A large crowd gathered at the Callaway Community Center on Sunday, April 3 to enjoy some great food and mingle with their neighbors. Obviously, the key to keeping a rural town alive and thriving is the ability to retain the population. The chance to add to the census numbers is icing on the cake – and in the past few years, Callaway has done some icing.
Chamber of Commerce President Ken Pitkin shared that the cause for the night of celebration was three-fold: to thank Chamber members and businesses, to present the Citizen of the Year Award, and to welcome any new residents to the community.
“Guess how many invitation letters we sent out to people who have moved to Callaway in the last three years,” Pitkin said as he encouraged the crowd to take their best shot. “We sent personal invitations to everyone that is new to the community since February 2019.”
Several numbers were thrown out by attendees, but none were high enough as the audience applauded when he announced that 61 letters were mailed to new residents. Sixty-one.
To say that is impressive for a town of slightly more than 600 people is an understatement. Pitkin made his way around the room as guests seated at every table in the Community Center introduced themselves and shared what brought them to Callaway. For most it was a homecoming. They had either grown up here or had family ties to the community.
“The last time we did this was in February of 2019. We didn’t do it in 2020 or ‘21 because of Covid, so we are picking up three years of new residents. So some of these people you will recognize, but we have not formally welcomed them,” Pitkin explained.
Some of those “newcomers” were raised in or around Callaway and have lived away from their hometown for many, many years. Several relocated from states away, including Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina and California. New teachers, superintendent, business owners, youth pastor, employees and retired couples have been added to the roster of Callaway residents since 2019.
Pitkin also took a moment to introduce the Chamber Board and encourage everyone to consider joining the local Chamber. Membership dues are only $30 for a business and $15 for individuals. “We either organize, host, plan or participate in lots of different things,” said Pitkin. “Those include things such as tonight’s event, the local Easter Egg Hunt, and the Bike Ride Across Nebraska – which will bring between $10,000 and $20,000 to our community on June 7. Then just a couple weeks later Tour-de-Nebraska is coming through which again is a chance for our businesses to make some money. The Chamber hosts Community-wide Garage Sales on June 11, the Pioneer Picnic, SORC, Kite Flight and Christmas Around Town. It takes a lot of hands and we would love to have you as a member of the Chamber.”
“There are lots of good things going on in Callaway. There are new businesses, new housing and new people and there is lots to look forward to,” Pitkin continued. “There are just lots of positives.”
The evening culminated with the presentation of the Citizen of the Year Award, and Pitkin said the Chamber received several nominations. “There are lots of people and organizations who are worthy to receive an extra pat on the back. We are truly best to live in a place where everyone contributes to the life of the community,” he said.
The 2022 recipient is Roy Callahan. Comments submitted in nomination of Callahan included one individual who shared that he responded to a call during his off-hours to a home with a resident on hospice to make sure they had heat. Another stated there is rarely a weekend that he doesn’t see Callahan’s company rig out and about helping someone. He and his wife have spent years serving the community as EMTs and on the local fire department.
Callahan seemed stunned when the announcement was made as he humbly made his way forward to accept the award to a standing ovation. “I want you to know that it took a lot of lying to get him down here tonight,” said Pitkin. “Just so you know the stoves in the kitchen don’t work, and we said as long as you’re here you might as well just stay. So he did.”