Staff spotlight: True spirit of hard work, helping others can be seen in rural communities

Growing up, there was always something going on in my neighborhood.

Whether it was school or family events or everyday activities, life was never boring. The children in our neighborhood made sure of that. In the summer, we’d ride our bikes, form teams to play baseball, football, and other games, or play hide-and-seek well into the evening. We always found a way to entertain ourselves until our parents yelled for us to come home for the night.

Despite being in the heart of a growing metropolitan area with amenities nearby, the neighborhood I grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was as close to a small-town feel as one could get. Most everyone knew each other, looked out for one another, and there was always someone to hang out with.

While I’ve always considered myself a “city girl,” as the years have passed, I’ve come to envy those who grew up in smaller communities and attended smaller schools. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the educational opportunities I received in a large school district, but I’ve come to realize that smaller settings are best suited for my personality.

That’s one of the reasons I opted for a smaller school when it came time to choose a college.

During my four years at Wayne State College, I met people from all walks of life and became friends with people who grew up in smaller communities in both Nebraska and Iowa.  

After receiving my bachelor’s degree in journalism, I made my way to Columbus, Nebraska, where I had spent summers living with my sister. While many of the recent journalism graduates at the time dreamed of one day working at a big city daily newspaper, I just wanted a job in the business.

So, I hit the library, grabbed every phone book they had, and began making a list. With a minor in broadcasting and experience working at the college radio station, in addition to my four years on the newspaper staff, I began making a list of every newspaper and radio station in the state. I spent weeks applying for jobs and then several more waiting.

Finally, one day, the phone rang. It was the editor of the Schuyler (Nebraska) Sun newspaper. He was looking over my information and, though they didn’t have an open position, he asked me to come in for an interview. A week later, I made my way to downtown Schuyler, met with the editor and publisher, and left with a job.

I couldn’t have had a better place to begin my career, as it afforded me the opportunity to share stories about agriculture producers, small businesses, school activities, and small-town life. The experience stayed with me as I worked at other small, sometimes rural, community newspapers in Nebraska and Iowa, and later, for a nonprofit organization, over the course of 25 years.

In my time as a newspaper reporter and editor, I grew to love and appreciate what smaller communities offered and realized that rural America is where the true spirit of hard work and helping others can be seen on a daily basis.

As I reported on various government entities, I also developed a better understanding of the decision-making process. I’ve seen firsthand the importance of residents, agencies, organizations, community leaders, and elected officials working together to ensure a bright future for their community.

My experience is serving as a catalyst as I make the move into my new role as policy communications associate at the Center for Rural Affairs. While I enjoyed my time in the newspaper business, I longed to use my skills to make a difference.

I believe rural communities have much to offer and I’m excited to be part of the Center’s staff and look forward to working with everyone in meeting its mission.

Teresa currently lives in Blair, Nebraska, and, when she’s not working, enjoys spending time with her family, cheering on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, taking photos, and scrapbooking. Teresa can be reached by email at teresah@cfra.org or by phone at 402.687.2100 ext. 1012.