Kenneth Edwards

Table Rock Development Corporation
Vice President
Table Rock, Neb.

Graduate of: University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Great Plains IDEA Program, Rural Development; Current Graduate Student

Connect on LinkedIn

2020 Experience

Focus: Community Marketing, Economic Development, Tourism

The main focus of this project will be to implement a comprehensive social media strategy for local businesses to build their social media presence and expand their reach to new audiences. The goal is to include areas high school students that are interested in marketing or advertising that could help facilitate this process and take the reins once the fellowship is completed. Students would also perform community impact surveys and brainstorm new ways to promote the area through tourism.

Students: Kate OsbonRachel Williss
Peer: Amy Hunzeker

Sponsored By: Table Rock Development Corporation, Pawnee County Promotional Network, Village of Table Rock and Table Rock Historical Society

Kenneth’s Nebraska Story

In the late 1900s, I was born and raised in rural Nebraska to a developmental English teacher and a jack-of-all-trades lumberjack. My time in rural Nebraska has instilled in me a deep passion for wanting to take care of the people who are living here, finding new ways to stoke development, and getting the word out about how great small towns are.

But first, a little backstory: My grandpa built the saw mill in Table Rock in the 60s, which started the migration of my family to Nebraska. He had a hand in starting the Table Rock Development Corporation, which is still active to this day. In the late 80s, my parents, brother, and sister made the move to Pawnee City as my dad sold his saw mill in Cameron, Missouri and moved to Table Rock to take over after Grandpa’s retirement.

Then I was born! Growing up in Pawnee City was a great experience. We were very fortunate to have a great daycare/preschool where we had fun memories and really enjoyed being a kid. We’d go out to our teacher’s farm to play with the cattle, we’d go to the nursing homes to sing for the elderly, and we made great friendships. As I was getting ready to start kindergarten, my parents made the decision to get a bigger home so my siblings and I could have our own rooms. They found the perfect house in Humboldt, which is a little under 20 miles away from Pawnee City but still about the same distance to Table Rock. I was nervous, but definitely excited to start this new chapter.

I quickly grew to love small towns, the tightness of the communities, and the willingness of neighbors to lend a hand. I spent a lot of my time hiking the hills around Table Rock, golfing our at Kirkman’s Lakeview Golf Course, playing video games, and helping my dad at the saw mill. My sister and I would play driveway basketball or we’d be hitting golf balls into the alfalfa field across the street from our house…in town. I couldn’t have asked for more as a child, because we already had so much that our area offered to us.

After high school, I really wanted to go to music school, but it was financially out of the question. My mom was teaching at Peru State at the time and I had already completed a year there via online classes during high school, so it made sense to start there. After my first semester, I transferred to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where I became heavily involved on campus through various clubs and initiatives and in my fraternity.

During my freshmen and sophomore years, my parents sold the saw mill to the Amish in Table Rock, then eventually divorced. My mom moved to Weston, Missouri, while my father stayed in Table Rock. After graduating with my degree in Political Science, I worked for a start-up tech company doing business development and planning. Unfortunately, 2 months after my graduation, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer and died shortly thereafter.

As fate would have it, the start-up was forced to close, so I moved to Weston to take care of my mother’s estate and try to put the pieces of my life back together. 5 months later, I moved back to Nebraska and made my way to Lincoln where I got a job with a creative agency, while helping to launch a Pipeline start-up. To be frank, my attention wasn’t completely focused on my work and the agency had to go in another direction. I had bartended through college, so a close friend of mine was able to get me a job working at the Country Club of Lincoln. This time proved to be important in my life, because it gave me time to work think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I knew Lincoln wasn’t the answer for me long-term, so if not there then where?

I remember the day I went back to Table Rock to spend time with my dad. I looked around town and saw opportunity. Vividly, I remember looking up the main street and seeing the bluffs surrounding town in the distance. I never appreciate the beauty while I was living here and I fell back in love. The bar had been closed for years, but was being re-opened by a retiree who had moved from Colorado to be closer to her family here. I jumped at the opportunity to help manage it. It reinforced my opinions on how close-knit communities can be.

The bar was essentially a community center, because people would bring their families after the ball games for some burgers and steak, we’d have reunions, celebrations, and so on–It was a great time! But I knew I didn’t want to do it forever, so I started looking into graduate programs to see if there was anything I’d be interested in.

I had an internship with the Southeast Nebraska Development District, and I knew that development was critical work that had to be done and I knew it was right up my alley. I applied to and was accepted in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Great Plains IDEA Program to study rural development and have been in the program since last summer. It’s been a wild ride, but as a new home owner in Table Rock, I’m looking forward to the future!

What do you hope to gain?

In applying for this, I was hoping to gain a new perspective from an outsiders’ point-of-view. I’m really excited to have our students join us and find new ways to promote and develop our corner of the state. I think the Fellowship Program is highly impactful, because it’s not every day that you can get a fresh take on things and have new energy injected into the area. Us locals know that Table Rock and Pawnee County have a lot of potential, so we are certainly excited to see what the Fellows will bring!

Why do you think it important community leaders have this type of experience in terms of inclusive leadership development?

I think it’s highly important because it’s impossible to do everything yourself–you need a team of people to help, offer guidance & insight, and achieve goals. Sometimes, you’ll get leaders that can tell you what to do, lead from the back, and don’t take the time to learn your perspective. I think the most-effective leaders are the ones who build their team up, who enable them to achieve their goals, and are there for them when they are in need.

Why is this contribution of students from University of Nebraska significant to you and/or your community?

For over 150 years, the University of Nebraska has been a bastion for our state and has helped press the development of our state forward by leaps and bounds. We are incredibly lucky to have NU, because of the great people who work there, the tools they have for communities to use, and programs like this that help communities in need.

The Rural Futures Institute’s inception has been awesome, because it got me thinking about the future in a different way and their advocacy has been critical to new possibilities in rural Nebraska and has helped foster relations that are bridging the urban-rural divide. Having students come in is significant because of the energy and insight they will bring. I’ve heard from communities who have been involved in the program in the past, and they’ve exalted the great work the students do.

I think it’s going to be fun to have some ‘outsiders’ become engrained into our community for two main reasons: the community will appreciate them taking the time out of their summer to spend with us working to make our area a better place to be and because of the new perspectives they will bring. Just them being here will drum up excitement and I’m excited to be even a small part of the work they’ll be doing.

Why is rural important?

Oh man, where do I start?! I firmly believe that rural communities are the lifeblood of our great country. I believe that people in rural areas are more tight-knit, neighborly, willing to work hard and have grit. Beyond that, despite the disadvantages compared to city life there is plenty of opportunity to build a life. Rural really is a way of life and you get out what you put in.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward?

We are 20 years into the new millennium and think back to the technologies we had then. AOL was still a thing, internet was dial-up and phones were in bags. In those two short decades, we’ve made tremendous technological advancement and we have barely scratched the surface of possibility for rural communities. I think we are moving towards greater internet access via fiber and satellite connectivity, which will open up rural communities to more web-based start-ups due to the low overhead cost of facilities and living.

Additionally, there is a strong movement in Nebraska for greater access to quality childcare and education. What excites me the most about this is the possibility for online learning opportunities for the youth growing up in these areas. Classes will be able to be offered in places that I dreamt of. Whether it’s science, engineering, or language arts, I believe students will have awesome learning opportunities. We are moving towards a bright future!