Going home can be the opportunity of a lifetime.
Just ask Kate Kusek Johnson, who spent just enough time away from her hometown of Albion to know that it was a place she wanted to return.
She was born in Lincoln and moved with her family when she was 2 to Albion. Her father, Anthony, completed medical school at Creighton University in Omaha and practiced elsewhere before being recruited to Albion.
“You grow up seeing your parents give back to the community,” she said. “It shows you what a good way of living that kind of life can be.”
Her father still is a family practitioner in Albion. Her mother, Carol, is active in education, the Albion Arts Council and puts on a sewing camp for 4-H’ers, among other civic endeavors.
Kate’s father is originally from Ord, while her mother is from West Point. They settled on Albion as a place to raise their family in part because it was between their hometowns. Albion also represented a good medical career opportunity for him.
Kate graduated from Boone Central High School in 2003. She went to dental school at Creighton University and completed a residency program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
She then was presented with an opportunity to come back and work in the Albion dental office of Sam McMillan and John Williams, who retired in January 2018. She began her career there in 2012 after finishing up in New Mexico.
In 2015, she bought part of the practice and quit dividing her time between Omaha and Albion, working full time in Albion.
Her husband, Marcus, was two years ahead of her in high school at Boone Central. Although it was a small town, they knew of each other but didn’t know each other well and didn’t date back then.
“He had moved back a couple of years before I did,” she said. “He was farming here with his dad and we met after I had moved back. I got pretty lucky. He’s a good guy.”
The couple have one daughter, Margaret. They live in a house in Albion from the 1890s that Marcus’ great-grandmother lived in.
Kate said when she was going to college and while in Albuquerque, she knew she wanted to be in a small town for her practice when she was finished with school. She just didn’t know where.
Initially, she said, she was unsure of moving back to her hometown, but then she went over her reasons and discovered they weren’t good reasons.
“I’m glad that I’m here,” she said. “It worked out well.”
Among the perks, her office is close enough to her house that she can walk to work.
“I think I appreciate it more after I’ve been away,” she said. “I don’t know that I would have appreciated being back if I had not been away from it for awhile. I love being close to my family and my husband’s family. We spend a lot of time with our families.”
Kate said she also missed being around farmers — the stoicism, the hard-working attitude and the no-nonsense approach to life.
Albion has many desirable attributes, including a hospital, clinic, a couple of dental practices, retail shopping, a new school, upgraded athletic facilities, a diversity of restaurants and friendly people.
“There is a lot of excitement and momentum for growth,” she said. “There’s a walking trail going in around the fairgrounds and the park. We do the Big Give in the fall, and people are excited about giving back to their community.”
Similarly, Kate has found dentistry to be a way to give back to the community. All day, she gets to help people with their problems.
“That’s the mindset of the community, too, helping people with problems or fixing problems. We have a draw for people that we don’t live close to any other communities, but we also find ways to solve the occasional drawbacks of living so far away (from bigger communities),” she said.
Technology also makes it possible for more young people to work from home, so that opens up places like Albion to be attractive to young people.
Starting one’s own business is a labor of love and takes a lot of time. Kate began her professional career in Albion in 2012.
“I had some conversations with Sam (McMillan) and John (Williams) and they seemed enthusiastic about having me back in town,” she said. “I realized there were lots of good reasons to be home again.”