Why Do People Move to Nebraska?

Family brought me back, but community is why I stay

Editor’s note: When Betty Sayers visited with Matt Howe, owner of Chez Bubba, for a Rural Foodie feature you can find here, she wondered what brought Matt and his wife, Julie, back to rural Nebraska from Washington D.C. So Matt wrote about what brought his family back to rural Nebraska 11 years ago, and what keeps them here now. All artwork that accompanies this essay is from artists featured in our Rural Art Gallery.

Article By Matt Howe

A common comment made by visitors to the Great Plains is awe of the vastness of its physical space and the unending horizon at its visual limit. As a farm kid in Kansas I often wondered and dreamed about the land and possibilities that lay beyond that horizon. Time has circled back; the perspective I gained in life between the time I left my parent’s farm for school and the present has made me better appreciate where I came from and the life I live now, here in rural Nebraska.

Elkhorn Valley Aerial by Roy Swoboda
Elkhorn Valley Aerial by Roy Swoboda. Click to visit artist’s page.

Families built the communities of rural America and these very communities helped raise generations of families. A community is more than a place, it the collective of time, experiences and memories of the families that built it and those whom live there now. Being away for nearly a decade, I experienced instances where life truly is different when you feel like just another peg on the board; another person in a sea of people. Your interaction toward your fellow human beings can change.

Coming And Going, by Patricia Scarborough.
Coming And Going, by Patricia Scarborough. Click to visit artist’s page.

When people are nice, you wonder what they really want from you. At least that was my thinking when living and working in the Washington D.C. area. In rural communities, that is just the way it is, people are respectful. We like to think that we act kindly to friends and strangers alike because that is how we were raised. And it is exactly because of that but it is also more than that. We in rural America also act kindly to others out of necessity. The person who you may not always see eye to eye with is also perhaps the person who comes to your aid in times of tragedy. You learn to get along with others civilly because you have to. There are too few faces to hide among if you do not. Granted, some people choose that path but they are the exception and not the rule.

Starting a business in rural Nebraska is not possible without unwavering community support

Tree Reflections, by Don Brockmeier
Tree Reflections, by Don Brockmeier. Click to visit artist’s page.

Starting any new endeavor is difficult. Starting a business from scratch in a tiny rural town, especially one as ambitious as ours is exceedingly difficult and would not be possible without the constant and unwavering support of the community that surrounds us. People want a place to gather and have conversation. There is a desire to not only have a place to eat but a place to participate as part of a community. A place to welcome strangers and friends alike, to meet new people and to share an experience of life in its fleeting moments where connections are made, some which are brief interactions and others where a life-long friendship is maintained over a meal and a drink.

Growing Into Something, by Susan Hart
Growing Into Something, by Susan Hart. Click to visit artist’s page.

There is comfort in seeing adults laughing over conversation while children run about and scramble to the nearby park to play upon the playground. Time moves at a different pace in rural Nebraska, not because it moves any slower but because it moves from a different motivation, one that is focused on being connected.

We found the same communal accountability we remembered from our childhoods

Memorialize #2 by Jeremy Hansen
“Memorialize #2″, 48″ x 60” 2012 Acrylic, by Jeremy Hansen. Click to visit artist’s page.

We arrived back in the Great Plains 11 years ago, with the expectation that our children (then we had one and now we have four) would experience the same communal accountability that we had growing up. If you acted out of line, the nearest adult had no fear or compunction about telling you to stop and invoking appropriate discipline if you did not. I’ve seen it experienced by my children and it serves as a welcome backstop to our efforts as parents, having those lessons of respect and kindness reinforced by friends, neighbors and even strangers.

The Children's Hour, by Sondra Jonson
‘The Children’s Hour’, Life-size bronze group
Public Library, Syracuse, NE. By Sondra Jonson
Click to visit artist’s page.

Family is why I came to rural Nebraska but community is why I will stay. I still wonder what is beyond that horizon, what places I may find and what experiences lay in wait for me. I know wherever my future life choices take me outside of home, it will be to give me perspective on how truly great a place it is that I came from and where I now live and work to raise a family today.