HARTINGTON — During trying times, the character of a community really shines through.
That was the case last week when students from four schools needed to stay in town following Wednesday’s District Speech meet at Cedar Catholic.
Flash flood waters closed many roads by the time District Speech finished at 7 p.m., Wednesday night, forcing some schools to alter travel plans.
Neligh-Oakdale went to Yankton for the night, Elkhorn Valley went to Wayne, but Boyd County, North Central, West Holt, and Central Valley all stayed in Hartington.
As the day carried on and weather progressed, news of roads to the west closing started to make its way to officials at the Cedar Catholic school.
Cedar Catholic coach Audrey Freeman and HNS coach A.J. Johnson handled many of the responsibilities for carrying out the event, leaving Activities Director Chad Cattau to figure out logistics once the event wrapped up.
“We began the initial discussion with teams around the time we found out that many roads going west off of Highway 81 were closing,” said Cattau. “This was around noon. Some of the teams had driven close to three hours to get here, with one even coming on Tuesday, so I knew it would not be a great idea to wait until the end of the meet and then try to scramble to nd them accommodations.“
Fortunately, Cattau was not the only one with this concern.
He started receiving calls from businesses and Hartington residents asking if there was anything they could do to help.
“My initial plan was to try and round up air mattresses, pillows and blankets for everyone and we would open up our school for them to stay,” said Cattau. “Most of the teams were able to head home, but four of them had to stay. These four schools completely filled the two hotels, so if another school would have had to stay, we probably would have had to have them stay at the school.”
Two schools stayed at the Cobblestone Inn & Suites, and another two schools stayed at the Hartington Hotel — a facility that would not have been available this time last year due to new owners being in the midst of renovations to open the business.
Cattau did not need to reach out to anyone to see about availability, though. In fact, there was an outpouring of support to ensure these students from other schools were properly taken care of until it was safe to travel home.
Jess Rohan at the Hartington Hotel said that Security Bank, the Bank of Harting- ton, the city, and countless Hartington residents provided meals and checked in to see if students needed anything during their stay.
Music filled the air as kids played piano and sang in the hallways, and Rohan says the students went to Dollar General in full force, buying candy, socks, and other necessities for the stay.
“The heart of Hartington” shined bright, said Rohan, as she saw the community support for these students during a trying time.
“My cup overfloweth, I’m blessed,” said Rohan. “I’m blessed with a great job, great community, and blessed for my family.”
Rohan lives in Newcastle and stayed at the hotel along with the students during the storm. She said by the end of it, she felt like “the mother of 37 kids,” and that she was touched when they called her at 1 p.m., Friday afternoon, to let her know they made it home safe.
Rohan said Hartington Chamber of Commerce President Karma Schulte did a great job providing for these kids, as well. She reached out to Peter Talley Thursday to set up a last minute board game event to help the kids put away their phones and stop looking on Facebook to see what was happening in their communities.
Talley said he had only minutes to coordinate the event. More than 60 kids showed up to the Trinity Lutheran Church and it turned into a great time with the kids learning new games and living in the moment.
“It gives them a chance just to be able to focus on something fun. They already had a rapport from doing speech and being classmates and stuff, but this just gave them a chance to be kids,” Talley said.
Talley runs the Hartington Board Game Club. He was assisted in setting up Thursday’s event by Lincoln Grutsch and Landon Clark.
The board game event offered an escape for students, even if just for a moment as they played silly games and just focused on the moment they were in, rather than what was waiting for them once they made it home.
One school lived far enough away that they traveled to Hartington on Tuesday and stayed at the Cobblestone. General Manager Russ Flamig was left humbled and speechless with how the community rose to the occasion.
“You can’t say really in words what Hartington did,” said Flamig. “The people, the teams, the coaches that stayed here, they said if they ever got stranded they hope they stay in a town just like this or be stranded in Hartington again because we can’t thank you enough for us. That was great to hear and I really can’t put it into words.”
The grand gesture from the Hartington community is even more important when you realize this town wasn’t necessarily spared from the storm either.
Many roads around Hartington were flooded, basements were flooding, and several farmers outside of town lost hogs or cattle as the water engulfed their farms.
Regardless, Hartington residents still found time to ensure their guests were comfortable and no burden was being placed on any one business or person.
Rohan saw the students making sure everyone had what they needed as well. For many of them, this was expected
to be a one day trip. No one brought extra clothes, and some did not bring money. Rohan said students looked out for each other to ensure anyone that needed socks or snacks or drinks was able to get what they needed.
“This will definitely stick with me forever,” said Rohan as she held back tears. “Sometimes you grow callous in age with what you’re doing, and this was just a huge reminder of just how to love and take care of people. That’s what we’re all here for.”
Audrey Freeman and A.J. Johnson both thanked Cattau for being able to coordinate efforts to house these students as they wrapped up the District Speech meet, and Cattau turned it right around and thanked them for being on top of everything with District Speech which allowed him to focus on that instead.
Times of tragedy can measure the true character of a person and a community. One thing that was stated by everyone involved in this heartfelt story was that the “heart of Hartington” was on full display.
In the movie “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” it says his heart grew three times that day. Well, Hartington’s heart didn’t need to grow any bigger, because the outpouring of love and support showed the character of community residents.
That is why Audrey Freeman says she is proud to be raising her children in this community. It is why Cattau said he wasn’t surprised by all the support, he had seen it before and knew his neighbors would rise to the occasion again.
And it is exactly the support that A.J. Johnson has seen since he broke his ankle in a freak accident, keeping him off his feet and forcing him to get around on a scooter.
No one was surprised because this is what Hartington is — a community that not only looks out for its own but for anyone in need of help, Johnson said.
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