For several years, I wrote a column for the Elkhart Truth. This was back in that historical period now only talked about in legends and by old-timers in coffee shops. It was a period of freedom and hope known as the 1990s.
I was new to Elkhart. And I was a rare person at that time. I was a stay-home dad, by choice. In recent years, stay-home dads are not that uncommon. Sometimes a father stays home because the recession encouraged him to do so. Other times, fathers have discovered that it is a great opportunity to raise a family, up close and personal.
When my family moved to Elkhart, the community was a blank slate. Not being from here, I had no insider knowledge of the best spots, and I was not part of an in crowd. In a quest to keep my two children entertained, I explored Elkhart and Elkhart County. The Internet wasn’t very advanced, so we had to research the old-fashioned way. We drove, hiked and explored our way around town. When the kids got older, we took bicycles.
We had favorite playgrounds that young kids could identify. The “red playground” (Weston Park), the “yellow playground” (McNaughton Park) and Island Park (Island Park). We went to the “Big Cookie Place” (Exchange Bakery) and the Daily Grind.
In total, I was a stay-home dad for nine years. Of that time, I wrote a column for the Elkhart Truth for four years. Though I have not penned a dad column for several years, people still tell me they miss reading those columns about life in Elkhart with a young family. I miss writing them.
I wrote about sharing this community with two young sons. I wrote about our explorations, the things we found. We watched buildings being built. We watched buildings being demolished. We learned to ride bicycles. We learned how sad selling memories at a garage sale can be.
Because we were new to town, we learned about all the natural wonders and fun activities that locals may take for granted. But they were new and amazing to me and two young sons.
And I got to share it all with you by writing a simple column. I like to think I reminded you of the nervous excitement of raising children. But I also like to think I reminded you of how great Elkhart can be to live, work, and raise a family.
My wife and I enjoyed our life in Indianapolis. When we had the opportunity to move to Elkhart, we didn’t take it lightly. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to choose to uproot ourselves and move north, but the deciding factor was that many of our college friends are from this area, so we figured it must a nice place with nice people. That has proven to be true, not just to a young family then, but to my family today, every day.
So let me give you a brief update. I’m working now and my kids have been growing up. I have been able to watch our boys start middle school and high school. The marching band and solo and ensemble contests could have been inspiration for many columns.
I got to watch both boys vote for the first time. Once when I was on the ballot. I reminded them to register for the draft. I reminded them they could buy smokes and lottery tickets. Thankfully, they have purchased only a few lottery tickets.
Three years ago we delivered the first son to college. This fall we will deliver the second.
Thanks to Elkhart Community Schools, they are well-prepared, already earning many credits before college starts. Their academic success in Elkhart Schools earned them some generous scholarships. The diverse school population taught them about differences and just as much about similarities. So they are academically and socially prepared.
Are Mom and I prepared to be empty nesters? Well, we expected to weep like babies after we dropped off our first son. But he was instantly fitting in with new friends and the girls who lived across the hall in the dorm (you read that correctly). We figured he was ready and we were ready. It went pretty well. I expect my younger son will fit in just as well. No guarantee on his mom and dad this time.
So thank you, Elkhart. We took a risk and hoped you would be a good fit for our young family. You exceeded our expectations. Don’t forget that. You are a special place. Do not hesitate to reach out to other families and people. I never hesitate to tell good stories about Elkhart to everyone who will listen. You can, and should, do the same.
Kyle Hannon is president of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is working to attract talented professionals to live in Elkhart, a “500 Families” vision.