Phenomenal, unheard of, vibrant, passionate.
Those are all words Alan Bartels used to describe Neligh after capturing the intimate details for an upcoming issue of "Nebraska Life" magazine. He spent Thursday, Aug. 14, in Neligh and said the community will be featured in a mid-2015 issue.
As the assistant editor, Bartels said he's fortunate to visit many communities for such features, and every one has its positives - each with people working hard both professionally and voluntarily for the benefit of their community.
"We knew that there was a lot going on in Neligh, but until we visited recently, we didn't know the full scope of the development and massive community support from business and residents," Bartels said. "When our story comes out in 2015, I know our readers statewide and beyond will be surprised at how vibrant Neligh is and be inspired to follow Neligh's example to better their own communities."
Bartels said Neligh has a unique combination of attributes going for it that other communities cannot claim, most notably with the business sector. He pointed out that Neligh's $26.6 million in private and public investment since 2012 shows a real commitment by business leaders and local economic development personnel.
"It is success that not all communities can claim, and Neligh is serving as an example of how a community can stay vibrant and grow while keeping its rural Nebraska charm," he said. "In a time when business districts in many places are losing businesses, holding onto existing businesses is a big deal. Ten businesses changing ownership recently in Neligh is phenomenal and gaining 11 new businesses in a community the size of Neligh is unheard of."
Bartels started his day on the mill bridge as the sun rose and saw the sun set from behind the drive-in screen. Both are places Neligh is widely known for, so the time in between those historic and nostalgic locations are equally important as the magazine dove into all of what makes Neligh unique.
Blackburn Manufacturing, The White Spot, Pierson Wildlife Museum, Pitzer Digital, Carhart Lumber, Casey's, TK/Starlite Drive-In, Werkmeister Cabinets and the Neligh Senior Center were all locations Bartels visited.
He also photographed the Pioneer Church being repainted, visited White Buffalo Girl's grave and attended the Neligh-Oakdale Booster Club barbecue. Bartels spent time at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Riverside Park, Penn Lake and the Elkhorn River.
Bartels said he was most impressed with the passion he saw throughout the community. From Harv Ofe's dedication to the mill and community to Jake Werkmeister's commitment to having his cabinet business thrive in his hometown, Bartels said nothing was viewed simply as just a job.
The combination of historic and progressive nature left an impression on the writer and photographer, most notably with the Neligh Mill.
"The fact that it existed shows the entrepreneurial spirit and hard work of Neligh's early residents, a spirit that continues today in businesses such as Blackburn and Smeal," he said. "The fact that the mill still exists shows the community's pride in its heritage. The same can be said of TK/Starlite Drive-In, a time capsule now rare across the nation."
Look for more from Bartels' visit to Neligh next year in an issue of "Nebraska Life."