ASHLAND – Like many college students, Ben Rhodes spent his summer on the beach.
Unlike his peers, however, Rhodes was not soaking up the sun. He was covered in mud.
Rhodes worked for five weeks helping clean up and repair Linoma Beach near Ashland, which was damaged by the spring floods.
Tasks ranged from picking up debris from the beach, rewiring campsites, running pipes, digging holes and power washing buildings.
“It’s the dirtiest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.
Rhodes came to Linoma Beach through the Flood Recovery Serviceship. Students from all of the University of Nebraska campuses were offered the opportunity to help Nebraska communities affected by the March floods. The university committed $250,000 to the program, which paid about 50 students to work across the state.
Rhodes said most of his peers were working in the development or planning stages of flood recovery. Few were actually in the field like he was.
“I’m more or less working in the mud and dirt all day,” he said of his time at Linoma Beach.
Linoma Beach is a 160-pad campground with a handful of cabins and rental properties wrapped around a sandpit lake next to the Platte River. It is located along Highway 6, four miles northeast of Ashland.
Linoma Beach is known for the landmark lighthouse that graces the former entrance to the property, which served as a recreation site for swimming, picnicking, boating and fishing in the area starting in the 1920s. The lighthouse was built in 1939 and served as the entrance to the resort and a gas station.
The recreation area was hit hard when the Platte River spilled over its banks last March. From March 14 to 16, the Ashland area, especially its outlying lake communities, was hit hard.
Chuck Niemeyer, who has co-owned Linoma Beach with business partners Dave Lutton and the Otto Brothers for almost a decade, said the flood waters did major damage to the property when their private levee broke in three places. The campground is used by renters who lease their pads for the entire season.
Many campers build patios and other permanent structures on their pads, which were torn apart by the raging waters, making the area look like a war zone, Niemeyer said.
The floodwaters washed several feet of sand into the lake and spread a two-inch layer of silt and mud on the beach.
“It’s the slimiest stuff you’ll ever see in your life,” Niemeyer said.
The flood washed out roads and brought in debris, including trees, trash and even someone’s roof, said Niemeyer.
Rhodes said he learned a lot by watching how the Linoma Beach owners and their employees dealt with the flood damage – how they thought through the problems and arrived at solutions, and how they pitched in to help.
“I’ve never been given a task and they just watch,” Rhodes said. “Everyone is working together out here.”
Seeing how a disaster affected the Linoma Beach owners and the local community was also eye opening for Rhodes.
“Being on the front lines of something, like a disaster, has been a good experience for me and one I’m glad I took part in,” he said.
Rhodes also learned a lot about performing a job that includes a lot of manual labor. He had worked as a lifeguard and manager at the Gretna city pool during high school and college and for Husker Communications also during college.
These were two jobs that weren’t especially physical, Rhodes said. Mucking out flood-damaged buildings or digging holes was a whole new experience, he added, but one that provided a lot of gratification for a job well done.
“It’s been a good, constant source of satisfaction for me,” he said.
Without Rhodes’ help over the summer, the cleanup efforts at Linoma Beach would be much farther behind, according to Niemeyer.
“There’s been a lot of projects that occurred out here that wouldn’t have occurred without Ben,” he said.
Rhodes helped restore power to 60 of Linoma Beach’s camping pads, so at least some of the campers could enjoy the summer there, even though the season started about six weeks late. His efforts also helped the cleanup effort in general move along more quickly. That allowed them to start cleaning the cabins, which Niemeyer said they didn’t think they would get to this year.
“He’s improved the efficiency of what happens out here,” Niemeyer said.
Rhodes was a fast learner, said Niemeyer.
“Ben picks things up very quickly,” he said.
That’s not unusual for the Gretna native, who will graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in math and political science in three years.
The work at Linoma Beach had nothing to do with Rhodes’ majors, but that was refreshing, he said.
“I get to branch out and learn things I never knew before,” he said.
After finishing the serviceship on Aug. 16, Rhodes returned to UNL, where he is a junior. When he graduates, he may work in a political campaign, or use his math skills in the media.
The field is wide open for this ambitious young man.
“So many things interest me,” he said.