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If the perfect small town exists, it just might be Minden.
If you could sit down at a drawing board to design the perfect small town, what would you include? Maybe you’d start with a superb education system, then add in gracious and affordable homes. You’d want to make sure you had a prosperous manufacturing sector so there would be good jobs and a sound economy, then perhaps you’d want to add some interesting retail enterprises on wide, safe streets. You’d want to make sure to design in a strong sense of community, with a lot of citizen participation in community decisions, quality healthcare facilities and nearby opportunities for camping, hunting and fishing. You’d place it close enough to commute to both college and university campuses, and not too far from sports entertainment such as basketball and hockey. Then maybe you’d top it all off with a beautifully restored community theater and an imposing historic courthouse in the town square.
Put down your pencil. You’re describing Minden.
A mecca for small manufacturers
In recent years, Minden has attracted or home-grown sixteen manufacturing companies, employing more than 250 skilled workers and shipping a wide variety of products regionally, nationally and internationally.
Many think the success of the light manufacturing sector in Minden has a lot to do with two, strong, locally-owned banks, both of which are very supportive of entrepreneurial ventures.
“We open our doors to mentor businesses, provide technical advice and generally do everything we can to support business in Minden,” says Larry Wilcox, President of the Minden Exchange Bank. “We take time with business owners to offer them advice from a banking perspective. We recently hired a loan officer who is amazed at the number of people who come into the bank just to visit about business concerns.”
“We don’t determine loans by rigid formulas, and we don’t insist that all pegs have to fit in the same holes,” says Kelly Ayres, President of the First National Bank in Minden. “Instead of sending loan applications to some far-away bank for approval, our customers sit down across the table from the person who is going to make the decision. The advantage for the customer is huge.”
Additional support for business ventures is found in the Kearney County Economic Development Association, formed with the intent of fostering economic development in the region. Director Lisa Stadler offers guidance and advice on funds available for business start-ups as well as for capital to expand, upgrade equipment and/or add employees.
A school system to envy
The business community, schools and parents work together to offer Minden youth a balanced and progressive education.
“We have a great belief in our people as a great asset to teach the whole child,” said Minden Superintendent Dr. Melissa Wheelock. “The people here create a positive climate for education.”
It seems to be working. Wheelock said the school district scores exceptionally well on standardized tests. Mean scores for the PLAN test, administered to all Nebraska sophomores, were more than 2 points above the national average, with composite scores for Minden was nearly 3 points above the national average. Jeffrey Horner, high school guidance counselor, said, “These high marks speak volumes to the quality of parents, patrons, students and staff of the Minden School District.”
“Education is all about relationships,” Wheelock said. “Our goal is to establish positive relationships of children to learning, children to teachers, as well as our school district to the supportive community of Minden. Our students leave Minden Public Schools not only well-educated, but as responsible citizens.”
The Minden school system features updated facilities and small classes (often an 11:1 student/teacher ratio in high school) promising individual attention and support from teachers.
Minden schools offer avenues of learning in which every young person can find success, including fine art, music and athletics in addition to extra-curricular associations and clubs. One particular source of Minden’s pride in their schools is the annual marching band competition, called Bandfest, held in October. The Minden Chamber of Commerce and the Minden Schools invite 24 marching bands from surrounding communities to perform and compete against a backdrop of bronze and crimson autumn leaves, delighting audiences along historic Brown Street.
A treasured history mixes with present-day pride
Pride in the community also shows itself in the Minden Opera House, an elegantly restored theater that provides a stage for professional entertainment, an art gallery and gracious rooms for receptions.
“We value our heritage and preserve our historical buildings,” Wilcox says. “The Minden Opera House and the Minden Courthouse in the square are among the sites we treasure. Our courthouse was built over 100 years ago, but it’s been upgraded with sprinkler systems, an elevator and all the other necessities for a modern building. When the courtroom was restored, we retained the original design features and the atmosphere of a courtroom of the 1800s.”
Community pride is also evident in the summer flowers that spill from window boxes and decorate street corners around the town square. Local horticultural societies plant and care for garden plots on public sections in the town.
“People work together to keep the town clean,” says Minden business owner Jim Cantrell. “Flowers bloom on nearly every street corner all summer.”
“Many things get done in Minden by coffee shop management,” says Jeff Hanson, pharmacist and business owner. “Communication is informal and simple, and community issues often are taken care of before we leave the coffee shop.”
The Minden Courier, a weekly publication, educates the public on issues concerning the community. Civic organizations invite community leaders to speak on relevant issues and citizens are invited to town hall meetings where their elected officials facilitate discussion on issues affecting the population.
Cappuccino, original art and conversation
Minden takes its coffee – and its art – seriously. In 2007 two new coffee houses opened, featuring an ambience and style that recall the urban-chic of San Francisco or Seattle. Both establishments feature espresso coffee and original art and sculptures.
While visitors sip a rich, dark, smooth espresso at Brewer's Coffee House, they can look over Mike Schwenke's interpretations of local architecture and close-up views of neighborhoods. The texture, designs and vibrant colors contradict any preconceived notions you might have about life in Minden.
The Minden Coffee House features sculptor, Sally Buss' larger than life figures made of machine parts and metal objects, while Darin Haight's Breakaway Bar and Pool Hall features Buss' electrified wire drawings.
"You can't put a price tag on easy living!"
photo by Gloria Masoner
Pharmacists Jeff and Tami Hanson researched many communities for business opportunities before they decided to purchase a pharmacy in Minden. The Hansons appreciate the informality of the Minden community.
“In Minden we have a life other than work because driving time to and from the work place is minimal and business transactions usually take little time and are simple,” says Jeff. “We have time left over to pursue our family interests, sports and hobbies.”
Hanson says, “People in Minden feel a responsibility to the community, and the community reciprocates. People are congenial and charming and the community feels safe and supports kids.” He also notes that the community offers a wide array of professional medical services, including dental, health clinics and health specialist services, an updated nursing home and hospital as reasons for moving to Minden. If a rural lifestyle suits you, there are a lot of rural communities to choose from. But for many, the perfect choice just might be Minden.
If a rural lifestyle suits you, there are a lot of rural communities to choose from. But for many, the perfect choice just might be Minden.
Who to Contact
Dr. Melissa Wheelock, Superintendent
Minden Public Schools
520 West Third Street
Larry Wilcox, Senior Vice-President
Minden Exchange Bank