
So, from my desk to your reading chair, I’d like to thank you for being you.
As a ‘foreigner’ in Orchard, it’s easy to feel left out and fall threw the cracks, but I’ve never felt rejected by this community. Thank you for being an open and friendly place.
In a small community, it’s easy to get caught up in the little things. I remember how it was living in my small boarding school, everything seemed like a big deal, because it was the only deal around. Orchard is surprisingly empty of pettiness, so thank you for being kind.
Lastly, I’d like to thank you for being supportive. This week’s final part in the series is all about support. The support offered by the amazing clubs in this community, and I know I didn’t get the chance to talk with all the clubs. But even if you’re not a part of a club (and after talking to some I encourage everyone to join a club!), you’re still supportive. Whether it be attending a benefit or going to a Cyclones game, Orchard is always ready to act on behalf of their neighbors.
So, keep moving forward Orchard, and keep improving this town. Because if the trend keeps going, you’ll be around for a long, long time.
During Orchard’s alumni banquet, I was talking to Clifford Erb about Orchard and the good ol’ times, and I’ll never forget the vivid picture he painted of an Orchard when he was young.
An Orchard with over 600 inhabitants, frequented ice cream socials and young men gathering for some (illegal and very fun) drag racing.
A very different Orchard from the quiet, less than 400-resident community we have today.
An article published by the Wall Street Journal in 2014 clearly outlined the slow death of small communities. “Nearly 60 percent of rural counties shrank in population last year,” said the article. “Up from 50 percent in 2009 and around 40 percent in the late 1990s.”
This paragraph, from an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2011, is especially haunting: “The latest 2010 census numbers hint at an emerging America where, by midcentury, city boundaries become indistinct, and rural areas grow ever less relevant. Many communities could shrink to virtual ghost towns as they shutter businesses and close down schools, demographers say.”
Why am I talking about this now?
Because, Orchard is different.
Sure, the population has fallen significantly since Clifford Erb was a young man in high school.
Young kids left to find their future in big cities, searching for more than rural-Nebraska could offer them. Many businesses closed, and at times it seemed like Orchard would never wake up from it’s sleepy nap.
But now, they’re coming back. And businesses are stretching, making room to accommodate the growing population of young people. New clubs are springing up, such as Orchard’s Young Mens Club, and people are getting excited about their small community, as can be seen in the “Orchard.” shirts that made their way around Orchard Days.
Here at the news office, we have a running list of families which have recently moved back (within the last three years). On that list, we have a dozen families, and we’re still missing some.
Even single young people, like Jesse Walmer who lived in multiple cities and me, who lived in multiple countries, are choosing to make their home in small, unassuming Orchard.
In a country where people are constantly choosing to live anywhere but in a small community, Orchard is bringing people back.
So for the next few weeks, we’re going to write a series of articles focusing on the unexpected growth of our small community. Because while many small towns in America are slowly dying, Orchard is slowly growing.
Read the first part of the Orchard series here.
Hello, Orchard. It's been a bit since I got the chance to write to you. County fairs have been keeping us busy!
I want to tell you guys about everything I learned from the fairs, including how some cows are attractive and some aren't, but today I want to tell you about something else, something near and dear to my heart.
Recently, I went to the Orchard Public Library for the first time ever. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone in before, I think the hours just never worked with my schedule. But, when I heard Donna Hamilton was taking over the library, I took the opportunity to go check out the book sale, the library and interview the outgoing and incoming librarians.
Our library is a lot bigger than I imagined. It has so many books! And it has computers, free wifi, a printer and an awesome meeting room.
Linda Risinger has been such an integral part of bringing Orchard’s library into the digital world, and it was cool to hear about all that she’s done in her 31 years as the director. And Donna Hamilton has actually been involved with the library for 20 years now, as a part of the Library Foundation, so it was cool to hear about her passion for the library.
As I talked to the librarians, I asked if any book clubs met in the meeting room. Turns out, there use to be one, but it kind of died.
died? That made me sad. How does a book club die? Were there not enough delicious muffins at each meeting to keep members happy?
I asked the librarians--not about the muffins but about the disintegration of the club-- and they just shrugged and said that a couple previous members frequented the one in Neligh, and joked that maybe I should start the book club back up.
Well, ladies. I don’t joke. I take books very seriously.
So, I am going to start one. Maybe for the first few months it’ll just be me, sitting alone in the library, eating a dozen muffins by myself and hoping for someone to join me.
But I know someone else out there has to want to join a book club.
