Monday, August 10, 2009

So This is Aurora, Nebraska

This is an excerpt from a chapter titled "Going Where Good People Go." It conveys a good little snippet about my community.

I live and work in a community that many small town Nebraskans would consider a “pretty big town,” with a population of 4,225. In the last decade, I have witnessed more and more graduates of Aurora High School move and live in other areas of the country, or for many Aurorans and rural Nebraskans, the move isn’t so far—it is within the urban area of Omaha, or the state capitol, Lincoln. “Because Nebraska’s institutions of higher education are in the majority located in larger communities, young people can be expected to continue leaving rural areas in large numbers upon completion of high school” (Cantrell 4). Aurora, a micropolis, is the county seat of Hamilton County and seventy-five miles west of the nearest metropolitan center of Lincoln. The open country that buffers us from Lincoln is prime farm ground. On my commutes on Interstate 80 to the University of Nebraska as a graduate student for eleven years, I have watched the seasons pass in the fields—planters in spring; combines in the fall. Aurora’s “downtown” is built around an historic county courthouse completed in 1895, constructed of red brick with Colorado sandstone with a tall spire. A strobe light rests atop the spire in recognition of Harold “Doc” Edgerton, inventor of the strobe light, one of Aurora’s most famous native sons, and a MIT graduate. There are approximately 6-10 businesses on each side of the square. Some buildings are empty, some thrive. Within four or five blocks of Aurora’s downtown, there are many majestic two-story houses that look like something out of the American South: palatial plantations surrounded by grand yards full of deciduous and evergreen trees. I drive M Street almost daily. It is the red brick street that runs from Highway 14, (16th Street) past the square all the way to 1st Street. Aurora High School is at M and 3rd Street. Each year, since I moved here in July 1992, I have taught approximately 100 students, give or take a few peaks in the population.

Listen to Ted Kooser recite his poem "So This is Nebraska."


  1. Cathie:
    Thanks for the introduction to you and to Aurora, Nebraska. I think it's wonderful you have the inventor of the strobe light right there -- I'll remember that next time Kate and I see a strobe light when we're out ballroom dancing! Your "I am from" poem is a great tribute to your town and students and teachers. I very much look forward to working with you in Place Conscious Teaching this year!

    ~Robert Brooke

  2. Cathie: I loved your descriptions of your house,your neighborhood, your classroom and the town of Aurora. I just chuckled when you wrote about the Carl's/Karl's that are your neighbors! How cool! And how wonderfully rural to me as was the comment that these men had all helped to raise Anna - "it takes a village..." Your dedication to your students is so evident in your poem and othter descriptions; I think all teachers can relate to the joys, tears, and struggles the we teachers of writing and of Speech experience. Even though we have large grading loads, I sometimes wonder if math or business teachers ever get to know their students the way we English teachers do! Thanks for the wonderful tour of Aurora and its historic square. You have adoped that place as your home and your knowledge of it and love for it showed so clearly in your writing.

  3. Hi Cathie - I haven't heard the word "micropolis" before, but it's my new favorite word for the week, and now I will always associate it with Aurora! Like Robert, I was intrigued by the story of the strobe light and Aurora's native son - it seems like every small place has good reason to be proud of a local boy or girl who's gone out and made important, lasting, or even plain quirky contributions in the world. Someday, I hope we know just as many stories from men and women who've stayed at home or who've made a home in order to make a difference, just like it seems you've been doing in Aurora with your family and students.

  4. Hi Cathie:

    Thanks for sharing your writing. I really identified with the emotional pendulum that you described when working with students. I coached speech too, and it was great to experience the highs and often difficult to experience the lows. I am grateful to have been in your classroom, as my UNL methods class ventured to Aurora to sit in on one of your classes. I liked seeing more of your town and hearing about your experience with it.

  5. I appreciate many of the things that the other commentators made above--the descriptions of your town and home (both of which you are obviously proud of), your reflections on teaching, and the way your understanding of your place in this town is relative to the other people there. I also was thinking about something you said in second section about days when you are feeling down as a teacher and how Eliot's words comfort you. I call those days "park ranger" days as in, "I'd rather talk to a tree." But, basically, I guess what I mean is that another place is calling. I suppose one of our goals is to have our teaching place and our comfort place be the same.

  6. Hi Cathie, thanks for being so descriptive about your home place of Aurora. There is a very cool exhibit of Edgerton's strobe photos in Nebraska Hall at UNL, where I used to work. Years ago a couple of our engineers did a pedestrian footbridge project at what I think is the youth center, and I went out to visit the site. Aurora looked very cozy and self-compacted (is that a phrase?) to me. Thanks for sharing so much about your teaching and your home place. You sound very grounded in Aurora, and you're very committed to your students. What a difference you're making in their lives! This is truly a calling.

  7. Aurora, from your pictures and words, looks like the ideal small town. And the ideal place to be a teacher. Your words in this blogpost speak of connection. It's wonderful.

    I envy your garden. I love that (at least it seems) more and more people are growing vegetables in their own backyards. I also love the idea of community gardens for those who do not have backyards. Gardens, the idea and practice of gardening--it seems this activity and practice is rich in place-concsiousness. Garden--the hard 'g' isn't pleasant, but the noun, the verb are so lovely.

  8. Hi Cathie,

    I love your allusions to one of my favorite Ted Kooser's poems "So This is Nebraska". His title and poem, I think, have given both you and me ways of thinking about "our Nebraska". . .or at least our impressions of our place at the moment.