People have different reactions when I tell them I’m from Athens. Sometimes it’s a “wow, that’s awesome-this is a great place”, others it’s “really?!?!”, or from other locals, questions about how long the family history goes back here to determine my true local status.
Southeast Ohio and Bobcat pride run deep in my family–my great grandmother rode a horse to school in Vinton County and then raised my grandmother on a horse farm on route 56, near the present-day site of Numbers Fest. My grandfather graduated from OU in 1942, my mother was born in Athens, and my parents and aunt and uncle all graduated in the early 1970s from OU. I hoped to one day be a Bobcat and join the family tradition.
Things turn out differently than we plan (thank goodness), so instead of being a Bobcat for four years, I plan to be one for the next 27. I work at OU in the Career & Leadership Development Center and love the chance to work with college students to work towards success in work and life.
So what’s it really like to live in Athens after growing up here? Let me break it down for you.
My family moved to Athens (with the thought that it was temporary) to take care of my ailing great-grandmother. I was two years old in 1986 when my family moved to Central Avenue on the west side of town. I loved my time at West Elementary, spent summers swimming at the city pool, and got super-involved in athletics at Athens High School. I graduated from Athens High School–where we played rivals like neighboring towns Marietta and Logan. Living on the west side of town, student housing slowly took over our neighborhood so much so that by the time we moved to the other side of town in 1999, we were one of the few families still living on our block. Students were largely friendly to us, but more and more issues kept popping up in the neighborhood. There was a police chase through our yard in the middle of the night one time–thank goodness my dad had left the hose out and the person was apprehended by police after tripping. We were also aware of loud parties, some drug issues, and apathy about the way our neighborhood looked. On the other hand, it always felt like you could be yourself and have fun and play loud and run around screaming in the middle of our street (which we pretended was a highway when we chased each other on bikes). I loved growing up in the house on Central Avenue.
College Student (2003-2004)
I left for an out-of-state college in 2002 to pursue an athletics dream and found out quickly how desperately I missed Athens. After a year in Kentucky, I promptly returned to Athens to study at OU. Athens and the university always seemed like a joint package when I was growing up–like OU really was Athens and Athens really was OU. I stopped believing that when I was a student at OU. I realized the clear divide between campus and the town, the community members and the students. I felt a weird sense of being in between two groups, I was in townie/OU student limbo. I knew what was going on on campus and I still knew what it was like to live in Athens, not as a student. But I also felt like I could never get the “traditional” OU experience because none of it felt very new to me–it was incredibly strange to be in a place that felt so socially new and overwhelming in surroundings that felt very comfortable and familiar. I never quite found my fit at OU, so I ended up finishing my studies at Marietta College (but made many trips home for family dinners and to attend events at OU–like Halloween, ahem).
Professional (A label, not a reality) (2010-Present)
After stints in northern Ohio and Tennessee, I returned to my favorite small town for good to work at OU in 2010. I was so proud to get a job offer here–I knew how competitive and challenging the job market was at the university. For a few years, I didn’t know how long I’d really stay in Athens. It seemed hard to believe that I could really settle in Athens after growing up here. I’ve seen so many people move to New York or Chicago or DC and never return (I always wondered who would leave NYC for the land of the Fun Barn and mid-major athletics?!). After meeting my wonderful husband in Athens (who is also an Athens High School grad), I knew we would be very happy staying in Athens for a long time.
The longer I live in Athens, the more I “get it”. I do go to the Fun Barn regularly (my family loves the popcorn and cheap tickets) and also have season tickets for at least one sport every year–we are big Bobcat fans. Beyond the “things to do” in Athens, I love the connection I feel to Athens. It’s not just the stuff, it is the history of the university, Athens’ quirkiness and creativity, having family close by (one mile from our house–wow), being able to be involved with our daughter’s school (which is also about a mile from home), and enjoying the convenience of small town living.
Will we live in Athens forever? Probably not–but you never know. My husband I love traveling and hope to see as much as we can every year during our vacations. We have also talked about retiring somewhere warm or even somewhere abroad. I suspect wherever our family lives is somewhat close to where we will be, but you never know. Until then, look for us at the Fun Barn.
By Lindsey Ward, CLDC Associate Director