Cathy and Bruce McDowell

Snow slow down motorcycle trip long enough for couple to find new home

By Linda Crandall, McCook Community Foundation Fund

Cathy and Bruce McDowell left their Denver area home to enjoy a Memorial Day weekend in Illinois. Arriving in Oberlin after a day's motorcycle ride, they decided to spend the night. The next morning, they awoke to new fallen snow.

"If I have to wipe snow off my seat, I'm not riding," Cathy said.

They spent the day in Oberlin, touring the museum, perusing local shops and lingering at a real estate office window. The affordable listings piqued their interest.

"We can afford to buy a house here and retire," Bruce said.

"And still eat," Cathy added. "That's my criteria!"

Both Qwest Communications employees, Bruce was retirement-eligible and Cathy was close.

Upon further research McCook popped up as being in the Qwest healthcare network. "We decided to look at McCook," Bruce said.

The couple made several trips to Southwest Nebraska, each time liking what they saw, but it was a beautiful day in late September 2004 that cinched their decision.

"I had heard about the golf course," Bruce said. "I thought, 'When I retire I'd like to play golf.'"

"And I was going to learn," Cathy said.

At Heritage Hills, cars filled the parking lot, but no golfers were on the course.

"It seemed a little weird," Bruce said.

A woman greeted them and asked if they'd like to look at the course. "Take the golf cart over there. The keys are in it."

Bruce and Cathy were surprised. "I couldn't believe she just let us, complete strangers, take the cart," Bruce said.

"That says something," Cathy said. "It was a good indication how people here trust people from out of town."

They also made another discovery about Nebraskans. "The course was empty because everyone was in the clubhouse watching the Husker game," Bruce laughed.

They started seriously looking for a home. "We would look online, drive back and go through homes," Cathy said. "Then our Realtor, Connie Sughroue, called with an unlisted house that turned out to be the one."

In November 2004, they retired, got married and moved to McCook. "And haven't regretted it for a moment," Bruce said. "We are still in love with the town."

While they fully intended to immediately remodel the house, that goal has mostly been put on hold. "We're just too busy," Bruce said.

Cathy was concerned because she had always worked. "I just couldn't grasp the idea of not going to work and still eat," she said.

She told herself before they moved that she could get a job at Hinky Dinky. "I was fascinated with the name," she joked, "but after we moved here I discovered it had closed."

Still wanting to be prepared for a job, she enrolled in mediation training for work in small claims court. It was in court that Cathy met Judge Cloyd Clark, who recommended her for the position of CASA director. "I had never even heard of CASA before, but now, eight years later, I know what a good program it is."

The couple began attending City Council meetings. "That's how you get a sense of what's happening in a community," Bruce said. "We had done that in Englewood so thought we'd start here."

Before long, Bruce was asked to serve on the council.

"Moving to McCook was absolutely a choice," Bruce said, "not like coming home or that we knew anyone."

But since then, McCook has become home through commitment and family. In addition to being a City Council member, Bruce served as treasurer of McCook Mainstreet and is currently treasurer of the Norris Institute. Cathy is president of Rotary and both are involved in Buffalo Commons.

Cathy's sister Phyllis moved to McCook from Houston after retiring from Continental Airlines and worked at Edward Jones Investments. Her brother Kerry, a long-haul trucker, spent his last days with the family in McCook.

Being busy, involved in the community and caring for Mya, their Great Pyrenees rescue dog, doesn't keep them from enjoying their children who live in Colorado, Oregon and New Jersey, but now they're traveling by car rather than bike.

"We have four grandkids," Bruce said. "When there's four of them and only two cycles, you sell the bikes."

The McDowells are lovin' the place they're in. "I never thought we'd be so busy, involved and entertained," Cathy said. "McCook has exceeded our expectations."

"And here I am nine years into retirement," Bruce said. "If we'd have stayed in Denver, I'd still be working."

-- The McCook Community Foundation Fund is providing a series of short articles featuring individuals who are "returners" or "newcomers" to Southwest Nebraska. If you would like to suggest someone for a future article, please submit the name and contact information to Peggy Been, email: peggy@mnb1.com.