A book about Nebraska.

This Soils and Streams column first appeared in the Dec. 14, 2019, issue of the Kearney Hub. This is one that didn’t make it into the online edition. Bah.

Consider a gift to your community fund — really

In the spring semester of 1997, I was a junior at the best place for me, Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.

I was the leader of at least four student groups and a participant in multiple others. I was editor of the campus newspaper, the Bethany Messenger.

My class load that semester was bereft of anything non-science. A resignation and special election led to me being the vice president of the student body.

It was a lot — too much. It led to a lesson that could have been — should have been — predicted.

One of my favorite administrators asked me to do something, and I forgot, and I’m still sorry. That failure led to me saying no to practically everything and resigning from nearly all my groups and leadership positions.

I cut back to the activities and people that were most important to me, and I stayed there. I added classes that were not math, chemistry or physics, including joining the college choir.

My senior year was, personally, fantastic. The organizations at Bethany went on without me. It was fine.

It’s a lesson that lasted. I’ve said no for years — for myself, supporting my husband in saying no, and saying no on behalf of my kids. We do better that way. Simpler is happier.

The thing is, though, you can’t say no forever and expect the place you live to really be your place, or to be a healthy community once other people either learn the “no” lesson or retire from saying yes.

My husband and I each recently said yes twice: For him, church council and fire board; for me, church call committee and Bertrand Area Community Fund.

Our community fund is currently working toward a challenge grant that will mean $300,000 added to the endowment. Historically, grants from the fund earnings have primarily benefitted school technology, and that benefits my own kids, for whom I just said yes to an after-school club in 3D design — using tools the fund helped provide.

There are some neat advantages to occasionally saying yes. Who knew. (Well, most people probably know.)

The school and BACF recently presented about school technology at the Nebraska Community Foundation’s annual gathering in York. I hadn’t attended a conference in a really long time, and it turns out I have almost forgotten how to behave in public.

One of the neatest presenters — aside from BACF, of course — was a rural sociologist, Ben Winchester from the University of Minnesota Extension. If you have interest in rural communities, this guy is worth a Google search.

Another neat benefit to having said yes to BACF was the opportunity to read the book “The Better Half: Nebraska’s Hidden Treasures” by Omaha World-Herald reporters Matthew Hansen and Sarah Baker Hansen and photographed by OWH staff.

It’s an OWH publication.

The publication was backed by the Nebraska Community Foundation, which the Bertrand fund is part of, and features rural community marvels. Rural Nebraskans know such marvels exist, but the book puts specific marvels in the limelight.

I read every word of “The Better Half.” I don’t get the opportunity to read every word of a book very often, unless it’s an Accelerated Reader level 2.8 worth 0.5 points. Mine is truly the life of a parent.

The book is our state. It calls out specific towns and specific history, but each and every place in Nebraska has a specific something that makes its region and the whole state what it is. The Neligh story in particular is very moving.

That “yes” to the fund advisory committee — in among all the many “no” answers — was well worth my time.

The Speakeasy is at Sacramento, verifiably the middle of nowhere.

A couple postscripts:

No. 1, if you have a connection to Bertrand, I urge you to consider a gift toward the Holthus Challenge. It doesn’t matter if it’s $5 or a truckload of corn or an estate gift — it’s astounding to imagine what it can do once combined with the gifts of others. If you’re not connected to Bertrand, consider a gift within your own community.

No. 2, I didn’t work on the Bethany College newspaper my senior year, and I earned a bachelor’s degree as a math and chemistry major. Strangely enough, though, my experience with the college paper got me my first non-family job that stuck, and here I am, a shocking 21 years later, still doing the same kind of work. The wise advice to not put yourself in a box is, indeed, wise.

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