Articles & Essays
Articles & Essays
Home | View all Essays
Building Nebraska one person at a time.
by Tom Arnett
In almost every small town, there are at least a few visionaries who see their town not as it is, but how it could be. While these advocates may be long-time or even lifelong residents, in many cases, the ones who are ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work are new to town – but not necessarily new to rural living.
When they retired five years ago, Tom Arnett and his wife, Sheryl moved to the tiny village of Orleans from their home in urban Arizona. Looking around, the experience reminded him of a move he made to New York as a young man.
“Spending two years in New York opened my eyes to a mountain of ideas that would end up lighting my way much later in life,” Arnett said. “For me, age 19 through 21 were when I moved from those ‘I know everything years’ to those ‘I didn’t know that’ years.”
Arnett said he started out in Gloversville, NY, a town reeling from the loss of the glove manufacturing business from which it was named.
“There was nothing but closed buildings and an atmosphere of gloom and doom,” Arnett said. “But somehow things changed. I now send one of my monthly payments to Gloversville. Someone picked Gloversville for a place to establish a major business and others picked Gloversville as a place to live. The worst happened and Gloversville survived.”
Tom would like to see the same thing happen in Orleans.
“I feel like I’m in the best place I could be,” Arnett said. “I am involved in the restoration of a town that once was a booming community, but one that lost its place in life. For five years I have been delicately working to build something here — I say delicately, because you have to be careful not to step on toes in trying to change people and places.”
Arnett feels there’s a building demand for the small town way of life.
“Not everyone is going to come here, thank goodness, but there are many Americans waking up to the idea of a better life and atmosphere that can be found in small towns. Orleans can’t compete for newcomers with bigger small towns – those with 1500 or 3000 population. We are in the category of towns of 500 population or fewer. But no matter the size, each town is unique in what it has to offer.”
Working to restore his town to some of its former grandeur keeps Tom Arnett busy and fully engaged with his neighbors. It’s clearly a work in progress, one with small triumphs and setbacks, but it’s given Tom a sense of purpose he didn’t have in Arizona. And that’s one thing no retirement should be without.
To learn more about how you can be a writer for Nebraska Rural Living, and have your essays posted on this site, visit our 'Writers Wanted' page.