With a plethora of new businesses popping up in Fremont over the past year the City of Fremont has been recognized for facilitating that economic growth and development.
The City of Fremont was named the Community of the Year Tuesday at the Nebraska Diplomats Greater Omaha Regional Economic Development Celebration.
The Nebraska Diplomats is the largest economic development organization in the state. Membership is made up of over 275 business executives and community leaders throughout the state.
“The diplomats are made up of business executives and leaders around the state that are interested in economic development,” Nebraska Diplomats Executive Director Lori Shaal said in a phone interview with the Tribune. “We are here to promote the state’s business climate and unique quality of life to help the Department of Economic Development and the Governor in economic development of the state.”
According to Shaal, when determining the winner of the Community of the Year, the Nebraska Diplomats looks at several factors.
“The Diplomats look at things like, does the community have a previous commitment to economic development? How are they organized? Do they have a stated purpose? Do they have a lot of success stories? Even things like providing infrastructure for businesses. Is it hard to get utilities or roads to businesses? Does the community have an incubator attitude, those kinds of things,” she said.
When it came to Fremont being recognized as Community of the Year, Shaal says that landing Costco was a big factor along with development on the 23rd Street Corridor, housing developments like Fountain Springs, and the new Community Solar Farm.
Over the past year or so, Fremont has seen numerous new businesses pop up along the 23rd Street Corridor including Fairfield Inn and Suites, Buffalo Wild Wings, Med Express, Starbucks, and Firehouse Subs.
A blight study was conducted in 2014 on the area where the businesses now call home, and from there a development plan was made, Mayor Scott Getzschman said.
“It opened the door for the future development of the small strip mall,” he said. “That entire development was developed because we took the time of preplanning to put together a really good development plan.”
On east 23rd Street, business development continues in the Deer Pointe area.
“That area has been open, available and shovel-ready for development for several years now,” he said. “So as the overall area is developed, folks have gravitated and purchased on Deer Pointe. It’s been able to provide homes for many of the businesses – Panda Express, Hardees and Taco Johns.”
Currently, a large dental practice is in the process of being built on the Deer Pointe Property.
Along with seeing growth by way of new businesses, Fremont also saw growth within its utilities infrastructure with the building of the 1.55 megawatt solar farm, which is scheduled to be online this month. There was also 40 megawatts of wind energy that were brought online in November, and the OPPD tie-line infrastructure is currently being installed.
Mayor Getzschman received the award on the behalf of the city. During his acceptance he gave thanks to community leaders, staff, and citizens who have supported the city and helped it grow.
“We can’t do any of this without the support and collaboration of all of our partners,” Getzschman said. “So GFDC, the Chamber of Commerce, City Council, Planning Department, and the entire city staff had a huge involvement in the fact that Fremont is the Community of the Year. We’re excited for it and we’re excited for the citizens of Fremont.”
Getzschman struck a similar tone during his annual State of the City speech in January, as he pointed to the community’s future as related to economic development.
“Not every community has the opportunity to impact the region like we will over these next two years. The progression we are seeing today doesn’t happen without strong commitment from our community to grow and the support and dedication and collaboration from all the partners in this room,” he said at the time.
Laverne Schmidt appears to be dozing in his wheelchair when Tim Watson sits down.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Watson begins playing a guitar at Providence Place, an assisted living residence in Fremont.
The melodies of “Adele Wiess” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” fill the family room as Watson quietly sings the lyrics.
Schmidt lifts his head and listens, smiling. Nearby, Charlotte Werts sings along. Then as Watson plays “Amazing Grace,” Shirley Von Seggern bows her head and folds her hands in an attitude of prayer.
After a while, Watson finishes, visiting with residents before returning to his office.
Much of Watson’s work involves the responsibilities of being the executive director of a place designed to provide a safe environment for those diagnosed with dementia.
But twice a day, Watson assumes another role.
He becomes the music man.
A retired music educator who spent more than 30 years teaching high school and college students, Watson now works with a different group—singing songs that can lift his listeners’ spirits.
“They brighten up and either sing along or smile,” Watson said. “Residents who rarely speak will sing along. It is amazing when you see someone who is not very communicative sing with you. It is fantastic.”
Watson sees how the music helps residents.
“It keeps them engaged and brings back good memories,” he said. “I think it keeps them in the present with each other, themselves, with the care staff and me.
“We’re experiencing and enjoying something together.”
Watson recalls the first time resident Louis Thernes sang “You Are My Sunshine” with him.
“It was the first time I ever heard him say or sing anything. It was moving and inspirational,” Watson said.
Providence Place is part of MJ Senior Housing, LLC, founded by MaryLynn Bolden and Jason Lange.
Bolden commended Watson’s work with residents.
“He knows how to connect with them and really make a meaningful difference,” she said. “He used music to impact the lives of young adults for many years.
“Now, he’s using those same teaching skills and gift of music to create a meaningful impact for older adults who live with dementia.”
