BY JON VANDERFORD
While some rural communities struggle to attract new residents, Red Cloud is becoming a place for returners to plant roots.
Danny Benge and his wife Val recently moved to Red Cloud to run the Hometown Market grocery store. “We needed a lot of dominoes to fall, and it all seemed to come together,” Benge said.
Danny’s wife Val is from Red Cloud originally, and he is from Gordon. Both are small town people who are basically coming back to their roots. The amenities found in Red Cloud really helped them to make the decision to live in greater Nebraska. A visit to a class reunion about two years ago got Danny and his wife interested. “There was a little recruitment pitch by her friends to move back. Leaving and driving home that day we were really thinking about it,” Benge said. “I wanted to be on the business management side of things, and when we asked what businesses would be available to purchase, the grocery store came up.”
With no retail or grocery store management experience, Danny Benge and his wife decided to run the Hometown Market. Danny has worked hard to bring improvements to parts of the store, like the produce section. “I brought in a meat cutter who has been here a long time, or brought him back on the team, so we are cutting our own meat,” Benge said. “We’ve added a rotisserie chicken machine, too.”
It seems more young people are making the choice to live in Red Cloud. “In my wife’s class, she has at least three classmates that were already here. We already had friends built in,” Benge said.
Danny says the fact that Red Cloud now has a state-of-the-art early childhood development center made choosing to live in town much easier. “Besides the store, that was probably the second biggest domino that needed to fall,” Benge said.
The Valley Child Development Center opened in January of 2018. It serves kids ages six weeks old to 12 years old. “We are a high quality child development center, which means that we have certified teachers in our rooms, we have teachers working towards their certifications, and all of our teachers are encouraged to take classes in early childhood development,” Executive Director Kerra Robinson said.
Robinson says the center plays a key role in the town’s quality of life. “It definitely plays a major piece. Families need child care, period. But they want a high quality place because we know the importance of brain development, and how it starts at birth. It doesn’t wait until kindergarten. We are open year around so families have that reliability, they don’t have to worry about calling in sick because their child care center is closed. It just lifts up the whole community.”
Danny Benge is thankful for the center. “Actually all three of our daughters go there, whether it’s for pre-school, education, or just kind of an after-school care, and it’s been fantastic,” Benge said. There is definitely a fusion of people, businesses and services taking place in Red Cloud where the result appears to be a bright future for the town. Danny Benge aims to continue helping the community make positive steps forward. “I know we all rely on each other,” Benge said. “If somebody comes in to get a bag of feed or a two-by-four at the lumber yard, I hope that if they need groceries they would make a couple of stops in town. I think all of the businesses thriving together really helps.”