By JERRY GUENTHER | Norfolk Daily News
ATKINSON – For those who enjoy the outdoors and prefer a less-crowded atmosphere, this Holt County community has it all.
That includes the benefits of small-town living, such as safe streets, a good school and people who know and care about each other.
Given all that, it is easy to see why Amanda Sindelar was eager to move back to her hometown in 2009. She worked at Ogden Hardware and then helped to open Dollar General in Atkinson. Eventually she went to work for Terry Miles at the Holt County Independent, where she served as editor from 2013 until earlier this year.
“I love our school,” she said. “I can go up there and there are still teachers there from when I went to school. It’s funny, but I still can’t even call the teachers by their first names yet. It’s great to see that my children and stepchildren were able to learn from those teachers as well.”
Sindelar began the transition to economic development director earlier this year and officially took over in November. She serves under the direction of the mayor and city council.
“We try not to leave any building empty if we can,” she said. “We always have people with dreams who want to keep their town alive, too.”
Sindelar said there is hardly any crime in Atkinson and life is centered on children and families.
“My son could always get out of school and walk. He used to walk all the time and he just turned 16 and started driving this year. Before that, he rode home with a friend or he walked. Even though I worked in O’Neill, I (didn’t worry) because there were so many parents out and about. We are just such a connected community that everyone would always ask if they ever noticed something.”
Sindelar said a lot of people who went to school about the same time she did have moved back to Atkinson. They have taken over businesses and gotten involved in agriculture or irrigation, she said.
Sindelar grew up about 10 miles southwest of Stuart on a ranch where her parents, Dan and Joan Greger, still live. She graduated from Atkinson West Holt in 1997 and earned an associate’s degree in journalism from Northeast Community College.
She also has worked as a copy editor and reporter for the Norfolk Daily News and the Grand Island Independent before becoming the editor for the Coolidge Examiner in Coolidge, Arizona, and the Holt County Independent.
After a divorce, Sindelar moved from Arizona back to her hometown of Atkinson with her children in 2009.
“It was in December,” she said. “I brought my kids from sunny Arizona to Atkinson in a blizzard.”
Her daughter, Erin Patton, was old enough to remember Nebraska, including the cold.
Her family includes her husband, Don Sindelar, co-owner of Green Valley Irrigation in Atkinson, which recently expanded to O’Neill, their five children and three grandsons.
Her husband grew up in the Howells area but has lived in Atkinson about the past 20 years. They have been married for the past four years.
Sindelar took over for Lou Ann Tooker, who held the position for 11 years.
Sindelar said she is taking over four of the projects Tooker started, including an expansion project for Mitchell Equipment, which is doubling its size. Mitchell is the biggest employer in town with 50 employees and is a Case IH dealership.
Mitchell qualified for tax-increment financing, which allows the additional property taxes generated from the development to go toward infrastructure costs associated with the development.
Tooker also helped to address the need for more affordable housing, including a new duplex that is under construction. Hopes are to build more as more lots open.
“I want to see people move back like I did,” Sindelar said. “I want people to be able to move back and enjoy their hometown.”
Sindelar also is continuing with startup or expansions through an LB840 program.
Other projects include converting the R.F. Goeke Variety into a thrift store while keeping the soda fountain, which has become a tourism attraction; rehabbing the downtown site of the former Round Up Bar, which has a new owner interested; getting the local city’s solar power plant that powers the wastewater treatment plant onto the grid so that the city can take advantage of its net surplus or move solar housing into residential areas.
Sindelar also is a member of the Atkinson Community Foundation Fund advisory committee.
“We have a lot going on,” she said. “I guess I joined when they were rebuilding Mill Race Park. I really wanted to see a new park out there. It’s no longer a state park, and it’s been handed back to the city.”
The improvements included new playground equipment, handicap accessible showers, more sites to hook up RVs, new tent sites and a nature trail.
Seeing what other towns are doing through the Nebraska Community Foundation helped to inspire Sindelar to get involved in economic development.
“Instead of writing about it, I wanted to become a part of it,” she said.