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Falls City Hot Air Balloon Festival

This photo of a balloon lifting off was taken at a previous Falls City Hot Air Balloon Festival. After a 24-year hiatus, the event will return June 15-16 to the town in extreme southeast Nebraska.

There is Southeast Nebraska, and then there is Falls City, which is as Southeast Nebraska as it gets.

In the heart of the state it’s not, but there is plenty of heart to be found there, and happenings to match, most notably the return of the Falls City Hot Air Balloon Festival on June 15-16.

Up, up and away. That seems to be the prevailing theme in this town of about 4,400, founded in 1857 in the southeast corner of the state, near the Kansas and Missouri borders.

“We’ve recently had amazing additions to our hometown,” said resident Emily Vonderschmidt, “with the new splash pad, the awesome aquatic center, the fun bowling alley, the beautiful library and several great parks to enjoy.”

Vonderschmidt and her husband moved away several years ago, but they decided to return to Falls City to raise their family.

“If you need help with anything, there is always more than enough people to offer a helping hand. We rally together in bad times whether someone’s sick, someone has passed away, or even in this crazy flood,” Vonderschmidt said. “It’s the type of town that you drive down the road and everyone you meet gives you a friendly head nod or welcoming wave.”

Falls City business and tourism is riding a good wave right now, according to Amber Holle, executive director of the Falls City Chamber of Commerce. A lot of the buzz is because of the Hot Air Balloon Festival.

“It’s been 24 years since the last one, so we are very excited,” Holle said.

The June 15-16 event will give visitors another reason to experience a small-town downtown that is alive and thriving.

“We are very fortunate for a town our size to have a downtown still so full,” Holle said. “We have everything.”

From the Falls City Library and Arts Center to the Grand Weaver Hotel, there is plenty to see and do on the town’s historic and renovated Stone Street, including many shops and the John Philip Falter Museum, a Nebraska Passport destination.

Falter was a graduate of Falls City High School who became a famous illustrator. The museum, in a former bank building, features Falter’s 129 Saturday Evening Post covers.

If you are visiting this spring or summer, top stops to consider should include the Falls City Aquatic Center, Classic Club 8 Golf Course, Stanton Lake, and Mutt and Jeff’s Drive-In.

“Mutt and Jeff’s, definitely,” Holle said. “It’s been around for 72 years with one-of-a-kind items like a beef burger (like a loose-meat sandwich), kwikis (corn dogs) and cheese bars (like a corn dog but with only cheese inside).

“It’s open seasonally, so people wait all winter for their fast-food fix.”

One Stop Café and A&G Steakhouse are also popular Falls City dining spots.

For an overnight stay, the Grand Weaver Hotel, built in 1924, is a beauty of a landmark and now has a new bar and lounge called The Den for a place to unwind.

“There are so many more reasons why Falls City is such a special place to so many,” Vonderschmidt said. “But you wouldn’t have time for that, so I will just sum it up in one word – home. Not just because I was raised here, but because the community and environment make you feel loved, accepted, safe and want the absolute best for you.

“Isn’t that what ‘home’ should mean to everyone?”

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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