With Pastor Mike at the wheel, we set sail for the nearby town of Newman Grove (population 700) where we visited with Dave Lapka, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church. Among his many inspirational messages, Pastor Lapka explained to us a critical role that a pastor can play in a rural setting by being involved in the civil life of the community, asking the hard, challenging questions, and like John the Baptist, pointing the way toward “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Our next port of call was to the Mid-Nebraska Lutheran Home, a long-term care facility also in Newman Grove that is owned collectively by the three Lutheran churches in the town. It is a pleasantly clean and “homey” establishment that serves a growing need in the area. The social services worker said that one challenge in his work is helping residents who have spent their entire lives on farms through the difficult and frustrating shift to living in a facility.
Navigating through the rolling snowy fields of corn back to Albion, we enjoyed a tour of the Boone County Health Center, a 25-bed hospital that serves a 60-mile radius around Albion. In yet another stereotype-shattering experience, this tour showed us a clean, modern health care facility that would rival any of the huge hospitals in my home city of St. Louis. As social worker Valorie Schlizoski introduced us to several employees, the message became clear that perhaps the largest difference between this hospital and larger ones in more populated areas is the personal attention that the patients receive, because the workers very likely will know personally most, if not all, of the patients. The health center has eleven general practitioner physicians, and specialists come in from larger cities either weekly or monthly depending on the specialty. Rural communities may be a general state of decline, but this hospital delivered 120 babies in 2010 - a reality that should inspire joy and hope.
For lunch, we finally we made the long-awaited visit to RUNZA! For those of you who are not from Nebraska, a Runza is ground beef and cabbage wrapped in a roll and baked. Unfortunately, we all remained a bit leery of beef and no one ordered an actual Runza. The employee who filled our order insisted that we could not leave Nebraska without having a Runza, and so she brought us one for free, cut into bite-size pieces, of which most of us partook – though I’m sorry to report that none of us were particularly impressed. Maybe it’s an acquired taste?
While at Runza, we were joined for lunch by Kim Young, a reporter who interviewed us for an article in next week’s issue of the Albion News. They’ve promised to send us copies.
After lunch, Pastor Mike had us hitting the ground running again to make up for our “lost’ day on Monday, so we headed to the Boone County Schools for a tour and meeting with the superintendent, Cory Worrell, before spending time discussing the local economy, prospects for growth, and roles of the churches in town at the Albion City Hall with Shannon Landauer (economic development), Andy Devine (city administrator), and Jill Anding (chamber of commerce).
A quick tour of the Albion grain elevator, operated by Cargill, was next on the docket. If it seems that Cargill comes up a lot, we found out that it is the largest privately owned company in the world. The local elevator was built in 1979, and in 2010 it handled approximately 44 million bushels of corn, nearly all of which went to the ethanol plant just across a field.
The hits just kept on coming. Our last and most… odiferous tour of the day was to the Niewohner feedlot, where cattle are fattened before being sent to the processing plant, most commonly to the very plant we visited in Schuyler the day before. The Niewohner’s hold around 80,000 head of cattle between their three feedlots. Mark Niewohner, operator of the lot we visited, showed us the different types of feed that the cattle eat, and then led us to watch the actual feeding process in which a specially designed truck drops the feed all along a trough that runs the length of the corrals. Mark was kind enough to spend some time with us after the tour to answer any questions we had.
Dinner with our host families was a treat, as always. Lorin and I are spending our last three days in Nebraska with John and Sheena Krohn, and their infant daughter Kasey. For dinner, Sheena prepared homemade potato and chicken noodle soups that we could not stop praising, so much so that she wrote out the recipes for us. They are a delightfully friendly couple with such refreshing good humor. As with nearly everyone we have spent time with in Nebraska, the Krohns have overwhelmed us with their depth of hospitality. What a blessing!