Located 1/2 Mile South of Historical Fort Hartsuff
Marcia Vodehnal had a dream to open her own business and provide a pleasant unique dining experience for the people of the area. After searching the Burwell area for a suitable location , she contacted the Department of Economic Development and they suggested she open a business near Fort Hartsuff. Unfortunately, Marcia and Mitch Vodehnal didn't own any land near the Fort Hartsuff location. After explaining her dilemma to neighbor and classmate Crystal Lech, who happened to own a piece of land near Fort Hartsuff, the two enterprising women decided to form a partnership, and an idea became a reality. Crystal and Marcia retained partnership in the Country Neighbor for three years.
The Country Neighbor is housed in a former schoolhouse moved to it's present location on the Fort Hartsuff road. The schoolhouse is the former Valley County District #7, established in 1874. Work began to prepare the schoolhouse for it's relocation in March of 1995. In April of 1995 the District #7 schoolhouse was moved to it's new location and the remodeling project began. The interior of the building was completely gutted, interior plumbing was added as the original schoolhouse was dependent on an outdoor privy for bathroom facilities, and new electrical wiring, dry wall and ceiling were added. The schoolhouse still has the original window sites and hardwood flooring. A Coca Cola soda fountain was added to the rear of the establishment and an additional 24x32 kitchen area was added to the rear of the schoolhouse. The counter for the soda fountain and booths were purchased from the former Buck's Bakery in Burwell. The Country Neighbor celebrated it's grand opening on June 23, 1995.
"The Country Neighbor places it's emphasis on great food, a unique, relaxed atmosphere and good service," stated Marcia Vodehnal. " This is my fourth season as sole proprietor of the Country Neighbor and the success of the business is probably due to the tourism to Fort Hartsuff. I strive to provide a variety on the menu for the Country Neighbor from the speciality sandwiches to prime rib. The soda fountain offers twelve different kinds of hard ice cream, old fashioned phosphates and ice cream sodas in addition to homemade pies. In addition to local trade, I serve many tourism groups from Grand Island and Columbus who come to visit Fort Hartsuff and area attractions. The adding of the Garden Room enables my establishment to serve many groups and parties. Last year we served 46 Christmas parties at the Country Neighbor from Nov. 21 through Jan. 21."
In 1996, Marcia began a catering business through the Country Neighbor. " There seemed to be a need for more catering services in the area and it seemed like a great way to fill a void in the business." The Country Neighbor has catered a variety of events from small, intimate dinners for two to weddings with five hundred guests and high school prom dinners. " I really enjoy catering the local high school's proms," stated Marcia. "It is really a lot of fun for us. My mother Marilys and mother-in-law Dorothy are a tremendous help with the catering. My husband Mitch, daughter Kristin, who is also my daytime manager when not in college, son Ryan and youngest daughter Karly, also pitch in to help in not only the catering but in all aspects of my business. I guess you could say the Country Neighbor is truly a family affair."
The Country Neighbor employees three full-time employees and eight part- time. The business also carries a full line of unique gift and home accessories. "The Country Neighbor offers Yankee Candles, handcrafted windmills, artwork, and Nebraska made products," commented Marcia. "We recently have added cement garden accessories and stepping stones to our inventory. We try to offer unique items that can't be found in other locations such as our jams and jellies, flavored coffees and our year around Christmas Corner."
The Country Neighbor is closed for private parties and catering in the months of Jan., Feb., and March. Their spring opening is in April with the hours of 10-4 Mon.-Thurs., Fri.-Saturday 10-9. Summer Hours: ( May 1 through October 31), seven days a week, 10-9. Fall Hours: (November) Mon-Thurs. 10-4; Fri.-Sun. 10-9. December Hours: 10-4, seven days a week, closed in the evening for private parties.