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Community development, chamber combining forces

Schuyler Community Development and the Schuyler Area Chamber of Commerce are merging resources to improve services for both groups.

Kem Cavanah with Schuyler Community Development said the idea of combining forces has been bouncing between the two organizations for years. The push for action came when Cavanah announced his plan to retire from the economic development director position and the chamber was unable to find an executive director, even though the job has been advertised since the spring.

When Cavanah's replacement comes on board Oct. 1, the position will be full-time economic development director and part-time chamber executive director.

“This individual will wear two hats,” Cavanah said. “If you look at the mission and the job responsibilities of both positions, there are already some overlaps.”

Chamber President JoLynn Ratzlaff also sees parallels in running both organizations.

“The economic development coordinator obviously has much interest in wanting the businesses in town to succeed and move forward and so does the chamber,” said Ratzlaff. “So why not collaborate?”

Additionally, the Homestead Center’s part-time bilingual receptionist, Winnie Harbison, will also assume the role of part-time administrative assistant for the chamber. Ratzlaff said Harbison and the new coordinator will share duties while representing the chamber.

“Winnie is the in-building face of the chamber and the director will be in and out of functions,” she said.

While the new economic development/chamber director will not assume their role until October, Harbison started her expanded position Aug. 1.

The arrangement will operate under a trial period through July 31, 2018, before the organizations decide whether to extend the agreement.

Ratzlaff is optimistic it will work out.

“Even though this is new territory for Schuyler, other communities of our size in Nebraska have made similar changes,” she said. “We researched that before we moved forward.”

Ratzlaff also likes the idea of having the chamber and community development representatives based in the Homestead Center.

“By having all of the people in the collaboration in the same building, it just makes sense. There’s no running around, it’s an easy meeting place, and it’s a way for them to work together on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s more hands on deck.”

Schuyler becomes 'poster child' for housing development

Schuyler Community Development housing coordinator Brian Bywater cut the ribbon last week on the Kracl Meadows senior housing project, marking the completion of all 14 units.

Bywater said eight of the 14 units are occupied and he expects the remainder to be filled by the end of August.

Lifelong Schuyler residents Gordon and Margaret Dunker were living in a trailer park south of town before moving into one of the Kracl Meadows duplexes.

“It’s a real upgrade,” said Gordon.

Margaret uses a walker and the steps leading into their trailer home gave her trouble. The Kracl Meadows units are all one level and handicap-accessible.

The duplex is also more spacious and includes lawn and snow-removal services.

“Lawn mowing and scooping snow are no longer my handiwork,” said Gordon.

Down the road, the eight workforce houses have been completed with six leased and one sold.

When the Kracl Meadows and workforce housing projects broke ground, community officials hoped they would fill up fast and prove to developers that housing projects in Schuyler pay off.

The speed with which the units were occupied supports those pushing for more local housing.

“I think it just screams that the need is there,” said Bywater.

It was also announced last week that the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority extended its funding of Bywater's position for two more years.

NIFA executive director Tim Kenny said smaller communities across the state are looking at Schuyler as a model for housing development.

“The whole state stands and wonders how they did it,” he said.

The key, according to Kenny, is Schuyler Community Development built a network that pushed the projects forward.

“Where Schuyler is ahead of everyone else is they have a great leadership team,” he said.

Schuyler Community Development economic development director Kem Cavanah gave a great deal of credit to Cliff and Kathy Mesner of Mesner Development Company in Central City for getting both projects off the ground.

“Schuyler has become the poster child for housing across the state,” Kathy Mesner said.

She said they don’t often have so many units come online at one time, but were convinced by housing studies and talks with community leaders that the need was there. And the Mesners believe the need is still there.

“As much housing as you developed in Schuyler this year, you didn’t keep up," Cliff Mesner said. “You didn’t even catch up.”

Going forward, Kathy Mesner said she’s looking into developing townhome rentals with family-size units and multifamily two- or three-story apartment buildings. Apartment buildings require a larger financing package and good management, but she thinks there’s real potential for that kind of project.

