You realize as soon as you pass the first row of scarecrows on the turn off from the highway in Gretna Nebraska that your visit to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch will be something unexpected. It would be hard to prepare yourself for the 200+ acres that Tim and Jan Vala have created in celebration of the fall harvest. Pumpkins, leaves, cider— even a corn maze may all be expected. But how about a pig race where kids are paired with their contestants? A talking, fire-breathing dragon? A squash throwing machine, are you kidding me?
The Vala’s continue to succeed in providing an experience that is fun, educational but most of all memorable. Each year they add to the patch to bring something new and unexpected to their visitors. However, they speak most fondly of those adults who return to Vala’s after many years and many places traveled and share their memories of a special fall day when a family member brought them to Vala’s. So whether you are fortunate enough to live in the Omaha/Lincoln area and can make Vala’s your annual fall ritual or if you happen to be in the area in the fall, stop by and make a lifetime memory.
In Brush, the Beetdiggers are part of the community fabric. The entire town turns out in force for every game and every event, proudly wearing burgundy and gold. And in turn, the students push themselves harder, trying to make the community proud.
In our video about the 2013 Beetdigger homecoming game, softball coach Tom Odle talks about how at the end of the day, wins and losses don’t matter. It is the life lessons you learn on the field that count.
That adage was put to the test on November 17, when the top-ranked Beetdiggers fell in the 2A semifinals to Faith Christian in a game that saw frequent lead changes, touchdown runs, and heroic goal line stands.
The loss hurt. But the pain will fade. What will remain is a group of young men who have learned to rise from defeat. And a town that will turn out just as strongly in the years to come, still wearing their burgundy and gold.
In the past decade, organic food has all but taken over the food industry, with many markets dedicated to carrying a large organic selection, and some dedicated entirely to organic produce, grains, meat and dairy options. And, behind every product on the grocery aisle is a farmer who farms organically.
It’s not the easy way. But if you asked Dave Vetter of Grain Place Foods, he’d tell you it’s the right way. His company processes and manufactures certified organic and non-GMO specialty grain and feed products.
“My dad got reintroduced to organic and sustainable agriculture, so he went from being one of the first to introduce chemicals into agriculture in this area in the late 1940s to the first to quit in the early ‘50s,” says Dave. “Being organic is my family’s tradition, I was raised that way. So when I came back to the family farm that was kind of a given.” The processing facility sits in the middle of the family farm, which was purchased by Dave’s father and his grandfather in 1953. And about the same time, the family started to develop organic management programs. “It’s really an outgrowth of our attempt to find ways to sell what we we’re growing organically on the farm here to people that had a personal interest and wanting to buy that kind of product,” says Dave.
Although the family no longer farms, they work directly with farmers to process their harvests. They are also active in the organic community, meeting with regional farmers and farmers across the country to educate them on the ins and outs of a profitable sustainable business model.
“One of our real objectives was to increase the opportunity for organic farmers that we work with to be successful because if they are not successful, we are not going to be successful,’” explains Dave. “And from the looks of grocery markets in our communities, it’s working.”
With more and more cinemas converting to digital, 3D, IMAX, etc., the Colfax Theater in Schuyler is going back to its historical roots, from the ground up. The Colfax Theater is a perfect example of a throw back to what it really means to have a community “theater”.
Several years ago, the Colfax Theater was a leaky, wooden mess of a place that time forgot. From the rainwater leaking on the stage to the corn board covering the walls and ceiling, the theater was turning into a fire hazard. They had to rebuild from the ground up, while trying to keep the essence of the theater like the beautiful curves on the stage. What we see now as the Colfax Theater is the sweat and donations of hundreds of individuals and organizations across Nebraska from the local contractors pouring donated concrete, to the leftover farm insulation from local farmers, to the discounted seats from a theater in Omaha. It is remarkable to see the theater staffed by volunteer workers from the same community that enjoys its features. This is truly what it means to be a local theater.
Tom Nutt tells this story about his father, a missionary who once attempted to show a Christian movie in Africa:
“He ended up spending all his time trying to explain why the white man was a coward, because he opened the door and allowed his wife to go in first. In our culture that’s manners. But in their culture that’s cowardly because you’re then allowing a lady to go in and face possibly a dangerous situation. So he quit showing the materials, because he was not able to communicate in a way that really touched their hearts.”
Tom’s dad began creating movies that explained the gospel in a culturally relevant way. And today their organization has grown into Good News Productions International, which distributes materials to countries that missionaries would normally not even be able to access. Each movie is tailored to the language, norms and traditions of that culture.
GNPI has 15 production teams that cross the globe creating movies. They reach millions of people through social media. And they do it all from a couple of buildings in Joplin, Missouri.
In a way, GNPI is redefining the meaning of community, broadening it to reach across geographic and cultural borders. You can see our video about them on WhyCommunityMatters.com.
We are all connected. Sometimes in very obvious ways. And sometimes in ways that aren’t so apparent at first.