Watson, who’s from Fort Madison, Iowa, notes the inspiration he got from his high school choir director.
“He thought I would make a good educator. I loved to sing and I loved being in his choir,” Watson said.
Watson went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where he cited the late Weston Noble as another great influence.
“He is one of the most awarded and recognized choral directors in the world,” Watson said. “His technical ability was fantastic, but his ability to relate to his students was second to none. He cared for his students.
“It was a living example of being a servant to others.”
Watson’s first teaching job, which he describes as a fantastic learning experience, was for grades kindergarten through 12th in Oxford Junction, Iowa, from 1986-88.
He left that town of 600 and went to Eagle Grove, Iowa, where he was choral music director for grades 7-12. He added a sixth grade chorus.
After three years there, Watson worked for a year at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
He played the role of the Disney character, Pluto. At night, he drove floats for the Spectro Magic Light Parade.
Watson learned a lot about customer service. But although fun, the vacation-like job just wasn’t as meaningful to him as teaching.
He was hired as administrator for music and choir director in LeMars, Iowa. He began teaching grades 7-12, adding a sixth grade choir.
Two years later, he was moved to grades 9-12, because the program had grown.
“The program went from about 30 singers to 200 in four years,” he said, adding, “I worked with great people. I had great support. … It was a dream job. I could do everything I would want to do in a choral program.”
Watson worked from 1991 to 2003—with no plans to move—when he was offered a teaching job at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, where he became director of choral activities.
He had the job for 14 years. During that time, he and the students toured annually across the United States. That included taking 42 students in a select choir and 70 in a mass choir to Carnegie Hall for a solo performance in New York City one year.
Watson and the selected a cappella choir toured China in 2009, Italy in 2013 and Spain in 2016. The first tour had been to Hungary, Czech Republic and Austria in 2005.
He retired in 2017.
“I’d gotten to do everything I really wanted to do in education,” he said.
Watson followed his wife, Kim, who was hired to work in the Fremont area.
“She’s involved in long-term care and that inspired me,” he said.
Watson, an only child, also found meaning in caring for his parents during the last years of their lives.
He took classes with the Department of Health and Human Services. He also took an adult choir on a Protestant Reformation tour through Germany and the Czech Republic.
Watson was hired by MJ Senior Housing, LLC, parent company of Providence Place, and started in October 2017.
He began singing there on his first day.
“I think the quality of the residents’ lives is a big part of my job,” he said. “Our care staff does the majority of that and they’re outstanding. This is a small thing I can do to contribute.”
Watson sings and plays songs familiar to residents on his acoustic guitar from a half hour to an hour in the morning and afternoon.
“I love spending time with the residents,” he said. “I’m inspired by the care staff and the work they do.”
Watson said he’s learned a lot from the care staff and wants them to know they’re greatly appreciated.
Out in the family room, Werts talks about coming from a family of nine children and says her mother played piano by ear and printed music.
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Werts says of Watson’s afternoon music. “I’ve been singing with him for a while.”
A group of Fremont residents are planning to host an anti-hate rally Sunday morning in anticipation of Westboro Baptist Church members picketing three church locations around the city.
The church, located in Topeka, Kan., is nationally known for its members’ radical, hateful comments regarding homosexuals, Jews, military members, Catholics, Muslims and other groups of people. For years, congregation members have picketed military funerals and nationwide tragedies among others.
Information off of Westboro Baptist’s webpage says groups will be picketing throughout the morning at Fremont Evangelical Free Church, Fremont Alliance Church and Fremont Nazarene Church.
Chris Marsh, who jumpstarted the anti-hate rally, said when he learned Westboro Baptist was planning to come to Fremont he and others jumped into action. The goal of the rally, he said, is not to spew hate back or act in a confrontational manner, but rather to unite as a community against hate in its many forms.
Marsh and others are meeting at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Milady Coffeehouse to discuss the logistics of their peaceful rally, which he said is centrally themed around support for veterans and the LGBTQ community as a whole. The meeting is open to the public.
“I have a lot of friends who are veterans and I have friends who are part of the LBGTQ community and that is the main reason I wanted to do this,” he said Thursday.
In years past, it hasn’t been uncommon for Westboro Baptist to list a location for picketing on its webpage and then not show up, but even if this happens, the anti-hate rally will continue. Marsh said there’s too much hate and conflict in the world, and a day of unification for a common cause will be a good thing even if Westboro isn’t in attendance.
Marsh said he recently spoke with Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott, and that Elliott said Marsh and his group have the right to peacefully assemble, but that they are simply giving the hateful protestors what they want.
And while this may be true, Marsh said he and his group want to be a representation of community strength and solidarity.
“It is important to do because it shows unity among the community,” he said. “If they can just walk in and do whatever they want without anybody saying what they are doing is wrong, they will just want to come back and do it more. There are so many like-minded people in Fremont, and I want to show them (Westboro) that the community will not tolerate their hate.”