“Small town, big heart”—the sign said it all. The girl in the stands was holding it with pride at the last basketball game. I saw the sign, and I smiled. This small town did have an extremely big heart, and it holds a special place in mine.

Growing Up in a Small Town

I think about all the memories my husband and I share with our kids about growing up in a small town. Cruising main street. Playing late night softball games. Calling our friends on the teen line. Missing curfew. No matter how many times we try to explain what it was like growing up in our hometown, our children just cannot fathom the uniqueness.

Growing up, I didn’t completely understand how special a community can be. Not until later in life did I realize the uniqueness that comes with small town life. Yet I want my children to understand—even 20 years after my husband and I have moved away—how special our hometown is. Recently, our children have been able to witness and experience firsthand how special a hometown truly can be.

In January, my mom passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Two days before my mom’s funeral, Osmond, NE was hit by a massive blizzard with nearly 17 inches of snow. The town was not only snowed in, but there were also drifts blocking doors, driveways and streets. Businesses were closed due to the snowstorm, and the country roads needed to be cleared.

Knowing the funeral was going to take place, many community members stepped up. Small town, big heart was on display, from farmers plowing roads and parking lots to friends and families clearing a path to mom’s plot and bringing food to the post-service meal. Nothing went unnoticed.

As I was thanking a few family friends that day, they said, “This is what we do.” No one ever really moves away from here. This is what makes our community special. Our children witnessed firsthand how immeasurably blessed our family was during this time.

A Community Coming Together

Fast forward six weeks, and an event that hasn’t happen in nearly 20 years was going to take place. I was excited. My kids not so much. “Seriously, Mom. Do we really have to go to this state basketball game? It’s going to be so boring. We know no one! And all it is going to be is you talking to people we don’t know.”

After my hometown’s boys basketball team qualified for the state basketball tournament, I informed our family everyone was going to the game. Our children couldn’t understand why in the world I would make the entire family watch a game where they knew nobody. But this was another chance for our kids to experience small town, big heart.

This was an opportunity to be part of a community. This was for the students, the parents, the young, the old, the alumni, etc. to all be part of something special. It was an opportunity for friends and families to paint windows, post signs along the road, to celebrate the team and coaches. It was an opportunity for alumni to reminisce, whether it was at the local coffee shop or on social media.

For me, all the memories of playing on a basketball team that qualified for the state tournament came flooding back. I was able to share how this small town with a big heart gave the student athletes an experience that was unmatched. I was excited because now my kids were going to be able to experience my hometown, even though they have never lived there. At the end of the game, our girls commented how sad they were because the team lost. “Mom, I didn’t realize how many people would be at the game. I just wanted them to win. It was fun.”

And in all reality, this is not about mom’s funeral or the basketball team. It’s all about a community. It’s about coming together in a time of need or a time of celebration. It’s about being part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s about pride. The sign said it all. “Small town, big heart.” I’m so grateful our kids were able to experience the uniqueness of this one small town that will always hold a special place in my heart. And my hope is, as they grow up, they find value in being part of their hometown community.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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