Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Dec. 14, 1984)
BJ toffsisisa s towns straw
Alvo looks like a neighborhood.
Modest homes sit on quiet, shady streets. A
little white church stands on the corner. Children
and dogs play in the yards.
, Everybody's a neighbor in Alvo, population
146. About 1 5 miles northeast of Lincoln, Alvo is
the smallest town this side of the Sandhills.
And it's getting smaller.
Laura Dreamer has lived in Alvo all 88 years of
her life. She remembers 1917 when Alvo
population 250 was a bustling little town on
the Rock Island Railroad. Alvo had a bank, hotel,
telegraph company, weekly newspaper and sev
eral small stores and companies. The first consol
idated school in Nebraska was in Alvo.
Walter Vincent, 82, remembers 1927 when
J.B. Elliott had "the biggest John Deere dealer
ship in this part of the country." Folks from all
over Nebraska crowded Main Street on Elliott's
sales days, Vincent said. The sales were even on
Elliott's dealership is gone now. So is the bank.
It closed when the cashier went to war in 1942.
The hotel and newspaper owners left in the
1920s. The school closed in I960. The train
depot was torn down in 1957, and now the tracks
are being removed.
Few businesses remain. Now there's just the
post office, garage, elevator and saw-sharpener.
Aaron Howe distributes fertilizer. Mehin Root does
Outside the Roots' little tan house are two
newspaper vending boxes and a sip that reads:
Melvin Root. Income tax service. 781-2779.
Inside, the house is crammed with antiques,
plants and knick-knacks. Oil paintings of Jesus
hang on the walls.
Some folks met at Root's to talk about the
town. They disagreed on the reason for Alvo's
Root said the automobile is at fault Before
people had cars, leaving Alvo to find work or
another place to live wasn't so easy to do.
Pat Umland is writing Alvo's history. It was a
railroad town, she said, and it was doomed when
the railroad went out
Vincent said it's because the school shut down.
Dreamer said it's because the bank went out of
"It's gone from a thriving little town to
nothing," Dreamer said. "Now, it's just the
goods people who live here. That's enough, I
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Mdvin Esct, Ktzycr cf Alvo, ctssds on Rl?la Street
Dreamer lives alone on her farm about three
miles from town. Her husband died six years ago,
so her grandson Terrell farms the land for her. As
long as she can drive and take care of herself,
Dreamer said she'll stay.
"If they'd just build a rest home here, that's
where I'd come," she said
Alvo's just fine for Melvin and Blanche, too.
"It's a nice, quiet, friendly community," Root
"It's gone from a thriving little
town to nothing," Dreamer
said. "Mow it's just the good
people who live here, lint's
enough, I pess."
They've lived other places, but they like Alvo
best. Waverly, pop. 1,500, is too much like the
big city, Blanche said.
Melvin Root is chairman of the board. The
village council meets monthly in a little green
building that used to be the barber shop.
Alvo has its problems, too, Root said. People
go broke. Kids get into drugs.
But people who live there have high hopes for
the town, Root said. The board built a new well
and bought land for a new fire house. Root has
considered starting a grocery store. There just
might be enough business.
Things already are starting to pick up. Sunday
school re-opened last year because some new
families moved to town. Several couples who
work in Lincoln bought property in Alvo so they
could live away from the dty, Root said.
"It's a good place to live if you work in town,"
Root said. "The rent's cheaper. Taxes are
cheaper. You don't have to carry a club with
Eddie Hyatt, 28, of Lincoln, wants to move to
Alvo. His wife Patty grew up there. He has oper
ated E & D Motors on Alvo's Main Street since
July. If business goes well, the Hyatts will move.
The garage is nothing fancy. There's just room
enough for a couple of cars, a Pepsi machine, a
tool bench and a wooden chest full of gadgets.
Business is picking up, Hyatt said. Folks are
getting to know his work. Hyatt does mostly
routine repairs, but he said he can handle any
thing except electronic ignitions.
