Paige Kniep, a Deshler native studying at UNL, made an announcement to the crowd gathered at the Thayer County Fairgrounds Oct. 3—she’s coming home.
Kniep, who served as Deshler Community Fund’s Hometown Intern this summer, said the experience was among many factors that inspired her to make the choice to return to Deshler after college and start a business in her hometown.
At the beginning of her internship, Kniep signaled a desire to build a life in Deshler in her Hometown Intern Q&A.
“We have a lot of amazing people on the fund advisory committee, and I was excited to work with these people as well,” she said. “I want to return to Deshler after college and start my own business, so the work I am doing this summer will directly impact my future.”
Kniep’s announcement was met with applause and cheers from those in attendance, and it was the perfect finale for a day dedicated to celebrating Thayer County through art, games, and a performance of The Dream Switch.
Prior to the concert, attendees toured the mini metropolis of Cardboard City. The diorama community, designed by gifted Thayer County students, spanned multiple tables in the Thayer County Activity Center’s 4-H room. They marveled at the myriad amenities in the community, including a pool, solar farm, laundromat, numerous restaurants, churches and chapels, and much more. Anne Baden, a volunteer art instructor, served as the “construction manager” for the project by overseeing and assembling dioramas.
Also on display was a landscape painting of Deshler, composed of multiple wooden tiles painted by individual students. Kristi Zucker oversaw the project, which highlighted the community’s landmarks and history.
The tiny city was a fitting exhibit for the event, as it resulted from the students being asked to design their ideal community. For adults in attendance, it may have offered a peek into what youth seek in their hometowns, and guidance toward what to do to make their corner of Greater Nebraska more appealing to future generations.
The day centered on youth and what they love about their hometowns. Central to it all was The Dream Switch, a song cycle about a young woman from the Panhandle who yearns for the towering majesty of the mountains and relocates to a well-to-do alpine town known as Rock Eerie. She soon finds herself feeling out of sorts and longing for her Sandhills home. So, she returns—thanks in part to an invitation from her mother. Interviews with Thayer County returners conducted by Hometown Intern supervisor Dakota Cherney played between songs, providing a local connection to the story unfolding on stage.
The community conversation following the performance capitalized on that narrative and included testimony from young Nebraskans on what they most enjoy about their community.
The event followed a 2020 survey of the students from all three high schools in Thayer County: Bruning/Davenport, Thayer Central and Deshler Public. Over 200 surveys were returned and the results indicated three out of four students are interested in returning to their local community to live as adults. Other information gained from the survey will be presented during the event.
“I think ‘The Dream Switch’ is an important first step in talking to our youth about their role in Thayer County’s future, said Rita Luongo of the Hebron Community Fund. “Our youth need to hear us say we want them to come home.”
Nebraska Community Foundation extends its gratitude to the Deshler Community Fund and Hebron Community Fund for supporting today’s performance. We also thank all of our Thayer County affiliated funds – Byron Community Foundation Fund, Chester Community Foundation Fund, Davenport Community Foundation, and Foundation for Thayer County Health Services Fund – for the good work you are doing to build stronger communities and a Greater Nebraska.