Sheila of Growing Small Town Nebraska: Why Listen & Why Go

I’ve been singing the praises of Nebraska since 2019. Sheila Jenkinson, host of “Growing Small Town Nebraska,” has been singing those praises her entire life. She is, after all, a proud native of the Cornhusker State.

Sheila Small Town Plainview 4
Sheila Jenkinson

I cannot recall how I found her podcast earlier this year. In doing research for HeidiTown Consulting, I think I was searching on the Internet for anyone talking or writing about small towns, and the Growing Small Town Nebraska podcast came up. I started listening and realized right away that we were kindred spirits, and got in touch. We first chatted in March.

When I walk, which is every day, or else Fritzi the dog goes quite literally crazy, I alternate between listening to podcasts and listening to books on Audible. Currently, I am re-listening to Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose.” His Pulitzer Prize-winning love letter to the West is one of my top five books of all time.

Sounds of Centerra – LOGO

But, I also listen to Sheila talk about Nebraska. We continued our conversation from March and decided that I would write about Growing Small Town Nebraska on, and then I’d be a guest on her podcast in the future.

I know my readers appreciate small towns, and Nebraska is full of small towns, and Americana. It is a state worth a second look as a vacation destination. Not to mention, much of the state is an easy weekend getaway from Colorado.

Growing Small Town Nebraska Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
Scottsbluff, Nebraska

We just returned from our annual tanking trip to North Platte, Nebraska. This outing started in 2020, as an official HeidiTown visit with Ryan and my friend Karen, but then, more friends joined the next year and we’ve been going with a group of around 10 friends ever since. It’s a highlight of the summer. I felt this was a good time to highlight a podcast about Nebraska.

What Is Tanking in Nebraska?

So, how did Growing Small Town Nebraska get started? Sheila was approached about the idea by her former co-host, who was working on revitalization in her town of Battle Creek. In addition, Sheila was inspired by the revitalization of her current hometown of Stanton and nearby Norfork. The podcast started in October 2022. Both Stanton and Norfork are in the Northeastern part of the state. Coming from twenty-plus years as an on-air radio personality, talking into the mic was nothing new for Sheila.

Having never witnessed the type of revitalization that was happening around her area, she was intrigued.

“I was starting to see these small towns not just get by, but really start to build up in creative ways,” says Sheila.

A little research proved that this small-town resurgence and rejuvenation was happening all over Nebraska. Sheila knew that a Growing Small Town Nebraska podcast was an opportunity to shed light on the people making this happen and on the towns where this was happening.

In chatting with her, Growing Small Town Nebraska comes from a place of true excitement. Sheila believes that because of the wonderful things happening in communities around Nebraska, the state will be able to retain its population because these towns are getting new life and experiencing momentum. Young people, who in the past have gone away for college and never returned, will be drawn to come back, work, and raise families in their Nebraska hometowns. As the mother of two children in college, this is very real to Sheila.

She grew up in the small town of Plainview, and when she was young she wanted out. Many of us who grew up in small towns can relate to this—myself included. It’s the feeling that our hometowns are boring and offer nothing to do.

“Doing this podcast, and seeing what towns are doing, has proved otherwise,” says Sheila. “There is stuff to do here. This is a great place to raise a family.”

Growing Small Town Nebraska, Ogalla Second Chapter Brewing,
Did you know Fritzi, our dog, is Nebraskan? She’s from Ogallala, NE, home to Second Chapter Brewing, located in the former Ogallala library. I snapped this picture on the way through this weekend. We are going back to spend a weekend in Ogallala. There is a lot more to do there than when I last visited in 2019.

Sheila, as well as those folks in communities doing this revitalization work, want young people in Nebraska to realize that their state is great and it is worth sticking around.

However, she doesn’t just want those who are born in Nebraska to stay here, Sheila wants you to come and do some exploring around the state.

In addition to interviews with business owners and community leaders, as well as sharing resources for listeners who’d like to help their town thrive, on the first and third Tuesday of each month, Sheila does “Shoutout” episodes.

Potter, Nebraska GSTN
Growing Small Town Nebraska visits Potter.

These are often 10 to 15-minute podcasts about her favorite places and things she discovers as she explores the state anew. Many of her interviews are in-person, so Sheila gets around.

I asked what town she’d recommend visiting, and immediately she said Potter, which is considered a Village in Nebraska, with a population of 337. Located about two hours northwest of Loveland, Colorado, it is less than an hour from Wyoming along the Lincoln Highway.

“They have packed so much into that small town and I think I could vacation there for a week,” says Sheila.

Potter has a seven-hole golf course (that’s how many holes the town could afford), Duckpin Bowling, an art loft, a beautiful library, a museum, a coffee shop, a brewery, and more.

Duckpin Bowling Potter, Nebraska GSTN
Sheila Duckpin Bowling in Potter, Nebraska.

If you’re like me and are wondering, “What the heck is Duckpin Bowling?” The game uses smaller balls than regular bowling, with no finger holes. It also has smaller pins. Like many games, its origin is disputed, but may have started in Baltimore in 1900, or Massachutes in the 1890s. Who knows, but now you’ve heard of it!

Potter, Nebraska, sounds exactly like one of those little towns I’d love to explore.

Growing Small Town Nebraska visits Potter
Jennifer Thomas is a native of Potter, former high school Art teacher at Potter-Dix High School, and volunteers for the Tin Roof Creative District. She is also a volunteer worker at A Collective Gathering (antique/flea market shop) and manages the community Art studio: Potter Art Loft.

Sheila reiterates what I’ve been preaching about Nebraska being an affordable vacation spot, especially for Coloradans. When I walked into a grocery store in North Platte this weekend, I nearly fainted at the low prices. Inflation seems to have hit a lot harder in Colorado than in Nebraska.

She also talks about friendliness not being a myth.

“We are going to treat you like we’ve known you for years, even if we just met you. I think that’s something unique about Nebraska,” says Sheila. “We have things like tanking, a crazy amount of golf courses, The Grand Theater in Scottsbluff… I could go on. There’s a lot to see here.”

Growing Small Town Nebraska, tanking in North Platte,
More from our tanking trip this past weekend in North Platte, Nebraska at Buffalo Bill State Park.

One of Sheila’s favorite spots in her state is Whispering Pines Bed & Breakfast in Nebraska City.

“I felt like I was in the country but it was right in town! It was so relaxing, pampering, and just a huge treat,” she says.

Nebraska City has been on my list since it appeared in an article I wrote for “Nebraska Life Magazine” over five years ago. So, I really must go!

Why am I writing about a Nebraska podcast? While Sheila’s shoutouts are perfect places for HeidiTown readers to discover, Growing Small Town Nebraska also provides insight into how community leaders and small business owners are shaping their towns. These are real-life examples, happening in real time, of the things you can do in your community. For example, today I listened to a podcast about a woman working to add a Veterans Memorial in Stanton, Nebraska.

Growing Small Town Nebraska, North Platte Nebraska Canteen District
Downtown North Platte has undergone some beautification and YES it’s a beautiful and affordable town to visit.

If small town revitalization is something you like to learn about, give Sheila’s Growing Small Town Nebraska podcast a listen. If you’d like to discover some fun spots to put on your must-see in Nebraska list, download a few Sheila Shoutouts.

Join the podcast on Facebook and Instagram. I listen to Growing Small Town Nebraska on Castbox, but it is downloadable from almost all platforms.

Thank you to Sheila Jenkinson for spending some time on Zoom with me. I’m excited to share this little Nebraska podcast gem with you.

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