Elsie Eiler, 82, is lonely — really lonely. Eiler is the sole resident of Monowi, NE, a town on the state's northeastern border, near South Dakota.
Alyssa Schukar, a photographer with The Omaha World Herald, heard about Eiler and was curious. "Often people hear about her and they think, This must be such a lonely existence, how could anyone stand doing that? I was curious about it and I wanted to know what her experience was like." Schukar photographed Eiler and the town that she literally calls her own for the photo essay Population Elsie.
Eiler has been the only resident in Monowi since her husband passed away in 2004. Now, she runs the local bar, Monowi Tavern, and spends time with friends and family who visit from neighboring towns. "[Eiler] lives in a part of the country that does not have a huge population base," Schukar tells Refinery29 by phone. As farms become more automated, the jobs are disappearing. Monowi has dwindled from a population of about 300 residents to just Elsie.
But despite what some might see as a lonesome lifestyle, Eiler has an active social life with caring peers. "You realize that it’s actually an incredible community that they have there," Schukar said. "I would say that Elsie is better connected to people than my neighbors here in Chicago. She has more genuine conversations; they make more of a point to sit down with each other and talk about how their lives are."
Schukar says that Eiler has considered moving away. "Her son is closer to Omaha, and her daughter is out in Tucson. And she's talked about retiring to Tucson, to the warmer climate, and also to be closer to family." But she's too tough to give up on being the last woman in Monowi. "I think she feels in some ways that if she left, that would be the end for her, because this gives her so much meaning, being the center of this community."
"I think Monowi is who she is," Schukar adds.