The old-timers are happy to see new families
move into their town. But the younger folks just
don't have that sense of community, Root said.
Fern Barnard is determined to keep the com
munity spirit alive. Last year, she organized
"People Involved in Alvo," a four-member task
force that plans the town's activities.
The PIA puts out the Alvo informer, a one
page monthly newspaper with board meeting's
minutes on the front and the community calendar
on the bad.
Bamard types the paper herself and makes
about 80 copies. Umland delivers the Informer to
Umland hopes to have Alvo's history pub
lished next year. It's slow going, she said English
never was her best subject in school. But Umland
said it's worth the trouble.
"It was born here, and I've always wanted to
do it," she said. "The history of this town needs
to be told."
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iRhile cities and private investors, fashion
deals designed to make Nebraska urbane and
prosperous, small towns are dying.
Nebraska's urban population has increased
from 25 percent in 1930, to 37 percent in I960,
to 63 percent in 19S0.
Wanda Leonard, a community resource devel
opment specialist at UNL, said that trend is not
good for small towns.
"I'm not a sociologist, but I can tell you that a
lot of people just prefer to live ci small towns,"
Leonard said. ."They need a sense of belonging,
some sense of a strong family. Without a small
town, people sometimes get lost"
A UNL professor of sociology, Richard Meile,
said small towns make some people feel comfor
table and important
"People are socialized to like certain things,"
Meile said. "Things they are comfortable with."
Comfort soon will be a difficult commodity to
come by, Leonard said, if Nebraska's cities con
tinue to expand their business communities and
edge out small-town businesses. She said small
towns are caught in a vicious business cycle that
slowly pushes the towns closer to death.
The cycle begins when the residents of small
towns go into cities for specific reasons: medical
care, for example.
In the city, these people accomplish several
tasks: holiday shopping, grocery buying, purchas
ing clothing, tools, new cars.
Small town businesses can't keep up with the
buying power and diverse needs of that town's
residents, Leonard said. These small businesses
lack huge amounts of capital, and can't buy in
great quantities at low prices. To cover costs,
their retail prices are higher. Townspeople often
think it is worth a "trip to the dty to shop.
"We go (19 miles) in to Lincoln about once a
week," said Doug Malone of Cortland. "We get
just about everything we need there."
Doris Retzlaff of rural Bennet is 25 miles from
Lincoln. "I go in about two, three times a week,"
she said. "I usually go to one big store to get
everything I need."
LaFcra Rasmussen of Plalwiew is an excep
tion. She said "most of the folks in town do the
bulk of their shopping in Norfolk." But Ras
mussen seldom mdces the 35-mile trip to shop.
She said she gets just about everything she needs
Retzlaff tries to do some shopping in Bennet
because she likes the stores.
"They have to stay in business, too," she said.
Bill Weatherhogg, owner of Bill's Grocery in
Palmyra, said staying in business isn't easy these
days. Weatherhogg said he can't buy things as
cheaply as large stores, so his prices are about 5
percent higher than those of his big dty competi
tors. Tm makin' a lhin', but I'm not gettin' rich
here," he said.
When people don't shop in town, businesses
die, people leave and eventually the town dies,
The town dies and its elderly residents, reluc
tant to leave, are left without places to shop.
They either have to risk thdr health by traveling
into large towns, or someone else must do their
shopping, Leonard said.
Leonard said the problem can be attacked two
wys: educating consumers about the consequen
ces of thdr buying habits, or having small towns
group together and promote each other's busi
nesses. Richardson County merchants have banded
together to promote each other, Leonard said.
Instead of competing against each ether and
risking going out of business, the businesses
there compete against larger dties nearby.
Cooperative buying, in which one store buys
large quantities of a particular item and then
distributes the item to similar stores In the same
area, could work, Leonard said.
"Some people will say that's communism,"
she said, "but it's just cheaper."
Leonard said she isn't trying to save all small
towns from dying. The fate is inevitable for
many. But she said she would rather see towns
die with dignity," thst just slower fade my,
business by business. .
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