Small-town life in Nebraska is alive and well if the town of Arnold (pop. 597) is any indication. Located in central Nebraska’s Custer County, tiny Arnold has a charm that tends to make newcomers never want to leave.
Dawn Lewis and her family moved to Arnold in 2009 from York, Neb. when she was hired as principal of Arnold Public Schools (APS), which encompasses grades kindergarten through 12.
“We loved the community from the beginning,” Lewis says. “Arnold is unique in our efforts to grow our community, as others of similar size are getting smaller. We have opportunities you wouldn’t normally find in a village our size, like a movie theater, clothing boutique, hardware store and a great coffee shop.”
The people, however, are what really make Arnold special.
“We have great neighbors and friends here that are quick to lend a hand when you need anything,” Lewis says. “But more than that, the friendliness extends beyond a ‘Hello’ on the street. It is a true and real warmth – an understanding that in Arnold, you are part of a family.”
Excellent schools are just one of the many assets that draw people to Arnold. Though the town is small, the school district is large, encompassing surrounding rural residents. APS was one of the first school districts in Nebraska to implement a One-to-One Apple Laptop Initiative by purchasing laptops for students in grades 9 through 12. The district also has some of the highest test scores statewide.
“I love that I know every student by name,” Lewis says. “I enjoy spending time with my students and teachers, supporting them in their daily tasks and guiding them through the complexity of our education system.”
Arnold’s Community Spirit
Janet Larreau, editor of The Arnold Sentinel, was born and raised in Arnold, but moved away to Colorado after high school. Family, friends and small-town life drew her back home in 1982, and she began working at the newspaper in 1983. Janet and her husband, Gary, started Larreau Construction Inc. in 1986 and raised their daughter, Dayna, in Arnold.
“What sets Arnold apart from other small towns is the amazing volunteer base and support for new and existing events and new projects,” Larreau says. “The people are progressive-minded and willing to give financially. During my career at The Sentinel, the newspaper has recorded many achievements that would seem impossible for a town of less than 700 residents.”
Those accomplishments include the construction of a community center in a former livestock barn paid for by fundraisers and donations; renovations of an old movie theater and the historic Hotel Custer; and the highly anticipated Sandhills Open Road Challenge (SORC) in August. The annual race draws more than 2,000 spectators, quadrupling Arnold’s population for three days.
Agriculture In Arnold
The majority of Arnold citizens are involved with agriculture in one way or another, whether they are retirees helping with fall harvest, or landowners renting their pastures or cropland to farmers and ranchers.
“Agriculture has an extremely large presence in Arnold,” says Kendra Veirs, who also works at The Arnold Sentinel. “There is a fertilizer plant in Arnold that sells fertilizer to area producers, and many individuals are seed corn and feed salesmen. There are seasonal jobs for individuals from the area farmers in the spring doing fencing, calving and field work, and in the fall doing weaning, preparing for winter, trucking and harvest. Spring and fall are busy, so anyone looking for work can find something to do.”
Arnold’s bank provides a lot of agriculture loans, and the Dodge dealership sells many custom pickup trucks to area farmers and ranchers.
“It’s very common to see cattle driven right through town,” Veirs says. “And waiting on tractors and other equipment traveling at less than 20 miles per hour is an everyday occurrence on the streets of Arnold.”
Larreau enjoys the calmness of living in Arnold.
“For me, it’s having elbow room. We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the state – a hidden place few know about.” Lewis, a mom of four, agrees. “I truly appreciate that my kids can hop on their bikes and ride to the pool or the park, and I feel perfectly safe,” she says. Check out what’s happening in Arnold by visiting arnoldne.org/events.