Rural Nebraska life is what you make it

Thursday, August 10, 2006

There's an old story about a couple who, shortly after moving to a new town, came upon an old gentleman sitting on a porch.

After a short conversation, they asked the question that was really on their mind.

"What are the people like around here, anyway?"

Pausing in his whittling, he eyed the young couple carefully.

"What were the people like where you came from?"

"Oh," they replied sadly, "the people in our last town were stand-offish, cliquish and not really friendly at all."

"Well, that's what they're like around here, too," the native said, returning to his knife and stick.

Later another new couple approached the same old guy, his carving nearly down to the size of a pencil.

Exchanging the same questions, they replied.

"Oh, the folks in our last town were great. Very friendly, hospitable and caring. We really hated to move away."

"Well," the whittler replied, "that's what folks are like here, too."

The story comes to mind in response to the latest Nebraska Rural Poll, which showed that Nebraskans may not be as friendly as we bill ourselves to be.

According to a survey of 2,482 households in 84 rural counties, less than a third of us think newcomers improve the quality of life, a quarter think they don't improve the quality of our life, and 44 percent are indifferent.

University of Nebraska rural sociologist Randy Cantrell said people aren't paying attention to newcomers, which doesn't help the "out migration" problem sociologists and economic development-types worry about.

Bruce Johnson, a UNL ag economist who also worked on the poll, said he didn't know "that many communities are deliberately reaching out to newcomers anymore."

There may be a number of reasons, they said, such as rural towns turning into bedroom communities for big-city workers with commuting leaving little time for social interaction.

In addition, some of us are uneasy about foreign immigrants and worry about methamphetamine-related crime.

The poll also showed that about half of us think more people should be encouraged to move into their towns, 68 percent expect the number of retirees to increase, more than half expect more people to move to rural areas, and nearly half expect their town's populations to increase.

Yes we do need to do all we can to make our communities inviting to people outside the area, whether it's helping create good-paying jobs, affordable housing and recreational and cultural opportunities.

And, most of us are excited to see new people move to town, and do all we can to make them feel welcome.

But rural Nebraska, like everywhere else, is what you make of it. Yes, big-name concerts are few and far between, and you'll have to drive a few hours to see a professional sporting event, but newcomers and natives who make the effort will find plenty of opportunity for happiness and fulfillment on the Golden Plains.

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