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If you’re looking for small town charm, look no further than Oxford
Cruise into the Village of Oxford in south central Nebraska and you are greeted by a main street broad enough to park cars in the middle as well as at the curbs. The first Oxford citizens designed a spacious community with room to expand. Clean, wide streets and sidewalks with big, shady trees welcome customers and visitors.
Oxford residents are as excited about the possibilities their community holds today as they seem to have been when the growth-oriented business district was first laid out in 1880.
"People are very involved here, and a lot of new things are always going on," says Thelma Bushnell, who represents the Oxford area on the Harlan County Board of Supervisors. Parts of the town extend into two different counties — Furnas and Harlan.
Bushnell says the community not only has many unique businesses, attractions and special events, but also that residents have a can-do spirit that often enables the small (population 900) town to accomplish big things.
Still growing and improving
A major current initiative in Oxford is the partial renovation of the old elementary school, which will soon be the new home of the Golden Generation Senior Center. Director Susie Peterson said "marvelously generous" community donations as well as grant funding are enabling the Center to renovate the school's former multi-purpose room into a facility that will house new office areas, exercise and activity rooms, a kitchen and a large dining room that will also accommodate community events.
Peterson says there are many more ideas for using the space at the school in exciting new ways, and that the current renovation is viewed as one phase of what many hope will eventually be a larger project, where other services and businesses might locate.
The Village of Oxford has also received grant funding to make improvements at the George Mitchell Park, which already includes a fishing pond, playground, camping area with 10 hookups (two are 50-amp), and a disc golf course. The grant will pay for cleanout and improvement of the pond as well as some needed landscaping work, all to begin in spring 2010, explained Gloria Knuth at the Village office.
Volunteers make it happen
Knuth said volunteerism is at the heart of the community's innovative efforts as well as operation of the town’s many programs and amenities, such as the swimming pool and swim team, baseball and soccer teams, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, a thrift store and food pantry, and special events held throughout the year.
The town also boasts a library and the Granada Theatre, which runs current popular movies four days per week and is also staffed by volunteers. A beautiful, tree-lined 9-hole golf course graces the northeast corner of Oxford, with a racquetball court and weight room on site at the Cardinal Country Club. The Oxford Outdoor Club maintains a shooting range.
Volunteers also play a big role in the Oxford’s many community events. Turkey Days, held the second weekend in June, is one of the most widely known and well-attended festivals in south central Nebraska. Traditionally, the festival has included a parade, games and blue-gill fishing for kids, a soap box derby, craft show, car show, dances and music, and a turkey leg feed.
An annual Christmas Festival of Lights is organized by the Oxford Chamber of Commerce, complete with a lighting contest, visits from Santa, open houses at businesses and homes, and music events. For Independence Day, the town organizes a fireworks display along with Pork-in-the-Park sponsored by the Oxford Volunteer Fire Department. An annual community Easter egg hunt is held at George Mitchell Park, and a downtown hotdog roast happens on Halloween. During the summer, a farmers market is held downtown every Monday evening beginning in early June.
Small classes lead to a quality education
As if to prove consolidated schools can work better than the schools they replace, Southern Valley School, was built south of Oxford in 1993 and a consolidated elementary school was completed at that same location in 2008. Superintendent Chuck Lambert says the K-12 facility "is second to none in the state of Nebraska."
Southern Valley offers an education with very advanced technology in the classrooms, including smart boards, clickers and laptop portable carts, Lambert explained. The average elementary classroom has 16 students in the room with an aid in grades K-3, and the school offers programs for special needs children as well as advanced placement classes for gifted students.
The school provides a good exposure to the arts and a wide variety of competitive sports. "Southern Valley is one of the few schools in the area that offers girls softball," Lambert added. "We also have a new FFA program and facility in just the last two years, and our FFA program has already had state champions and national qualifiers."
Taking care of business - and each other
Village employees maintain the roads and other infrastructure in Oxford, but when major street work is required, it is scheduled in small increments to enable the City to hire local contractors. Oxford also produces its own electric power, and residents say they are very conscious of the need to "shop local" to support their small but thriving business community.
The Oxford Area Foundation exists to enable residents to donate to strictly local projects, and both the HOPE fund ("Help Oxford Prosper Economically") and the Southern Valley Business Development fund provide gap financing and other types of assistance for entrepreneurs and prospective business owners. Wireless phone and high-speed internet services including DSL and cable are available from three local providers.
Attorney Anne Paine, County Court Presiding Judge, mother of two, and long-time Oxford resident, perhaps best expressed the spirit of the community when she said, "Children enjoy many freedoms in this community because everybody knows everybody, and we all watch out for each other. It's just a great place to be."
We couldn’t agree more.
Who to Contact
Village of Oxford
326 Ogden Ave.
Oxford, NE 68967
Southern Valley School District
Cardinal Country Club
300 East Elgin Street
Oxford, NE 68967
Hunting, fishing, and camping information
Golden Generation Senior CenterA history of the town and the surrounding area written in 1882 is available at