Local Graduates Share Benefits of Phelps County Careers
24 Mar 2021
Being a small-town lawyer in his hometown didn’t seem like an exciting plan for Nate DeWald when he attended Holdrege High School in the late 1990s.
But, after some time, climbing the corporate ladder in the big city didn’t seem like a great plan either. The city lights began to dull, and Nate saw opportunity in Phelps County.
Nate and HHS graduates Christine (Johnson) Ridder and Paige (Garrelts) Marquardt are among many local residents who have found challenging professional opportunities in Phelps County. They say safety, professional opportunity, being closer to friends and family and short commutes are all reasons they enjoy living and working back in their hometowns.
Starting A Law Firm
“Frankly, there is a lot of opportunity in rural Nebraska and Holdrege,” Nate said. “For anyone offering professional services, be it a plumber, electrician, lawyer or accountant, there is plenty of work to be done.”
Nate is a 1999 HHS graduate and his wife, Sarah, is a 1998 HHS grad. They moved back to Holdrege in 2010 after deciding they wanted to raise their children where they grew up. Sarah recently was hired to teach special education at Holdrege Elementary.
Nate and his friend Luke Deaver, a Gothenburg native, launched a law firm in downtown Holdrege where their work commutes are just three stoplights long. They can practice law, create their own unique office culture and be home for supper with their families most nights of the week.
And, business is good. Their firm now includes two other partner attorneys (one who is a native of Puerto Rico), a law clerk, two office staff and a mental health counselor who shares their office space.
Nate said moving to Holdrege was “easily the best choice of my professional career. No questions. If you do your work when you say you are going to and you have a smile on your face, you will have plenty of clients here regardless of your profession.”
The community has been supportive of his law firm.
“If you are willing to invest in this community, this community is willing to invest in you,” Nate said.
One great example of that, Nate said, is when the Phelps County Development Corporation offered to match gift cards purchased at area businesses during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. PCDC’s Magic Multiplier funds went directly to support small businesses like restaurants, hair salons and retailers that lost customer traffic or even had to shut down temporarily.
“When given the opportunity to support its own, Holdrege came through in a big way for small businesses here who were hurting during COVID-19,” Nate said.
He encouraged others who are considering moving back to Phelps County to come back and visit often.
“If you find there is a certain peace and contentment about you in living here, you should pull the trigger and move back,” he said.
Many Professional Opportunities
Christine Ridder, a 2002 HHS graduate, also never imagined she’d be living and working back in her hometown.
After high school, Christine earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Nebraska Wesleyan University and then a doctorate in physical therapy from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.
She married Callaway native Joe Ridder, and they had planned to live in an urban area. But, while planning their wedding and living in Omaha, they decided they wanted to live closer to family and raise their future family in a small town. They moved to Holdrege in 2011 and have found many professional opportunities.
Christine is a physical therapist at Holdrege Physical Therapy and Sports Rehab, a real estate agent at Real Estate Connection and is co-owner of a real estate company called CJHC. The company purchases and renovates homes for rentals or to sell. Joe owns and operates Ridder Construction, where he stays plenty busy building and remodeling homes.
“We chose to live in my hometown because it is a great place to raise a family,” Christine said. “We have a lot of friends and family here, and we enjoy the smaller town living and all that comes with that. As far as my career goes, I feel like I get to know my patients and clients on a more personal level and often I already know them.”
Christine enjoys living in Holdrege because there is no commute, the schools are smaller yet still offer diverse activities and classes like larger schools do, and it is safe.
“Phelps County is a great place to raise a family and own a business with much to offer,” she said. “Phelps County residents are very supportive of their small businesses and proud of their communities!”
Starting a Career
Paige (Garrelts) Marquardt knew she wanted to return to her hometown someday, but it happened sooner than expected.
“When I was in high school, I didn't know exactly when I would move back but knew I wanted to move back and work in Holdrege at some point in my life,” she said. “I probably moved back sooner than I thought I would have back in high school, but this is where I was raised, and this is my home. So I'm very happy to be back!”
Paige graduated from HHS in 2014 and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in speech-language pathology with a minor in education. She then earned a master’s in communication sciences and disorders from UNK in 2020. She spent three months interning at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif., and a 10-week internship at the Holdrege Elementary School.
She is now a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and is employed by InSPIRe Rehabilitation. She works with patients and clients at Phelps Memorial Health Center, Phelps Memorial Therapy Center, Holdrege Memorial Homes, Christian Homes and the Bertrand Nursing Home.
“I chose to work and live in my hometown because I loved growing up in this community,” Paige said. “The majority of my family lives in Holdrege, and this is where my husband and I decided we want to live, work, and raise a family.”
She married Austin Marquardt in September 2020. He is a 2013 HHS graduate and works at Nebraskaland Aviation.
Paige enjoys the small-town feel of Holdrege and its safety. She also likes shopping at local family-owned businesses, having multiple activities and events in the community, and she looks forward to raising a family here.
“Working and having a career in Phelps County gives you the opportunity to create strong bonds and relationships with those you work with and share a home with,” she said.
Interested in Calling Holdrege Home?
Professional opportunities are available at many Phelps County employers, including Phelps Memorial Health Center (https://www.phelpsmemorial.com/health-center/careers), Becton-Dickinson (https://jobs.bd.com/search-jobs/Holdrege). You can also search Holdrege area jobs on neworks.nebraska.gov.
If you would like to forge your own path and start your own business, PCDC has many tools such as franchise grants, digital marketing grants and business start-up programs. For more information, visit the PCDC website here: https://www.phelpscountyne.com/business-services
PCDC also offers a home downpayment matching grant through area employers for new employees or employees moving in from out of the county. For more information on GO! HOME grants, visit https://www.phelpscountyne.com/phelps-county/relocation-assistance/go!-home-programs.