Bertrand Residents Step Up to Make Community Thrive

Bertrand Residents Step Up to Make Community Thrive Main Photo

13 Mar 2023

A new aquatic center and yoga studio, a thriving downtown with an art gallery, a beautiful golf course and fun events like concerts, an annual rodeo and a New Year’s Eve party.

These may sound like big city amenities, but they are all part of the small-town life in Bertrand, Nebraska, population 704.

Bertrand residents are forward-thinkers who give endlessly of their time, talents and treasures to ensure their community remains vibrant and safe, attracts new residents and has a thriving future.

Beverly Hansen is one of those residents. She was born and raised on a farm south of Bertrand, started her banking career in Bertrand after college and then spent the rest of her career in other parts of Nebraska and Colorado. She moved back to her hometown in 2008 and like many Bertrand residents volunteers much of her time to community improvement.

“When I was growing up in Bertrand, the people were so active and did so many things for the betterment of Bertrand,” Hansen said. “I just have a good feeling about serving the community and wanting other people to receive and take advantage of all the things my hometown has given me over the years.”

Some of the projects she and others have been tackling recently include childcare and housing shortages and the future of skilled trades businesses in Bertrand.

Thanks to a grant from Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, the community created the Bertrand Area Communities for Kids group to address the daycare shortage. They have partnered with the United Methodist Church in Bertrand to renovate space in the church for a new childcare center. This initiative also led to a partnership with the Don Sjogren Community YMCA to offer an after-school program for school-age kids at the Hi-Line Golf Course clubhouse.

Bertrand Community Builders

Bertrand residents have also acted on solving a housing shortage in their community by forming Bertrand Community Builders, an investment club whose goal is to create housing options in the community.

In the last four months of 2022, 64 investors stepped up to be part of the investment club. Their initial $1,000 investments plus now the monthly $100 investments have given the group funds to start two home projects.

“When people really learned about the need for adequate housing in Bertrand, they stepped up to the plate,” Hansen said, including many former Bertrand residents. “They have great pride in Bertrand and a huge desire to keep Bertrand progressing and thriving.”

Many of the group’s members volunteered their time to gut a dilapidated home at 402 Knight St. The group purchased the home and is remodeling it to sell later this spring. They also purchased a run-down house at 213 Minor, tore it down and will seek bids from contractors to build a new home on the lot. They worked with a University of Nebraska-Lincoln architectural class taught by a former Bertrand resident to design the new home.

In addition to the investment club projects, the Bertrand Housing Authority is working with the South Central Economic Development District, Inc., to create five new rental units. The Phelps County Development Corporation approved a forgivable loan for the BHA to purchase property for the rentals. PCDC is also partnering with Bertrand groups to apply for grants to help construct more living units in the town.

With homes and childcare problems being solved, Hansen said the community is now looking at solutions for retaining trades businesses with the new Business Trades Peer Mentor Program. The Innovation Fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation awarded the community a $10,000 grant to create a program to help those retiring from trade businesses (plumbing, electrical, construction, etc.) to find a new generation of workers/owners to stay in or move to Bertrand to transition the businesses.

“To keep Bertrand progressing and moving forward, we need to keep people in the trades and businesses,” Hansen said.

Hansen is on the board of the new Bertrand Community Builders, and she also serves on the Bertrand Area Community Fund advisory committee. This fund was established in 2011 through an estate gift and matching gift challenge from the late Verner and Mildred Vinzant. Further giving and another matching gift challenge initiated by former Bertrand residents Kelly and Virginia Holthus boosted the endowment even more. It was close to $1 million at the end of 2021. The fund has awarded $216,431 in grant funds to Bertrand projects in the past decade, and Hansen said it has sparked much of Bertrand’s progress.

Current volunteer members of the Bertrand Area Community Fund Advisory Committee are Chris Davison (Chair), Scott Schwarz (Vice Chair), Liz Ford (Secretary), Melissa Vinzant, Karen Nelson, Colby Gardine, Jessie Olesen, Pam Long, Tanner Nelson and Alysia Kuck. Hansen serves as the treasurer.

The Bertrand Area Community Fund contributed to the initial feasibility study for another major project recently completed in Bertrand, the new Aquatic Center.

Bertrand Aquatic Center

Matthew Gregg, Bertrand’s Utilities Superintendent, said Bertrand’s new $2.7 million Aquatic Center opened in 2022, and it has brought even more pride to the community.

In addition to city funds, Bertrand residents raised more than $300,000 to support the new attraction. It features a zero-depth entry, a water maze wall, a water walkway with lily pads, lap lanes and a diving board.

Gregg said Bertrand residents and the village have put extra effort into keeping the community clean and the infrastructure updated. The community worked with the South-Central Economic Development District on a nuisance and abatement program and recently established a vacant home and building ordinance to reduce the number of empty homes and buildings in town.

Downtown Bertrand is thriving, too, with the most recent addition being the new Studio 607, a yoga studio opened by a new resident that moved her family to Bertrand from the Denver area after the Covid-19 pandemic. PCDC assisted with this project by awarding a GO! DREAM grant to replace the roof, gutters and windows on the 100-year-old downtown building where the studio is now located.

Other downtown businesses include the Blue Moose restaurant, Divine Boutique, Pretty & Fabulous Boutique, Cross Country Market, Jeremy Hansen Art Gallery, several insurance businesses and other service businesses.

Bertrand also is home to the beautiful 9-hole Hi-Line Golf Course.

Attracting Visitors

In addition to solving important community issues and keeping the community clean and beautiful, Bertrand is also striving to bring visitors to the community through new events like a Hallmark Christmas and a New Year’s Eve party in addition to traditional events like the Bertrand Craft Show and the Bertrand Fair & Rodeo.

The fair and rodeo has been popular for decades attracting hundreds of people to the community for several nights of rodeo fun. Five years ago, a group of volunteers started a Brews & BBQ event in conjunction with the rodeo. This year, the event will feature country entertainer Eric Paslay performing in downtown Bertrand on Saturday, June 24.

Courtney Johnson, one of the event volunteers, said she is amazed at how many people volunteer their time for this event and other community events in Bertrand.

“It takes the whole town,” Johnson said. “We just want for our kids what we had growing up in Bertrand, we want to keep up and make things more fun and modern. We all take pride in how many people we can get to volunteer because we all want the same thing.”