A Walk Across Dodge County
Residents Take Pride in Their Small Town
Established in 1906, the community of Uehling has 270 people with a different relationship to the past.
The town still has residents who share the town’s name. The past doesn’t seem so distant. The “can do” spirit that helped settle the town still is present today.
As traffic speeds through Uehling, a slower pace of daily living unfolds just off U.S. Highway 77.
After I parked my red truck on the south end of town, I looked at my watch that read 8:49 a.m.
I chose not to walk along the highway to make my traffic count. It was a small attempt to make my survey scientific by eliminating highway traffic.
Walking north on the graveled Birch Street seemed more like an alley than a street. I took a left on Fifth Street and then turned right on Main. I walked past the First National Bank Northeast, the post office, the monument commemorating the town’s centennial and the town hall. Eventually I reached the northwest corner of town. My watch read 9:04 a.m.
As I walked across the town of tree-lined streets during the span of 15 minutes, the one driver I passed waved.
I decided that it would be a good idea to go looking for people. That quest didn’t take long as I found three maintenance workers at a municipal building who were preparing to spray for weeds.
“Make sure you stop by the Scoreboard restaurant downtown for morning coffee. The women there should be able to give you a whole book full,” said one of the men. “We are proud of our city park. You should take a look at it.”
“Do you want a ride?” asked Mel Meyer, who was dressed in bib-overalls and perched in his golf cart.
“The town passed an ordinance so I could drive my cart around town after the State Patrol gave me a ticket once,” Mel said. “This is a friendly little town.
“I can’t walk well, so this allows me to get around. Everyday I walk my dog Sparky with my golf cart,” Mel explained.
I accepted Mel’s offer for a ride. We scooted up the road where Mel dropped me off at the Scoreboard coffee shop. There I found the morning coffee group already well past their first cup.
After a cup of coffee and a half-hour visit with the morning coffee crew, someone walked in and told me Mel was waiting for me outside to give me a ride to the city park. Apparently my walk across Uehling was turning into a ride across Uehling.
“Bruce Brandenburg asked me to give you a ride to the park,” Mel said.
We headed west across the railroad tracks and into the city park. Waiting for us was Bruce, who calls himself the park commissioner.
“The tornado (September 2007) we had ripped through here and tore down all kinds of trees and fences. This place was a mess. But the next day people came from all over with tractors and loaders helping to clean up. We’ve replanted trees and made repairs with a grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation,” Bruce said proudly.
Soon Jaze Anderson, 11, showed up to collect his check for painting picnic tables.
Nominated by his Logan View teacher, in September Jaze will be heading to Washington, D.C. for a People to People experience. The village of Uehling had hired Jaze to paint picnic tables to help support his trip.
“I like Uehling because I don’t always have to be doing something to have fun. Just hanging out with my friends in the park is fun,” Jaze said.
Once again the “can do spirit” of Uehling came forward in June as the town hosted a fundraiser in the town hall for Jaze’s trip east.
“It’s really cool how all the people in Uehling have been helping me with the trip,” Jaze said.
One of the main hubs of Uehling is the First National Bank Northeast that sits downtown on Main Street.
Inside I found Mitzi Anderson and Terri Hoeneman, who together have 47 years of experience at the bank. Every customer who walked through the door was greeted by their first name, followed with brief conversations that generally included small talk about how life was today.
All kinds of activities unfolded in the bank. Someone dropped off a repaired trophy to be taken back to the town hall. Others may stop to talk with Mitzi and Terri about UFFDA (Uehling Famous Follies and Drama Association), the renowned town play scheduled for early December.
“The bank president supports us being involved in the community. Sometimes we end up staying late to get all the work done, but it’s not all about money, it’s about having a community,” Mitzi said.
“We keep trying; there’s too much pride to let it go,” Terri added.
Now it was time to head back to the Scoreboard for some homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and bread where I joined a dozen people for noon lunch.
Back on Main Street I set out to walk off lunch and made a stop at the Uehling Gas and Go. Co-owner Brenda Kerstain stood behind the counter as we visited about our old days at Wayne State College.
At 2 p.m. I made my way to Fifth Street for “afternoon tea” with Alvin and Mona Cooper, a retired airman who came home with a British bride from World War II. They always set out extra chairs for unexpected guests.
“So you’ve come to watch the trains pass through downtown Uehling?” Alvin joked.
We visited about ordinary life in the shade of a tree in their backyard while enjoying a cold glass of ice tea on a hot Nebraska summer afternoon.
My visit with the Coopers reminded me of the last lines of the poem engraved on the back of the centennial monument. Written by Robert Heyne, a local farmer and former English teacher, the poem captures the “can do spirit” and large hometown heart that I found in Uehling.
“In celebration of an American Dream Made real by stone and Brick With cheerful households down tree-lined streets, In the tender sanctuary of hometown.”