For many towns, a school closure can mean empty homes and the loss of community. But in Funk, volunteers have stepped up to make sure their town stays vibrant and alive, and it has worked.
Funk is officially the Cupcake Capital of Nebraska, and in July cupcake bakers and hundreds of visitors will descend upon Funk for one of the town’s biggest events of the year, the Festival of Cupcakes. It’s one of several events that happen each year in Funk through the efforts of Funk School Community Center volunteers who give their time and talent to ensure this tiny Phelps County community stays alive and vibrant. “We want to provide a place where the community can come together,” Funk School Community Center president Mona Peterson said. Although Mona now lives in Holdrege, she will always consider herself a “Funkite.” She grew up north of Funk, attended the Funk school, and then taught art at the school for 30 years before it closed in 2007. When the school closed, she and others knew they had to do something. “I felt like it would be devastating to our little community to not have a school,” Peterson said. It did remain a school the first year when Loomis Public Schools leased it while its school was renovated. Then, Peterson and others formed the Funk School Community Center non-profit organization and bought the school with a $10,000 donation from an anonymous donor. Over the years, major projects have included replacing a boiler with a heater, remodeling bathrooms, replacing the roof and flooring, painting, and installing a commercial kitchen.
It still has some old-school charm with touches like a yellowed American flag and school murals. But, it also had modern updates and high-speed internet. The facility’s community room (which seats 100) and the gym (which seats 240) are rented out for weddings, bridal showers, graduation and anniversary parties, family reunions and Christmas parties.
The volunteer board plans several activities throughout the year to bring residents together and visitors to the town and school: a pancake feed in January, a chili cook-off in February, a trivia night in March or April, the July Cupcake Festival and a harvest meal in the fall.
In addition, the FSCC has become a mini business incubator by renting space to businesses and helping them get their start.
Currently, seven former classrooms and spaces are rented, and more spaces are available. Renters include Betty Sayers, a local entrepreneur who makes Buzz Savory mustard in the school’s commercial kitchen, and a pop-up playroom that is open for young kids to play (with parental supervision) for set hours each week and by appointment.
Peterson said she is grateful to all of the organizations that have supported the FSCC with grants and donations. She has served as president of the FSCC since its inception, and she has been helped by a dedicated board that now includes several younger residents. Board members are Jeff Soneson, VP; Markie Nelson, Treasurer; Jodi Ronhovde, Secretary; Stacey Hallgren; Kirk Ronhovde; Dave Wohgemuth; Shawna Nelson; Audra Peterson; and Ed Forkner. “I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon,” Peterson said.
Life in Funk
Funk resident and Village Board member Michelle Boulware, owner of Heritage Agency Real Estate, said people like living in Funk and when homes are listed for sale in the town, they don’t last long. Many buyers prefer the large lot sizes of Funk homes. “The two houses that made it to market lately had multiple offers within 48 hours,” Boulware said.
Boulware said she enjoys the small-town atmosphere of living in Funk and its fast internet (the entire town has underground fiber optic internet.) “I can count on one hand how many times the internet has gone down in five years,” Boulware said. “It’s consistent, and the speed is good.”
She said one major project coming to Funk this fall is an upgrade of the city’s well/water services. A new state-of-the-art system will be installed to ensure water pressure stays steady.
Funk also recently became home to a new Southern Public Power District service center, which opened its doors in 2020.
Fire Chief Greg Vandell said they just put the finishing touches on a new fire hall that was built several years ago. “The building is really nice, and we don’t have to park one in front of another,” he said. “All of the vehicles can be moved out immediately without shuffling them around.” A recent open house showcased the fire hall to the community and included free hamburgers and hotdogs, bounce houses and other fun.
Source: Phelps County Development Corporation