If one characteristic can be said to encapsulate American exceptionalism it would be the “can-do” attitude. Give Americans a goal, and they will achieve it. Need a canal across an isthmus in Central America? We’ll take care of it! Defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japan? Done and done! Go to the moon? The Eagle has landed!
That willingness – that eagerness – is also what distinguishes Osceola, Nebraska, one of the Midwest Messenger’s Rural Communities of the Year.
“The Osceola City Council believes a vital community is the ability of a community to sustain itself into the future as well as provide opportunity for its residents to pursue their own life goals and to help residents experience positive life outcomes,” said Osceola Mayor Donn Graff.
Osceola is the county seat of Polk County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population was 880 as of 2010 with the city stretching across 0.92 square miles.
The city’s website states that Osceola was founded in October 1871, by William Francis Kimmell and John Hopwood Mickey of Iowa. Osceola received its name from Vinson Perry Davis, an early settler on the Davis Creek which runs through Osceola. Davis felt it would be unique to say, "I moved from Osceola, Iowa, to Osceola, Nebraska."
According to Osceola High School FFA advisor Steve Schmit, Osceola has the honor of being the home of three former Nebraska governors. Albinus Nance was the fourth governor (1879-1883) of the state. He was a homesteader who moved from Illinois to Osceola in 1871. John Hopwood Mickey was the 13th governor (1903-1907), and Ashton Shallenberger served as the 15th governor (1909-1911) and then member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also moved from Illinois.
The town is also the birthplace of actor John Archer (born Ralph Bowman). He was active from 1938-1996, and appeared in more than 60 movies and television shows. He is the father of actress Anne Archer of “Fatal Attraction” fame.
In 1879, Nebraska Wesleyan College was founded in the Osceola Methodist Church, said Schmit. The Omaha and Republican Valley Railroad, reached the town in 1879 and named a locomotive after the city.
Today, a museum, log cabin, country church, restored country school, a Union Pacific caboose and the Governor's Arboretum can be seen at the Polk County Historical Society.
The economy of Osceola is based upon crops such as corn and soybeans, but it is also a major focal point for dairy, cattle and pork producers. Osceola is an agricultural community filled with a variety of successful businesses that meet the needs of the residents, Mayor Graff said.
The Osceola Veterinary Hospital, run by Dr. Jennifer Boruch. It is a full service hospital located at the junction of East Highway 81 and Highway 92. Dr. Boruch treats large and small animals, but the majority of her customers are livestock. To expedite this, her clinic has a large facility for multiple livestock in the rear.
“We have a lot of cow-calf operations in the area,” she said. “Our business is 60% livestock; vaccines and preg checks mostly.”
It is 25-30 miles to the next nearest large animal vet, said Boruch.
“We always provide the best care for our livestock producers,” she said. “But, it’s kind of nice to be the only vet in the county.”
Boruch, an Axtell, Nebraska native, said Osceola reminds her of her hometown. That is why she chose to locate her practice in the area. Falling in love with then marrying a local man and having children helped cement the deal, she said.
“I was speaking with a young person in a convenience store in town – they told me they couldn’t wait to get out of town,” Boruch said. “I told them I went to school for eight years just so I could go back and live in a small town.”
Osceola's largest employer is the Annie Jeffrey Memorial County Health Center, said Boruch. The health center is a 21-bed hospital and employs 56 people. Osceola is very proud to have Annie Jeffrey Memorial County Health Center, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Prairie Creek Family Medicine, Polk County Health Department and Ridgeview Assisted Living serving our residents, Graff said.
“In rural communities like Osceola, healthcare and the overall vitality of a community are intrinsically linked,” he said. “A robust community supports and sustains quality health services for its residents by attracting highly-trained and committed healthcare professionals.”
City services also include a fire station with 25 volunteers and 12 Emergency Medical Technicians.
“The city is very fortunate to have generous individuals that volunteer their time in many organizations to help our community thrive to sustain its vitality,” Graff said. “The volunteer fire and rescue department and ambulance squad are important to the safety of its residents.”
Osceola Public Schools are part of Nebraska School District 19. The high school, built in 1975 with a new athletic complex completed in 1982, has the capacity for 300 students.
“Educational opportunities continue to be of great importance to our community,” Graff said. “If a rural community wants to stay vital, an education system must meet the needs of young citizens.”
One of the primary ways the schools meet those needs is through its prolific FFA chapter. Through the efforts of the local FFA Alumni Association, the chapter has expanded its offerings to include welding, wood-working and small engine repair classes.
Chelsey Girard, has been the FFA Alumni chairwoman for last six years. She said the alumnus and other supporters are very active in keeping the chapter dynamic. She and Schmit have been working together on annual ag tours including: Livestock and poultry producers; grain processing plants; and even some animal science tours. But, she credits the community for the success of the endeavors.
“We’re a small town but we have always had self-respect.” Girard said. “If you ask for something, this community comes up with it.”
One example is the new livestock facility being constructed near the school. Girard said Schmit had expressed an interest in having the ability to do hands-on training with livestock.
“Some land came available near school and the alumni association and school board worked it out and purchased the land for the FFA,” she said.
