Rural Communities of the Year 2019 logo

Mother Nature tested Nebraska this year with massive floods and crippling blizzards, but as always, the people pulled together and made it through. In trying times like these, the power of community shines through.

This year, the Midwest Messenger has selected three rural towns where residents work together every day toward the betterment of their community. The 2019 Midwest Messenger Rural Communities of the Year are Stuart in northern Nebraska, and the Platte River communities of Osceola and Aurora further south.

Digging into the history of each community, it’s clear that they’ve never lost the vision and the “can do” attitude of the earliest settlers. There is never a shortage of volunteers that step up to fulfill the needs of the community – whether it’s helping build a new community center, opening a business to fulfill the needs of fellow citizens, or supporting youth organizations – it’s the dedicated residents that make things happen.

These communities go beyond the basic needs, though. These communities are investing in quality-of-life amenities that add to the fun of small town life. Aurora is building a new swimming pool and dog park and recently added an indoor-outdoor tennis and pickleball courts. Stuart residents run businesses that expand on entertainment offerings. Volunteers operate a movie theater that serves locally grown popcorn. A roller skating rink opened in an old, refurbished oil filling station. Osceola is in the process of making a $7.8 million improvement to its school, but it will serve more than just students. The upgrade includes a daycare center and an indoor walking track that will be open to all.

By investing in their communities, these towns have given young people a reason to stay or to return to small town life after college. Stuart town clerk Mark Stracke put it well when he discussed the importance of keeping youth engaged in their community. When kids are active in youth organizations and civic events, they get to know what’s available to them in the community, he said. They experience a sense of belonging, and that’s what tight-knit rural communities are all about.

Read more about these three stand-out communities below.

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