Along Highway 20 in Nebraska’s Holt County lies Stuart, a charming yet progressive village. Though it is seemingly small with 590 residents, the agricultural community of Stuart has proven time and again that when there’s a task to complete, it’s all hands on deck until the job is done.
You might say Stuart is the little town that could.
“We’re small enough to know we need to stick together,” says John Madsen, vice president and sales manager for Wm. Krotter Co., DBA Krotters Home & Auto Centers in Stuart. “People here are progressive and want to see good things happen. When someone has a great idea, people get behind it.”
Stuart has a young demographic – the city’s median age was about 40 years old in 2010 – as well as a rich agricultural history, with local businesses such as Stuart Fertilizer & Grain Inc. providing jobs.
“Agriculture is the core of our community. The majority of households in Stuart have at least one person employed in an agriculture-related job,” says Jon Schmaderer, president of the local Tri-County Bank. “Stuart has a nice mix of farmland, pasture, hay meadow and recreational areas where residents can hunt and fish. There’s a diverse agricultural economy here, and our bank would not be here without it.”
One of Stuart’s strengths is its award-winning K-12 school district, which is uncommon in a town of its size. “So often in rural towns, consolidations take place, but we’ve managed to maintain our high-quality K-12 school. We take pride in that, and we won a National Blue Ribbon School Award in 2009,” Madsen says.
The award, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, recognizes schools for their academic excellence, as well as their work to close achievement gaps between student subgroups.
“Stuart is also strong in affordable housing, which has helped keep families here. There are a lot of safe, affordable homes,” Madsen says.
The community even owns its own nursing home and runs its own electric plant.
“Thirty years ago, we took over our own natural gas system, and we also do our own recycling and garbage business,” Madsen says. “In 2014, we decided we would do our own street work, so we bought our own equipment. That lets us employ local people and keep our costs low.”
Madsen and his wife, Pat, raised their grown children, Jay and Katie, in Stuart. Pat’s great grandfather was William Krotter, who founded the Wm. Krotter Co. in 1891. It is now the oldest continuous Maytag dealer in the world and will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2016.
Schmaderer and his wife, Jennifer, are now raising their four children – Tate, Elle, Taya and Drew – in Stuart. He says it’s an ideal place to raise a family.
“There are many good role models here, and as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child,” Schmaderer says. “We have a fantastic park, and our people are like one big family.”
Stuart’s Progressive Attitude
One of the reasons for Stuart’s success is that its citizens focus only on projects that are doable and make sense.
“Any project we’ve succeeded on was because we agreed it was important and attainable with the resources we have,” Schmaderer says. “We focus on the little things, and that creates big success.”
Between 2002 and 2012, Stuart citizens raised $375,000 to renovate an old building into the Murphy Theatre, an all-digital movie theater capable of showing the latest 3D movies. It is open on weekends and run completely by volunteers, except for one paid manager who takes care of the equipment.
“We often have sell-outs, so we now sell movie tickets online,” Madsen says. “Two local farmers from K&W Farms donated all the popcorn sold at the theater, and the popcorn sales alone have raised $25,000. That’s the story of Stuart – people care about the community.”
Schmaderer agrees. “You can make a noticeable difference here,” he says. “We’re blessed because as professionals we don’t have to give up anything to live here. You can be just as successful in business here as anywhere, yet still enjoy the benefits of small-town living. When my 7- and 12-year-olds can walk to the movie theater to meet their friends, that’s hard to beat. You can’t do that in many places anymore.”