Forces of nature may be more frightening to residents of Oconto, Neb. (pop. 141), than the ghosts and goblins of Halloween. On October 31, 2000, a tornado devastated the community while a Halloween party was taking place at the community center. The tornado destroyed the community center, and library leaving a massive trail of debris in its path. Fortunately, the Halloween party guests remained safe in the center’s basement. The large path of destruction left by the tornado compelled Governor Mike Johanns to declare the area in and around Oconto a state of emergency the next day.
Since then, Oconto has been dedicated to rebuilding. Residents of Oconto and from surrounding areas have displayed tremendous effort in rebuilding their community as evident in the immediate response in volunteer aid, time, and supplies provided by the people. Thousands of volunteer hours went into cleaning up the debris. “Everyone has really come together to rebuild,” said Janice Owens, village clerk.
Rebuilding the community center was the highest priority for Oconto. After extensively researching and planning the rebuilding project, Oconto applied for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED). Oconto was awarded $165,000 in CDBG funds by Governor Mike Johanns to rebuild the community center. This grant along with $150,000 in other public and private funds and donations financed the project.
“The block grant meant a lot to the community. It allowed us to rebuild and get back to normal after the tornado,” said Owens.
The community center and the library weren’t the only buildings affected by the tornado. Several homes sustained extensive damage. The community of Oconto received $400,000 in CDBG funds that were awarded by Governor Johanns and administered by DED. The funds will go toward rehabilitating 20 homes damaged by the tornado.
On July 19, 2003, residents of Oconto celebrated the grand opening of their new community center. The center, which actually opened its doors in May 2003, includes an auditorium, senior center, library and kitchen facility. It is home to various activities, such as wedding receptions, birthday parties, senior lunches and club meetings.
“The center has given the community a central place to again gather and host events and activities,” said Owens.
The strength and dedication of the Oconto residents to clean up and rebuild their community has made them an excellent example of the unity and pride found in Nebraska communities.
Oconto Community Center
Miller & Associates (Partner)
1111 Central Avenue
Kearney, NE 68847
Rick Zubrod (DED Representative)
(402) 471-3762 • (800) 426-6505