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Cambridge slogan — Life is Good! — is right on the mark
Cambridge is blessed in many ways. Its location midway between Denver and Omaha and at the confluence of the Republican River and Medicine Creek in southwestern Nebraska appeals to both new residents and businesses. Verdant canopies of maple, ash and oak trees shade sturdy wood-sided homes in a town that is known for a friendly, front-porch culture. Walkers, bicyclists and runners enjoy wide sidewalks, sculpture gardens, a park with a creek, and miles of running, walking, biking room.
Take a stroll through Cambridge and you’ll see young people riding their bikes, walking to the softball field or playing in the park.
And as Cambridge High School Principal Dan Keyser notes, “You can’t overstate the huge benefit it is for kids to feel safe in a community. They have freedom to play sandlot baseball, a pick-up game of basketball, walk a trail or fish along the creek.”
A good place to raise kids
In some ways Cambridge is the kind of town you see in black and white television reruns, where the paperboys sport broad, toothy grins and it’s not uncommon to catch a whiff of baking bread on the breeze. At just over 1000 residents, a population that has been maintained for nearly 100 years, it’s small enough to be close-knit, but it’s surprisingly cutting-edge in many ways.
For one thing, Cambridge is the home to Pinpoint Communications, a major player in data transmission throughout the middle of the country, and owner of high-capacity fiber optic highways connecting Omaha, Chicago and New Orleans. Cambridge is also home to at least three world-class sculptors, a brand new ethanol production facility, and an 18-hole public golf course. And if you think a child’s education would suffer in rural Nebraska, drop by the Cambridge schools.
“Our school board is progressive,” says High School Principal, Dan Keyser. “As an example, every student in grades 9 through 12 has a laptop computer provided by the school with support from the Cambridge School Foundation.”
Every classroom is also fitted with a “Smart Board” that looks and responds like a wall-size computer screen. But technology alone can’t teach children effectively, and the community points with pride to the fact that Cambridge Schools received a #1 rating in a recent state schools report, and Cambridge teachers were named both Nebraska Teacher of the Year and Southwest Nebraska Teacher of the Year.
“We strive to maintain a balance between school, extra-curricular activities, home and community,” says Keyser. “Our students do well on ACT tests but we prefer to measure attitude, drive, accountability, conduct, vision. We want to broaden our student’s vision and their expectations.”
The school presents an annual school musical open to all students in addition to drama, speech, quiz bowls and a full array of sports. “Cambridge is the appropriate size school to allow for activities in which every student can participate,” Keyser said.
You might not expect a town like Cambridge to be an on-ramp to one of the biggest information highways in the country, but it absolutely is.
With corporate offices in Cambridge, Pinpoint Communications provides access to state-of-the-art communications resources. According to Pinpoint spokesperson Mike O’Dell, the company’s local offerings include Internet services, cable television, and local and long distance telephone service. But that’s only the beginning.
“Pinpoint connects users to Level (3), one of the largest Internet backbones in the United States and Europe,” says O’Dell. “Level (3) allows us to offer our customers a substantial amount of bandwidth at a very reasonable cost.” O’Dell isn’t kidding about substantial – connection rates of up to 800 Gigabits/second are possible.
Level (3) can only be accessed at two locations in Nebraska, Omaha and Cambridge.
“We are offering what is called tier one service, which means that the user is only one ‘hop’ away from the main Internet backbone,” said O’Dell. “What does it mean to Cambridge? The Internet-based company, e-entrepreneur or telecommuter in Cambridge can enjoy the same high-quality, broadband connection that they would have in any major city. Businesses with high bandwidth needs can bring their businesses to Cambridge and do it all right here.”
A plan to grow and thrive
A conversation with Mayor Mark Harpst is laced with strands of Cambridge history. His grandparents owned the Cambridge Clarion newspaper, and his grandmother led a community project to build a new hospital in 1950. Harpst notes, “Leaders years ago put things in place so that Cambridge would be a stable and enduring community with attractive aspects of community life.”
Harpst believes in the vitality of Cambridge. He says, “Cambridge is committed to grow and thrive.” As an example, in 2004, the Cambridge Economic Development Board and City Council responded to the opportunity to recruit an ethanol plant, which just recently went online. Harpst notes that building a $100 million ethanol production facility requires dedicated leaders willing to donate long hours of time to solve problems.
