Franklin, NE

"1,000 heros"

Named a Finalist Because: Nobody circles the wagons like the folks in Franklin, who band together to face challenges big and small, leaving no one behind.

From the Editors: If you grew up in Franklin, Nebraska, you almost certainly went on your first date at the Rose Bowl. In fact, you probably spent many of your most memorable childhood days there too.

The Rose Bowl is the name of Franklin’s local movie theater, and it is as special as its name implies. The town itself bought the Rose Bowl in the 1990s, and local families take turns volunteering on the weekends to run the place. Don’t be surprised if the ticket taker is a ten-year-old Franklin girl, or the $3 ticket price—even for first-run movies. The Rose Bowl is part cultural center, part civic project, and all heart. The audience even stands up to say the Pledge of Allegiance before each screening.

Franklin was nominated for the Nicest Place in America contest by Michelle Bruce, and her own story is as compelling a case for the town as you’re likely to find. A Franklin native who moved away as an adult, Bruce returned to Franklin after she, her husband, and her son, Holden, were diagnosed with cancer. With four children in the Bruce family, they needed help from her parents back in Franklin to take care of everyone, sick and well. The Bruces soon learned that Holden had an inoperable brain tumor and would die if he didn’t get an operation that would cost $39,000. The people of Franklin came to the rescue and organized a fundraiser; even an ice storm that night couldn’t stop the supporters looking to buy “Team Holden” t-shirts. The next day, the telephone rang, “We have the money!” shouted a voice on the other end of the line. They had raised $45,000, enough to send the family to Boston for the surgery. Today, Holden is doing great, and all because of a little town of 1,000 that wouldn’t give in.

Read Michelle Bruce’s nomination below to learn more about why Franklin might just be the Nicest Place in America.

—The Editors

This small town welcomed back natives and helped them win the battle of their lives. (Michelle Bruce)

The people of Franklin, NE would give their last dollar to help you. If you are ill, they bring you food and drive you to appointments. Volunteering and helping others is abundant and passed down through the generations with programs like FFA, FCCLA, and 4-H. It is not just the people that make our little village nice, it is our environment also. We sit on the Republican river in a valley that is surrounded by large bluffs and we have a large collections of wildlife species that you run across daily. Our town is kept very clean and neighbors help the elderly with their yard work as well. It’s just very beautiful here.

I have many good reasons to nominate Franklin for Nicest Place in America, but first I want to tell you about a specific, extraordinary reason.

I have always heard it takes a village to raise a child but in our case, it took a village to save a child. Franklin has just over 1,000 citizens and it took 1,000 heros to save my son.

I grew up in Franklin but moved to the city for the next twenty-five years following graduation. My husband and I decided to move back to my hometown when we became overwhelmed with medical issues. My husband, our son, and myself were all battling cancer and with four children we needed my parents to help.

Word spread quickly that I was moving back with my family and my Facebook page exploded with new friend requests from people around Franklin. I was so touched that so many people wanted to welcome us and introduce themselves to my family. I really felt good about the move and I had been feeling a little guilty about moving the kids from their friends but they were also getting lots of friend requests.

It wasn’t long after the move that we received devastating news about our son. His cancer was back for a third time and this time the brain tumor was inoperable. I was going to have to stand by helplessly and watch my son slip away from us.

My husband could not accept this and began doing research. He spent day and night reading, calling places and talking with other parents of cancer kids. He found that the best doctor for our son was located at Boston Children’s Hospital. He sent her our son’s records and she quickly returned her decision; she could remove the tumor and she felt confident this would end his cancer for good. We were relieved beyond any possible description.

Unfortunately, our insurance denied the procedure and would not pay a cent towards it. Over the years my husband and I depleted all our savings, 401k, and stocks to pay for our own cancer treatments and we had nothing left. We would not be able to pay for his surgery. I cried a lifetime’s worth of tears that day.

Word spreads quickly around a small town and soon I got a phone call from this woman. I knew who she was but had never met her before. She was very friendly and told me she was planning a fundraiser for our son. I was touched but told her the amount the hospital needed was too much for any fundraiser. I told her that even with the huge discount the hospital offered, they still needed $39,000. She said well you just let me worry about that and gave me the date to be there.

The day of the fundraiser came and it was so blustery and the roads were icy. I worried no one would show up. My worries faded when people just started pouring in. The entire school cafeteria was filled with silent auction items that had been donated by area businesses and a free will meal had been prepared. There was also live music and home made deserts. They set up a booth and sold “Team Holden” t-shirts. It was an amazing day and so much work had gone into it that I could not imagine how many hours all the volunteers put in.
When the day ended and we all went home I got another phone call and this time she blurted out “we have the money!” I nearly passed out. The fundraiser brought in a total of $45,000. It not only paid for the surgery bill in full but was enough to pay for my husband and I to go to Boston with our son.

To this day I still don’t know how only 1,000 people raised 45,000 dollars in one fundraiser. This was money many people probably couldn’t spare but they did anyway.

Franklin will always be the town of 1,000 heroes to me. Once in awhile I will see a faded “Team Holden” t-shirt go by me and I can’t help but smile at the reminder of that truly amazing day.

T-shirts made to support Holden, who needed an operation for his brain tumor, can still be seen around town. (Michelle Bruce)
After the town pulled together around Holden, he was able to get the operation he needed. (Michelle Bruce)

Every Day Miracles

My story above is just one of the many wonderful things I could say about the people of Franklin. I also want to tell you about our grocery store and theater.

The Rosebowl movie theater brings back many memories for me as a child. It is still running today thanks to the many volunteers who work there. Each Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings a family will take turns running the theater. A new release will play, they take tickets and run concessions. When the weekend is over they will clean the entire theater and concession equipment. All that work is so families can have an affordable evening out and teenagers have something to do on Saturday night. Since all the work is voluntary the ticket prices can stay low. You can go to the movie and get a popcorn and a soda for only $5.00 (only 4.00 for kids). Movies are free on holidays like Easter and Halloween. I think this is a pretty special concept.

Next is our grocery store. Locally owned and in business as long as I can remember. Rightway grocery helps many and provides a needed service in town. The owner employs many high school students (including mine) so they can save for college and also offers scholarships. The owner personally delivers groceries to disabled and elderly people that have a hard time getting to the store (free of charge). At Christmas he sends gift cards to needy families so they can enjoy a warm Christmas dinner.

These are just a few reasons why Franklin, Nebraska is the nicest place in America!

Volunteer firemen keep Franklin safe. (Michelle Bruce)
This small town has school spirit. (Michelle Bruce)