“You build one, see how it goes,” she said.

While preparing the West 22nd Street and Denver Street area for Kracl Meadows and the workforce project, the city completed a lot of the groundwork with utilities and streets for future development.

“I’d like to see something more come into fruition,” said Bywater. “We have this project with infrastructure ready to go, we just need someone to do it.”

Clarkson author pens murder mystery

CLARKSON — David Kucera has always enjoyed a good tall tale.

Any adventure story or whodunit with action and intrigue hooks him from the start. The Clarkson man used this love of stories to start writing his own 25 years ago.

“I’ve written all kinds of short stories,” Kucera said. “Those were written for some co-workers who seemed to enjoy them. It all kind of grew from there.”

This hobby turned into three published books. The latest, “Murder at Mason’s Mesa," hit the presses in June.

“It’s about a college professor who takes students on an archaeological dig,” Kucera explained. “During their time, they encounter bad weather, bandits and drug smugglers. During the whole process the main character, Dr. Charles Quincy Kruse, gets involved with another professor. Their relationship turns sour, though.”

Beyond the bad weather, bandits and romantic mishap, Dr. Kruse finds himself rescuing his love interest, Dr. Page, from a kidnapper. Together they use their wits to solve the mystery behind the vandalism, arson and murders that come about during the dig.

When Kucera needs inspiration on how to create a character’s personality, he looks to his children. Dr. Kruse is based on Kucera’s son Charles’ mannerisms.

Two other books have made it from Kucera’s writing desk to publishers. The first, "Ali Meet Sally," came out in June 2015 and “Bennett Prince of Ziemia” was released last summer.

“I wrote 'Ali' about five years ago,” Kucera said. “I wasn’t going to publish it, but my wife and daughter kind of goaded me on about it. So I went ahead with it.”

“Bennett Prince of Ziemia” is described as a fantasy book for children. Kucera enjoys writing about the “flights of fantasy and the marvels of magic” for youth to wrap their minds around.

The writing process normally takes about six months per book. He said the best part of writing is getting a reaction from his readers.

“What I like is when people get something from what I write,” Kucera said. “It means a lot to me to hear when someone likes a character in my stories and tells me they can relate somehow to the personalities.”

Kucera is a graduate of the former Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri and Wayne State College. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology before working as a laboratory supervisor in chemistry and microbiology, then with veterinarians.

Courtesy image 

David Kucera's newest novel "Murder at Mason's Mesa" is his third published book.

Korth resigns from city council

Ed Korth resigned his seat on the Schuyler City Council.

Mayor David Reinecke, who announced the resignation at last week's meeting, said he plans to make his recommendation for Korth's replacement at Tuesday's meeting.

In a statement read by Reinecke, Korth said he appreciated the opportunity to serve on the city council but recently moved out of the ward he represents.

Korth was appointed by Reinecke in January to represent Ward 1. He replaced Ted Marxsen, who left the council after moving to Lincoln.

In other business, the council hired Andy Yost, a deputy with the Butler County Sheriff's Office, as a part-time police officer and Schuyler Police Chief K.C. Bang reported the police station renovations are "98 percent" complete.

The renovations to the building's entrance and improved security have cost $39,729 so far.

City Attorney Richard Seckman announced a buyer is in the process of closing on a house in the Water Tower Subdivision. Of the eight houses built through the workforce housing project, six are being leased and one purchased.

The council also approved:

• The use of South Park Area One for the Hispanic Festival on Aug. 20. Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. with the festival continuing until 5 p.m.

• The use of a city parking lot and B Street from 11th to 12th streets for Libres Por Cristo activities from 5-10 p.m. Sept. 15-16. Activities include music and a church service.

• A Sept. 3 fireworks display sponsored by the Schuyler Area Chamber of Commerce.

• A $29,639 payment to Pavers Inc. for completion of the B Street overlay project.