Five days a week, like people taking deep breaths to expand their lungs, the community of Snyder doubles in size.
Situated at the intersection of Nebraska Highway 91 and U.S. Highway 77, three large businesses -- Smeal, Danko and Omaha Steaks -- create a buzz for a town nestled in the cornfields of Nebraska as the town expands from a population of 318 to more than 600 each workday.
Parking my red truck on the east end of town at 11:52 a.m., a killdeer scolds me for entering his territory as I start my walk across Snyder. I was late because of getting sidetracked when I met most of the town at the Snyder Mini Mart, which also serves as grand central.
“Just about everyone passes through here at some point in the day,” said owner Dan Dirkschneider. “Right behind you is the town mayor, or more accurately stated the village board chairman. Joel Hunke also works at Smeal.”
Once the noon whistle blows, they try to get 40-50 people through the Mini Mart in 10 minutes. A 30-minute lunch break demands efficiency.
During these short bursts, people get caught up on conversations before rushing back to their work.
Dirkschneider said, “I like living in a town where if the power goes off I can yell out my back door at Joel (village chairman) and know he’s going to handle it.”
Leaving the Mini Mart, I’m ready to start my walk across Synder. I looked at my watch and it read 11:47 a.m. I walked west and took a left on the main drag through downtown.
Within a few minutes the noon whistle blew. After another two blocks, I looked at my watch that read 12:03 p.m.
In the span of 11 minutes I walked across town. During that time seven drivers waved and the two people I passed on the sidewalk said hello.
I dashed back to the Mini Mart to see the last of the noon rush half hour. Then I wandered over to Deno’s Bar and Grill for their famous barbecued ribs. My young waitress brought me silverware and said with a smile, “I won’t make you eat with your fingers.”
Sitting next to me were long-time residents Joe and Connie Kaup. They talked with pride about the active Lyons Club. “Sometimes people know your business before you do,” Joe said laughing. “It’s all a part of living in a smaller town.”
After lunch I wandered around town. I noticed a portable white sign with green letters in a yard that recognized the lawn of the week.
Continuing down the street, three young children simultaneously yelled from their backyard, “Who are you?” Marissa Hunke, 5, Chelsea Greenfield, 6, and Brittany Hillard, 10, were passing the summer day playing games like Freeze Tag and, their favorite, Hide and Go Seek.
When asked what they liked about Synder, they responded, “When we get bored we can play with our friends at the park.”
In the center of Snyder I met Dan Kreikemeier, president of Danko, cleaning one of the buildings he owns downtown. He spoke with excitement about his plan to transform the old opera house into a museum, where he wants to display some old fire engines.
“We have a good little community, and I want to find a way to display some of the things we are proud of,” Kreikemeier said.
Next I met retired serviceman Martin Jones, who was putting out a yellow ear of corn out for the squirrels. After living in Norfolk for many years, he recently returned home to Snyder. “I created a spreadsheet to capture all the information to help me make a decision where to retire. Snyder won,” Jones said.
Walking back to my truck, I poked my head into Prenzlow’s meat locker, where they won me over as a new customer with a sampling of their prize-winning dried beef.
At the invitation of Village Chairman Hunke, I pulled into the parking lot of Smeal Fire Apparatus Company.
While at Smeals, I met with employee Lori Scherer who shared with me, “People often ask me what are we doing out here in the middle of nowhere. I tell them we are in the middle of everything we want … - ; family, friends and in a beautiful place.”
Hunke offered me a ride on a golf cart around the plant while he explained the operations of the Smeal Fire Apparatus Company. At the end of the ride, Hunke talked about growing up as a kid and how he rode around with his grandfather at the plant.
“I grew up here,” Hunke said with pride. “I used to come over here and play games like Hide and Go Seek.”
I took some pleasure in knowing that the favorite game in Snyder hasn’t changed.