Probably the most popular FFA activity is the welding course. The first class had five students; the next year there 13, Schmit said. Now, they hold three separate classes. Some of the Osceola students went to state welding competitions last year.
Another new addition to the FFA chapter is coming from the "Nebraska Section" of the American Welding Society and the Strobel Energy Group. Schmit said they are combining forces to donate a new plasma cutter with an education package to the Osceola Ag Department.
Both Schmit and Girard agree that the close-knit society is due to the fact that people stay in the area, even after they graduate high school. In fact, Girard said that about 70% of the class of 2000 still there. Even better, the recent FFA leadership keeps coming back and joining the alumni association.
Schmit said that 90% of the town went to school in the town. He should know, he has taught most of them over the past several decades. One of his current students is Carter Boden, a junior and the vice-president of the FFA chapter.
Boden said he will be taking the welding courses offered by the Platte Campus of Central Community College. College credit courses are available on a personalized basis through the high school’s learning center.
While he wants to go to college, Boden said he also wants to stay in the area so he is still able to help his dad on the farm – a rare quality in most young people in small towns.
Schmit said he believes it is the responsibility of working on the farm that has instilled a strong work ethic and maturity in the youth of Osceola. Even during the summer, most students work on the farm and have jobs, he said.
“I love Osceola,” Boden said. “People are always willing to help and have a ‘What can we do?’ attitude”
He cites the school’s Book Buddies Literacy Initiative. Book Buddies is a school-based tutoring program that uses community volunteers to help first grade students become better at reading. Boden said that Osceola had a 110% participation rate.
Another example is the 4-H organization in Osceola. The group, known as the Clever Clovers, has been around for more than 27 years.
“We also have an outstanding 4-H Club,” said Colleen Pallas of the Polk County Extension. “They are very active and do a lot to help serve the community.”
Doug Rathjen, the market president of the Pinnacle Bank Osceola Branch, serves on the Osceola Board of Education and its construction committee.
He said the school is in the process of making a $7.8 million improvement to the school that will include, among several other features, a day care facility and indoor walking track, both of which will be available to the public.
“The residents of Osceola overwhelmingly passed a school bond to enhance various activities, to ensure safety needs, update the cafeteria to provide nutritional values and a community walking track,” Graff said. “This school bond will also meet the community need for increased daycare providers by including a facility as part of the addition.”
Osceola, as a community, has many philanthropic organizations, from religious to patriotic, said Graff.
Crystal Lautenschlager, the office manager for the Osceola Veterinary Hospital is also the manager of the Osceola American Legion Post 91. She said the post is fairly active in the community.
Pinnacle Bank is a member of Osceola Town Square, LLC. This organization was created to provide a means of renovating downtown buildings to provide a place for new and existing businesses to locate.
“The Dinsdale family, which owns Pinnacle, has been very generous in their communities,” Rathjen said. “They have given us the autonomy to serve each community in a way that best suits the needs of that community.”
The bank also serves on the Osceola Development Corporation. The ODC provides assistance to new and existing businesses. Pinnacle Bank provides lending services to small businesses and farms that provide economic stability to the area. Our staff also is very active in several church, school and community organizations that contribute to the vitality of Osceola.
“Osceola now boasts a newly renovated building that is home to a civic center which includes Osceola Senior Center activities, such as Meals on Wheels and a meeting place for pool, cards, coffee and fellowship,” Graff said. “It also hosts community activities like Santa visits during Christmas Downtown which provides a central and safe place for residents to enjoy the holiday.”
The city council sought out various grants to help with the civic center project and was successful in receiving a Civic and Community Center Financing Fund Grant along with several other generous grants that helped make this project a reality.
“The Osceola Community Action Group has been a vital asset in working toward an attractive, inviting and secure community,” Graff said. “They pledge to work in partnership with residents, organizations and businesses to promote local activities and foster community pride.”
The CAG provides assistance for social events, such as homecoming and Halloween. The group even helped in raising funds to purchase a building to house a much-needed pharmacy.
“They are always remarkably supportive of homecoming,” said Lautenschlager.
Pinnacle Bank has also provided financial support for many community projects. That support has come in the form of either lending, donation or both, Rathjen said.
“We were involved financially in a large expansion at the health center,” he said. “We also provided financial support for a new open-air arena and enclosed exhibit building at the Polk County Fairgrounds.”
The city council is currently investing in a park renovation that includes a new multi-purpose court which will feature tennis, basketball and pickleball. This will be a welcomed addition to the recently updated swimming pool, Graff said.
Another way Osceola provides opportunities for its residents is through recreational activities such as Ryan Hill Country Club, Lucy Holm Ball Fields, a mile-long walking trail and the city park.
“That’s what’s so great about Osceola,” Lautenschlager said. “It’s small enough you know what’s going on, big enough where there are plenty of things to do.”
The city has and continues to invest resources in the necessities such sewer and water, roads, snow removal and other items that keep Osceola aesthetically pleasing.
“The city, businesses, organizations and residents work together to achieve a balance of positive, social, economic and environmental outcomes,” Graff said. “It is for these reasons that Osceola is a wonderful place to live and raise a family.”
Jon Burleson can be reached at email@example.com.