GENOA, Neb. — As the sun was rising on Good Friday, eight teenagers from the Pride of the Prairie 4-H Club in Gosper County, Neb., and three adults headed northeast to this small town in Nance County, one of the hardest hit counties of the bomb cyclone that worked its way through the state March 13-14.
They were the first youth group to help in Nance County, according to folks in the Extension office, and were assigned to help with cleanup efforts on Monte and Marc Swantek’s nearly 500-acre farm. The cow/calf and crop operation had floodwater as deep as eight feet rush across their pasture and row crop fields, leaving behind debris and sand.
According to Monte Swantek, the Loup Canal gates at Genoa breached in six places and the waters did not stop for days.
The third generation farmers were very excited to hear a youth group was coming to help.
“I had been lying awake at night thinking how I was going to get all that fence made,” Monte explained. “The kids and adults got there from Elwood. The task looked overwhelming, but with many people it was amazing what we accomplished.”
This is the worst natural disaster to their land they have every experienced, Monte recounted.
“My dad compares it to the Blizzard of 1948 because when all that snow melted, there was a flood back then, too,” he pointed out.
The group cleaned mud, grass and cornstalks off of barbed wire, three or four strands high. Limbs, sticks and sometimes trees were stuck in the fence row.
What surprised the brothers most was that the teenagers were not on their cell phones.
“I have not seen a cell phone out,” Monte said. “These are some remarkable kids.”
As Day 1 wrapped up, they gathered at the barn and Marc Swantek said, “It’s Good Friday, Jesus Christ sacrificed himself on the cross and you kids sacrificed your time to help us today. We can’t thank you enough.”
Day 2 was spent fixing and building new fence. While only a few kids had real fencing experience, the others caught on quickly. Whether it was stringing out new barbed wire fence, bounding new T-posts into the ground, hammering staples to the wooden posts or attaching fencing clips to keep the barbed wire in place, the Elwood youth stayed focused.
Monte said what everyone working together accomplished in two days, he believes would have taken their family all summer to do.
“The group certainly has exceeded our expectations,” he added. “At the end of the first day, Marc and I looked at each other and said, ‘There’s no way we just did all that, but yet we did.’”
“The experience meant helping people in need when we had the power to help,” said 15-year-old Jadeyn Kohl. “I learned how to fix and put up fence.”
Even some of the seasoned fencers like Zach Dickau learned something new. Mel Klassen showed everyone in the group an easier way to get T-posts out of the ground. These are life lessons for the teens, which will help them down the road.
“I was amazed that all the kids knew how to wrap barbed wire fence,” Monte added. “I know adults who don’t know how to wrap barbed wire.”
The second day, the group worked with two of Marc’s children, Philip and Kelsey, both in their early 20s.
The 4-H Club also fixed up six “Easter Buckets” filled with fencing gloves, fencing pliers, flash light, rope, cookies, and a $250 gift card in each.
“All I can say is, wow!” Philip said. “It’s very humbling to see firsthand that there are still awesome people out there who just want to help make this world a better place, even if that means working your butt off.”
According to Philip, their family figured that the volunteers saved them a conservative estimate of $20,000.
“I hope these kids learned a thing or two about fixing fence, but more importantly they taught my family what compassion and hard work really mean,” Philip added. “Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you guys.”
This was the first weekend the weather had been suitable to work in the fields and the first time for the ground to be dry enough to work. According to Nance County Extension office manager Ashley Boryca, there are many farmers and ranchers who need help.
“I currently have 76 producers and/or land owners in Nance County who have reached out to the Extension office requesting fencing supplies because their fences were taken out by the flood,” she added. “I’m not sure how many lost cattle due to the floods, but many of them lost cattle due to the extreme mud.”
Nance County Supervisor Darren Nelson, who has been serving as a Disaster Relief Coordinator, has been inundated with calls for help and arranged for the 4-H Club help.
“The damage is overwhelming and you don’t have to go far to see what needs to be done,” Nelson said. “Spirits are a little brighter since help started showing up. I saw one farmer smile for the first time the other day.”
Local sponsors helped the 4-H Club by providing meals and water for the volunteers as they worked. The youth also stayed at the scenic Whispering Cedars Baptist Church Camp. Like the quote on a door at the camp stated, “Do all to the glory of God,” 1 Corinthians 10:31 — it was an Easter weekend that will be remembered.
The 4-H’ers who helped on the Swantek farm included Zach Dickau, Jadeyn Kohl, Rianna Chaney, Carsen Reiners, Sheridan Chaney, Ayden Moore, Elijah Neimeier and Alayna Moore. The group was also joined by Lone Star Cowboy Church friends Mel and Jodi Klassen, also of Elwood.
Rebecca Chaney can be reached at email@example.com.