The work of pioneering the Great Plains did not end at the passing of those who first began it; the development of the Plains is an on-going process. For more than a century men and women in rural areas have been working hard to keep both dreams and communities alive. Most have received little attention.
While there are far too many to recognize here, this page profiles some of those who are today using their talents and skills to build better lives, stronger communities, and brighter tomorrows.
This website and many others would not exist were it not for Cheryl Noonan, a working farm wife who taught herself to build websites while raising two children and running a café.
Cheryl, who is descended from Danish immigrants who settled in the Rosenburg area, is married to Doug Noonan and has two children, Britt and Marcus. Like most farm wives, Cheryl needed to work outside the home to supplement her family’s income from farming and buying and selling heavy machinery. Cheryl’s jobs have ranged from selling Mary Kay to operating a café in Humphrey, Nebr., all jobs that allowed her to be home when her kids got out of school.
In the early 90s the Noonans purchased a Macintosh computer and through a dial-up connection to Compuserve, Cheryl found online resources that enabled her to create databases to handle both her family’s and other businesses’ accounting needs.
In 1997 Cheryl took a course in html at Central Community College in Columbus, and from there she began designing websites, including ecommerce sites. Before long she was selling custom wedding photo albums from her kitchen and had moved their family’s equipment business, the Mid-Nebraska Tractor Company, into cyberspace.
Through their online tractor company, the Noonans buy used equipment and resell it through their site and TractorHouse.com. Using the Internet allows them to keep their overhead low, leveling the playing field with other equipment sellers across the country and allowing them to move many more pieces per month. Being on the Internet has also enabled Cheryl and Doug to expand their equipment business into Canada, Mexico and South America.
The Noonans work with a trucking company in the nearby community of Newman Grove to ship equipment around the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as to ocean ports for shipment to countries in South America.
Cheryl has been quick to share her web design talents with other businesses and non-profit organizations in the Boone and Platte County area, including this site; Painted Heart Music and the Albion Area Arts Council in Albion; St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Tarnov; and Big Pals Little Pals and the Center for Survivors in Columbus.
Like all successful modern pioneers, Cheryl is well aware of how interconnected rural areas are to the rest of the world and how much local and global trends will influence the future of rural areas. Cheryl sees infrastructure development as vital to rural areas, including the development of high speed Internet access and educational facilities such as community colleges.
Cheryl sees a bright future for rural communities, believing the growth of the alternative energy sector, including wind farms and ethanol plants, will continue to boost local economies, as will the growing demand for agricultural commodities. Cheryl hopes to see an increase in the diversity of the rural economy, especially businesses and industries that employ skilled labor, to offset the historic boom and bust cycle of the agricultural sector.
Cheryl and her husband Doug are prime examples of modern pioneers doing “what they can, where they are, with what they’ve got” in order to build a prosperous and successful life in a rural area. As such, the Noonans are an important reminder that in many ways, the rural future has never looked brighter…
Al Mittan grew up on his family’s 200 acre farm in Cedar County, NE, and earned a degree in agronomy at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. After a few years of farming, Al took a position with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), working in Saline, Howard, Greeley and Boone Counties. During his ten years as District Conservationist in Greeley County Al had the opportunity to work with the Loup Basin RC&D (Resource Conservation & Development) on a couple of projects, including the restoration of Spalding’s small hydroelectric dam.
RC&Ds are a community support program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Based on the concept that local people know what’s best for their communities, RC&Ds assist community leaders in identifying and address local needs, often with help from the USDA. RC&D goals include increasing natural resource conservation, aiding in economic development and improving the local environment and standard of living.
After transferring to Boone County in 1996 Al realized this area could benefit from an RC&D of its own. Al approached a group of local volunteers, known as the Genuine Rural Partners, and with their support began a two-year process of developing what would become PrairieLand RC&D. Al and others researched demographics, economics, soil types, water quality, recreational opportunities, and a host of other factors and trends affecting the counties of Boone, Nance, Madison, Platte, Stanton and Colfax. Most of all, Al talked with everyone he could in these six counties to better understand their needs and determine how an RC&D could best meet those needs.
Congress approved the PrairieLand council’s application to form an RC&D in January of 2002 with Al named as Coordinator of PrairieLand in June of that year. Al’s years of hard work led not only to the birth of PrairieLand, but their application was so well done it has since been used in the USDA’s Area Planning & Training course to aid other pioneers seeking to establish new RC&Ds in new regions.
PrairieLand has partnered with many other organizations to “repioneer” the counties it serves. 2010 projects included Nebraska Continuous No-Till, Shell Creek Watershed Improvement Project, PrairieLand Recycling, North Fork Riverfront Development, Used Tire Collections, Intertribal Feather & Dance Event, Used Electronics Collection, Statewide Organic Transition Project, Buy Fresh Buy Local, Preservation Madison, Inc., and the Columbus Community Garden, which was selected as a Top RC&D Project in the state of Nebraska.
Starting with nothing more than a vision of how rural communities could be helped, Al has both developed and guided PrairieLand in aiding area citizens “develop the frontiers of tomorrow,” blazing a trail for others to follow in the process.