So this is for you. A book club is on its way, and I’d love to see you there! We don’t have a date yet, or a book. I haven’t talked to Donna to see what works for the library’s schedule (Hi Donna, I’ll be calling you soon). If you have any ideas, send them to my personal email address email@example.com, or stop by the office to chat.
Guess who thought the Orchard Celebration Duck Race was little kids racing in the pool? This girl. Our schedule said the races started at 5, so I showed up at exactly 5:12, figuring that the kids needed time to put on their floaties. When I got there, I looked around, thinking, Wow, this is really empty! But I just shrugged, grabbed my camera, and snapped pictures. Standing by the deep end, Jeff Shabram held a big trash bag full of ducks and looked at me.
“It’s over,” he said sympathetically.
I looked around. How in the world had those kids finished the race so quickly?
Turns out, the duck races are just a bunch of plastic ducks and people betting on which one gets to the edge first.
Needless to say, I was really embarrassed. But Jeff, being the nice person that he is, threw me a bone and put a few ducks back in the pool for me to take a picture.
That’s how Orchard Days began for me, confused, embarrassed and wondering if Carrie would ever forgive me for not taking pictures of the Duck Race (she did, thanks Carrie). Fortunately, things quickly got better and the rest of the weekend was a blast! I’ve never been to a celebration like this, where an entire town comes out for some good fun. I think I’m still not over the idea of living in a place where everyone knows everyone and pitches in.
My favorite part was definitely the parade. Something about seeing so many people standing on the sidewalks and kids running out for candy made me sincerely happy. Kids here experience a childhood kids in cities don’t know about anymore. The love and support they have from the community, the freedom to run around until dark--it’s really something special. I can’t believe so many people came out to wave at people they see on the regular and support commonplace businesses they go to every day. But it really made me feel like I’m part of a great community.
So overall, after I got over the Duck Race embarrassment,l this weekend was awesome! Even hairy Elvis and his suggestive hip thrust and wink at me couldn’t ruin the weekend.
On Monday, a columnist from the Norfolk Daily News stopped by. She was writing a story on rural living and came by our offce to get a feel for this small-town newspaper. She asked me what my story was, how I ended up in Orchard, and I told her. How I’d lived in Africa and then Dubai before starting college in Lincoln four years ago. How I was born in Orlando and grew up making frequent visits to Miami. How Orchard is as small as I’ve ever gone.
She looked at me with a quirky smile and asked, “Do you like it?”
She’s not the first person to ask me that question. It seems like every time I meet someone new, the first thing they want to know is how I like Orchard. And they usually ask with a knowing smile, as it if to say, of course she doesn’t love Orchard. Orchard is small. Orchard is rural. Orchard smells like weird cheese at least once every other week. What young person would love Orchard?
While I will admit the whole cheese smell isn’t exactly great, the truth is, I do love Orchard. I’m being serious. I’ve lived in different countries, and usually in really big cities, where the nightlife goes until five in the morning and restaurants stay open until midnight. I don’t think I’ve ever lived this far from a Target or Starbucks (I do miss Starbucks).
But Orchard, although seriously lacking in specialty coffee shops, has something other places I’ve lived in just don’t have--a great community and peaceful atmosphere. Every time I drive back into town, I feel like I’m passing an invisible barrier into all the great things of the American 1950s. Neighbors riding their bikes wave hello, kids splash around in seasonal pools and bunnies hop from one garden to the next.
So, to answer all the unasked “How do you like Orchard” questions out there--I love it.
For the first time in my life, I went tanking on Sunday. I have to admit that I had no idea what tanking was, and when my coworker explained to me that it involved climbing in cow tanks and floating down a river, I googled “cow tank” to figure out what that looked like. During the adventure, I held tadpoles for the first time, chased bullfrogs, got slapped by countless Nebraskan bushes and learned all about Mountain Oysters.
Orchard News subscribers, I have never lived in a small town before. Maybe this explains why I may not have waved at you when we drove past each other. Or why I wear dresses and sandals all the time instead of practical shoes and pants.
Before coming to Orchard, I had never lived in a place with a population under 200,000. Lincoln was the smallest city I’ve lived in. I’ve never held any sort of gun, ridden a tractor or baked a casserole. Frankly, the idea of eating rabbit or deer scares me, and I didn’t know until recently that people fried their own chicken. That’s right, I thought you could only buy chicken already fried.
I’ve only been living here for a month, and I’m sure as time goes by I’ll learn how to live life in rural Nebraska like the rural Nebraskan that I am. Until then, if you ever want to share a few casserole recipes with me or educate me on cows and corn, I’ll welcome it. And if you’re ever going tanking, please invite me. That’s one of the funnest things I’ve done in a long time!
Editor of The Orchard News/Antelope County News
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