For instance, Pinnacle Bank has a long-standing relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands. It includes many bank employees who are “Bigs.” It’s easy to see how they make a positive impact in our community by mentoring a child in need.
But as you dig deeper, you find out even more ways in which we are related. One of our employees is a past president of BBBS’ board of directors. Another has a son who works there. And on and on.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of those organizations whose reach far exceeds its size. By matching mentors with at-risk youth, it provides a stabilizing influence on our whole community. That mission inspired us to include one of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands’ biggest fundraisers, Bowling For Kids Sake, in our Community Matters Series. Watch the video on WhyCommunityMatters.com.
But the best way to discover the importance of Big Brothers Big Sisters, is to get involved. Go to their website at bbbsomaha.org. Sign up to volunteer.
A lot has changed in Yuma, Colorado over three generations. Feedlots came to town. Then an ethanol plant. A community that used to raise more corn than they knew what to do with has evolved into one that uses every last kernel, and then some. But, one thing that hasn’t changed is the immense passion for farming in the Newton family.
Joe Newton, the J of JT farms explains, “It’s very rewarding for Kelly and I as well as the employees to actually get to see what all your hard work did for you that year. You really never know what your yields are going to be until you get the combine in the field. You can guess and you can estimate but at the point the combine hits the field is when you get the reward of what you’ve done that year and we are fortunate that our employees are very involved and enjoy it just as much as Kelly and I do.”
Joe’s farm, passed down three generations from his grandfather onto him and his wife, Kelly, has grown from 300 acres to 3,000, harvesting edible beans, potatoes, corn, birdseed, and even raising a little cattle, too. And, when it comes to corn, which monopolizes about two thirds of his acreage, the local community uses every last kernel of it.
For Mark and Karen Carson, the idea to start the toy business that has won nearly every award in the category wasn’t even theirs. It was their son’s.
Mark explains, “What launched our company was a product called Geomag. The inspiration was our son Adam who was 10 at the time. He got some for his birthday and said, “I need to sell – I need to buy more.” Mark finally made him a deal—he was only 10 at the time, but promised “If you find the distributor, I’ll build you the website” Adam came home from school, diligently found the retailer and the images, so Mark built him the site. He held up his end of the deal, so that’s how Fat Brain Toys launched.
And every day since, for over 10 years, the Carsons made it their mission to sell unique, quality, educational toys. Stocking toys from around the world, the largest selection of American-made toys anywhere, and even manufacturing their own unique toys, Fat Brain is more than just a retailer in their Omaha community—they’re educators, philanthropists, and neighbors.
From hosting groups of kindergartners on tours of their warehouse, to putting on Fat Brain Fridays, the Carsons know how important play is to a community.
“In the summer we bring in 20 tons of sand in the parking lot and hand out toys. People bring their lawn chairs; little kids bring their swim suits. Most toy companies don’t have that kind of relationship with their community. It’s amazing because people know our staff so well, that our staff gets to know their family and their grandkids, so it does bring a good unity of people together,” explained Karen.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, there is an unparalleled collection of racing history. The Smith family, “Speedy” Bill and wife Joyce along with their four sons, have collected and restored hundreds of antique and racing cars, hot rods, engines and toy cars—think soapbox derby or pedal cars. They are available to the public complete with a two-hour docent-led tour.
The family’s experience in the racing world and their dedication to the racing industry is evident in every touch at the Museum of Speed. In the three-story setting, you can get a close look at the race cars that have been featured in films and have been hand built by car enthusiasts. The immersion is so complete, you can almost hear the announcer saying, “Gentleman, start your engines.”
Of course, the museum is not all they offer! They are one of America’s oldest sources of specialty racing products. Beyond that, there is a level of commitment to service that “Speedy” Bill has instilled into every aspect of the company’s operations—including that they should always have every part in stock and offer same day shipping.
Entering into Nebraska, the road gets a little straighter and the feedlots grow a little larger when you realize—I’m in cattle country. There’s a reason that Nebraska is known for its beef and cattle: They are all around you with feedlots and ranches throughout the great state. Ogallala is known throughout the United States as one of the stops of the Pony Express, the end point of long cattle drives from Texas, and later a hub for the transcontinental railroad—a busy, yet sleepy town known for its strong community.
In 1951, the Ogallala Livestock Auction opened, serving the entire state of Nebraska and into the surrounding states of Colorado and Wyoming as a place to sell cattle for top dollar. It’s known for being the largest sale barn in the state of Nebraska for several years, with sometimes three auctions each week. Not only does the auction get the best prices for cattle, helping serve their neighbors and friends, but it also employs many community members year round.
Attending one of the weekly Wednesday sales, you can casually rub elbows with some of the biggest cattlemen in the area. Sitting in the indoor auction arena, you can tell that the real business of ranching is happening all around you. From the legit Western wear, to the spittoons scattered about, this place has history, and a sense of community that dates back over 60 years.