Mitch and Rhonda Johnson liked their jobs, and their neighbors were nothing short of awesome. Yet nearly every Sunday for five years, the couple traveled country roads outside North Platte, Nebraska, searching for property that provided the kind of peacefulness that comes with the sound of songbirds rather than the blare of a neighbor’s television.
They found it in Wellfleet, population 50 and within commuting distance of their jobs. Soon after moving into what was then an 800-square-foot hunting cabin, Mitch wrote to his consumer lending officer at Farm Credit Services of America: “Being able to go hunting or fishing within 100 feet of my front door is all I ever wanted and more.”
June is National Homeownership Month. For the past several years, rural and nonmetro homeownership has grown while urban home ownership has declined. Experts have economic, social and demographic explanations for this trend. Mitch Johnson’s explanation for choosing country over town living is simpler: It feels right for him and his wife.
Mitch grew up on a farm, Rhonda on a ranch. As adults, both enjoy the outdoors. Rural living connects them to the land in ways town life didn’t, Mitch said. But turning their dream of rural living into reality took patience and hard work.
Once their five-year search ended, the couple embarked on a years-long, do-it-yourself expansion of their one-room cabin. The cabin stretched north and south to give the couple a master suite, full-size kitchen and 24- by 40-foot living room with vaulted ceiling and stained concrete floors. It was beautiful, Mitch said. And then they sold.
The cabin-turned-home was meant to be a stepping stone, Mitch said; fix it up, build equity and sell up for the home they ultimately wanted. Earlier this year, the Johnsons moved into a shouse (shed/house) built on 15 acres on the north side of Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska.
“Within two miles, there are five boat ramps. I do a lot of fishing, and here, I don’t have to unhook the boat. I just pull in and pull out.”
Or, he said, “I can get on the four wheeler at my front door and, within minutes, get to the railroad tracks, walk 200 feet and be standing in water. There also are days when Rhonda and I just walk over to the lake, have a beer and sit and watch the sunset.”
Mitch and Rhonda take satisfaction in knowing they turned the cabin into a home for another couple to enjoy rural living.
“They are young,” Mitch recalled of the buyers. “After she walked two steps into the living room, she said, ‘I’m buying it.’ I told her, ‘You need to see the rest.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I want it.’ “
For their part, the Johnsons plan to stay put. Mitch said he doesn’t consider himself a lucky person; everything he and Rhonda have is through hard work. But the Johnsons do feel lucky to be living in the country.
“This is what we’ve always wanted.”