Those same dedicated and proactive leaders are responding to the city’s need for additional housing with a plan to purchase 77 acres east of town for development of both commercial and residential lots.
According to Economic Development Director Andela Taylor, the new subdivision will utilize tax increment financing and be paid for with property taxes generated by the ethanol plant. Although plans are still being formulated, she said the new neighborhood will appeal to young families especially, with affordable (or free) lot prices, green space, and a trail system that will connect to the park’s trail system already in place. A new wellness center is another possibility.
Mayor Harpst and the council take a participatory approach to community decision-making, summarizing meeting highlights on a web cast over a regional web site, swnebr.net, in addition to reports in the weekly newspaper. The community website, www.cambridgene.org, a comprehensive site initiated and maintained by the Cambridge Economic Development program, has been in place for over a decade.
Cambridge is also building a reputation for cooperative projects. When Cambridge and the nearby communities of Indianola and Bartley needed to find new sources for drinking water, they joined together to form an agency to drill a single source for water to sell back to the communities. According to Cambridge City Engineer Chris Miller, the project will be used as a national model for cooperation among communities, and not least, the water quality is outstanding.
Friends taking care of friends
“Friends taking care of friends,” describes Cambridge’s Tri-Valley Health System according to CEO Carol Hanes. The care is personal, nurses are skilled and equipment is up-to-date.
For example, the only 16-slice CT scanner in southwest Nebraska — a very advanced piece of diagnostic imaging equipment — is located in Cambridge.
“The CT scanner enables doctors to see soft tissues very quickly and in great detail,” says Hanes. “It’s a tremendous aid not only in the emergency room but in a number of diagnostic procedures.”
The Tri-Valley Health System includes a 25 bed acute care hospital connected to a skilled nursing home, in addition to assisted living and independent retirement facilities, a state-of-the art sleep lab, a therapeutic spa and other medical amenities. Two full-time physicians and three physician assistants handle the general healthcare needs of the community, along with regular visits from specialists in nearly every medical specialty. Tri-Valley also operates clinics in the nearby towns of Arapahoe and Indianola.
Hanes moved to Cambridge from Dallas, Texas. “I’m a city girl,” she says, “but Cambridge is a fabulous community.” She lists a few of the amenities she especially enjoys — a beautiful setting with clear skies and no traffic, easy Internet access and a unique mix of people, including well-known artists.
A special appeal to artists
Beyond business opportunities and lifestyle advantages, there’s something about Cambridge that attracts artists. The city is home to three artists with national and international reputations.
Sondra Jonson of S.L. Jonson Studios has created sculptures from miniatures to monuments for clients throughout the United States and in Europe. Jonson is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a former student of world-renowned sculptor EvAngelos Frudakis. Her most recent project in Nebraska is a life-size sculpture of a World War II veteran at the Veteran’s Memorial in North Platte.
Gary Ginther graduated from McCook High school and left Nebraska to work as fishing and hunting guide in Colorado where he developed his hobby of drawing into a career. Major organizations, among which are Ted Turner Enterprises and Universal Studios, have commissioned Ginther’s sculptures, but his local work pieces for the High Plains Museum in McCook, the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Oxford, and the Archway Monument in Kearney.
With artist Jon Leitner, also a Cambridge area resident, Ginther created a life-size sculpture of Senator George Norris which can be seen in front of the historic Norris Home in McCook.
A drive for constant improvement
Jolene Miller edits and publishes the Cambridge Clarion, a position which gives her a unique perspective on the town.
“Cambridge fosters success for youth with the park system, the arts programs and youth sports as well as well as an excellent school system,” Miller says. “But retired adults live active lives here, and they bring innovative ideas and lots of energy to youth sponsored events, community events and projects.”
Cambridge citizens also give generously to the many community foundations. “In Cambridge if you think of a project that will benefit the community, a foundation probably is already in place to bring the idea to reality,” says Miller. “We sponsor school, library, park, hospital, museum, cemetery, arts, and economic development foundations.” Cambridge citizens recently voted for a 1% local sales tax to benefit economic development. Miller says, “Cambridge residents just seem to have an inherent drive to constantly improve Cambridge.” Or put another way, to make to good life...better.
Who to Contact
722 Patterson Avenue
Cambridge, NE 69022
Mayor Mark Harpst
722 Patterson Avenue
Cambridge, NE 69022
Cambridge Public Schools
Tri-Valley Health System
SL Jonson Studio