New Yorker finds a home in Grand Island

Knowing my first and only internship was soon coming to an end, I began to apply indiscriminately to every opportunity, job or internship that I could find. Opportunities were scattered all over the map, many in places I had never heard of. To get a sense of where a place was, I developed a simple test. After finding a place on Google Maps, how many clicks would it take to zoom out and see a major city? After clicking, and clicking and clicking, I had an idea of where Grand Island was, and after a few more clicks, I figured out where Nebraska was.

Now would be a good time to mention that I grew up about 40 minutes from New York City.

Against the advice of my mother, I applied for and accepted my first full-time position at The Independent in Grand Island last July. Sorry, mom.

I’m no foreigner to the Midwest, though. I went to school in Wisconsin, where my parents grew up and my extended family lives. Living in a small town, even one as big as Grand Island with a population of almost 50,000, was the biggest change. I also knew nothing about farming, livestock or corn despite driving through miles and miles of it on the way from Wisconsin.

 

Trey Holcomb, 8, of Grand Island stands with Dusty, his black angus bucket calf, before showing her at the 4-H Bucket Calf Show at Fonner Park. MATT DIXON/GRAND ISLAND INDEPENDENT

My first taste of Grand Island, besides driving around in circles the night I arrived, was the Hall County Fair. After shouldering the cameras that came with the job, I entered one of the barns at Fonner Park in search of my first assignment, Trey Holcomb. The 8-year-old from Grand Island was showing his bucket calf at the fair. Trey was one of the last kids to present his polished show cattle, so I had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere of boots, hats, blue jeans and cow pies.

 

From left, Lois Baasch, Janice Walker and Maxine Livingston laugh as Kay Owens, right, shares a story during a monthly Friendly Club meeting. The club was started in the 1920s as a way for women to gather and socialize. MATT DIXON/GRAND ISLAND INDEPENDENT

Soon after the county fair, I was assigned a “Friendly Club of old ladies” in Chapman, a town of less than 500 people just outside of Grand Island. It wasn’t long before one of the ladies recognized me from a small blurb the paper ran about me joining the staff. The story was only a couple of paragraphs with my picture, and it was buried deep inside the paper. That woman must have read every word of that paper to find that story. The ladies were very inviting and excited to have me, and they even insisted that I sit down and eat lunch with them after their meeting.

 

Delighted to see the newspaper photographer again, Madison Leetch, 10, smiles for the camera while participating in an event at the Grand Island Public LIbrary. MATT DIXON/GRAND ISLAND INDEPENDENT

Being recognized also works the other way in a small town. It’s not uncommon for me to recognize people I’ve met through work on other assignments. While covering a children’s program at the library, a young girl who I had photographed the day before at a similar event quickly recognized me. She then told me that she now knew my name and expressed her lack of approval of the picture I had taken of her the day before. This time around she enjoyed making a face anytime my camera was pointed her way.

Some days I still cannot believe I got so lucky. I knew nothing about Nebraska, Grand Island or The Independent before coming here. I never would have imagined that I would find such a great community to work in, a great staff to work with and an excellent mentor and friend in Barrett Stinson.

About Matt Dixon

I'm a staff photographer at the Grand Island Independent in Nebraska. I'm always looking to learn about the world around me as well as myself. As always, wherever your path may take you, you are where you are meant to be.
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