When the Fairfield Creek fire chewed through land along the Niobrara River north of Ainsworth in 2012, Stuart native Scott Steinhauser said the community’s compassion was on full display as people worked to stop the blaze brought on by extended drought in the region. Beneath the smoke billowing above the sandhills, volunteer firefighters toiled for hours in the heat to contain the blaze, while neighbors banded together to assist in any way possible.
“It was amazing to see people gathering to support each other and do what was needed to make that work,” Scott said.
Scott and his wife Nancy—also a Stuart native—know Nebraska hometowns are filled with people who care for their neighbors, and they want to be sure the places they love stay that way.
Decades of working together on smaller projects, paired with a natural sense of comradery, built the connections and resilience that prepared the Brown County community to take on the fire. That was just one among many examples of a firm understanding in the area that strong hometowns are built on strong relationships.
That philosophy created a community that the Stuart couple always wanted to return to. Though they enjoyed their time living in Lincoln and Beatrice, they knew north-central Nebraska was calling them home. When a position opened at ESU #17 in Ainsworth—a short drive west of Stuart—Scott and Nancy jumped at the chance to return.
“It was something that was always in the back of our mind,” Scott said. “It just so happened that the opportunity came up 40 miles from our hometown.”
While Scott went to work in education, Nancy joined the family business, The Tri-County Bank. She manages the bank’s branch in Bassett, furthering the institution’s mission of strengthening the communities it serves. The bank and Nancy’s family have a reputation for community engagement. It was by watching her parents —Don and Sally Schmaderer—that they both learned how important it is to get involved. Members of both of their families are active in the community, with the Schmaderers being engaged in the business community and housing initiatives in town. Scott’s parents have owned the local grocery store for almost four decades.
“I always saw those examples as I grew up from my family and Nancy’s family,” Scott said. “It just always felt like that was the right thing to do.”
It felt proper, then, for Scott to join the Brown County Community Foundation Fund’s advisory committee in 2010 after a neighbor reached out to him. He served eight years on the committee, including one year as chair. During that time, the fund participated in a challenge grant initiative from the Sherwood Foundation. That effort brought him into contact with other inspired leaders throughout the state and drove home the significance of NCF both hyper locally and across the state.
His time with the board inspired Scott and Nancy to make a beneficiary designation to benefit Brown County Community Foundation Fund’s endowment and Stuart Community Foundation Fund’s endowment. The gifts are another avenue for the couple to continue to bolster the communities that made them who they are.
“Those are just the two places that are dear to us,” Scott said. “We felt it was important to pass some things down.”
They also passed down an appreciation for the area to their children. Two of the three live in the area and have started to set down their own roots.
Scott said he would encourage others to make planned gifts to communities they care about, as it’s another way to stoke the generosity that naturally kindles in Nebraska hearts.
“You chose to live here for a reason,” Scott said. “Let’s support what we can do to allow other people to live here.”