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CRETE -- A midnight deadline to lock down Doane's connection to Crete had faculty and townsfolk knocking on doors to keep the college where it had been since 1872.

"Beatrice made a bid to meet the bills and take the college," said current Doane University President Jacque Carter. "The people of Crete came through."

Thirty miles up the road, Concordia University's president, Rev. Brian Friedrich, tells the story of the school founded in Seward in 1894 providing for the town band, a high school, even a housing development.

He uses the term "symbiotic" for Concordia's relationship with Seward.

Carter said partnership is the key to the conjunction of Doane and Crete.

Without the schools, the towns would be no different than many other Nebraska communities.

Without the cooperating cities, the universities wouldn't be thriving engines of the local economy.

Neither school nor city can afford to go it alone.

"If you think about economic development in Seward or the growth of Concordia, you have to consider how they work together," said Ellen Beck, a member of the Seward City Council and author of "Break Forth and Sing for Joy: Concordia Nebraska's Song for 125 Years."

"The city has to put itself in front of the university students, and the university has to take part in the city," Beck said.

When citizens attend campus-related music, drama and educational events, such as the annual Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, the town shares in Concordia's wealth of talent.

Students in turn work in internships with local business and teach in the Seward schools.

"The faculty and staff of Concordia are a part of the city, members of the Rotary, service clubs -- neighbors and friends," said Friedrich. Residents in Seward take pride and help fill seats for Concordia's football, basketball, track and other sports programs.

A number of Seward citizens take classes at the university.

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Downtown Seward bustles with activity on a weekday in February. The town's growth is tied, in part, to record enrollment at Concordia University.

"Sure, we sell Seward to the students because this is where they're going to live for four years and, as it turns out, maybe many years more," Friedrich said.

The same goes for Doane and Crete, said Tom Sorensen, a financial adviser with Edward Jones.

As a member of the city's Chamber of Commerce, Sorensen knows Crete needs students downtown. The city needs to take part in the university, as well.

"A great 'for instance,' Crete's Great Pumpkin Festival -- parade, celebrations, food and fun for the whole town -- was rained out, and Doane invited the festival up to the field house," Sorensen said. "It worked out great for everybody."

Sorensen noted university students help with the community garden, a local soup kitchen and in general maintenance around town.

"Crete gives back with fundraising and taking part in the offerings on campus," he said.

Dan Papik, who owns the Crete Ace Hardware, tells the story of moving his store a few blocks.

Nebraska Wesleyan v. Doane, 9.22.2012

Doane wide receiver Tyrone Curry celebrates in front of Tiger fans during the 2012 football season. Campus athletic teams are linked to their communities.

"I had a chance to get a lot more space for the store, and I had just a short time to make the move," said the nephew of legendary Doane coach Al Papik. "It was a holiday weekend, and the only students on campus were the football team and the band."

The students showed up with pickups and doughnuts, and Papik directed the logistics and got the coffee and food. The move, which got underway at 5 p.m. Friday, was wrapped up in time for the new store to open the next day at 8 a.m. The students were rewarded with T-shirts.

That kind of cooperation comes natural in Seward, too, according to Beck.

"From the beginning, when four residents made the effort to start Concordia and acquire the land in Seward, the relationship has been very close," said the longtime journalist.

"To this day, some students live with families in town and new growth in the city is tied to Concordia," she said.

The Seward High football team plays on Concordia's field (yes, that's also the case in Crete). Most of the teachers in the Seward schools live next door to somebody who works at the university.

"When you ask 'What's going on?,' you are asking about the town and the university because they work in tandem on so many things," Beck said.

Progress small town colleges

Students pass the "Son of Man, Be Free" sculpture outside the Brommer Art Center on the Concordia University campus.

Friedrich said the phrase is lifted from many sources, but added it is true that "What's good for Concordia is good for Seward, and what's good for Seward is good for Concordia. The booster clubs for our teams are filled with Seward people and the Seward High events include plenty of fans and volunteers from Concordia."

He said that Seward has had a Parade of Homes in recent years. "That's significant. There is demand for new housing because the community -- the university and town -- are growing together."

Crete is growing, too.

"The most recent real estate listings show just four houses for sale in Crete," Sorensen said.

There's a new hotel going up. New restaurants are opening, and the local scene is constantly changing.

Doane's Carter wants the university to help with the effort to dress up Crete's Main Avenue and to make the town more friendly to bicycle and foot traffic.

"We're no longer the 'college on the hill' that you saw up the street from downtown Crete years ago," Carter said. "Now, you walk off campus in any direction and you're in Crete, because the town has grown.

"It's important to keep our relationship growing and improving. You want students to be a part of the community and the community to feel a part of the university."

Doane has added staff to work with the city and Saline County, an area that has evolved from the significant numbers of immigrants of Czech and German heritage decades ago. Now a majority of the area's new residents are Latino.

"The changes mean we have to change, too," Carter said.

Friedrich said Seward and Seward County are always in the minds of Concordia leaders.

"52 percent of the people who live in Seward work in Seward," he said. "We have people who travel to Lincoln and other towns for work, but this is their home. It's home to Concordia, too.

"That's why you see so many graduates from Concordia sticking around the area."

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