Wednesday, April 5, 2023

More than half a century later, we still live in our hometown

My opinion of Wickliffe, Ohio, is not to be trusted.

No matter what aspect of the city you're talking about, I'm going to paint the rosiest picture possible. I will ignore the issues and tout the traditions. I will gloss over population loss and economic blight and instead draw your attention to our wonderful high school Swing Band and the fact that we have seven beautiful parks in just four square miles.

Five minutes with me and you'll be convinced Wickliffe is paradise on earth.

I know this about myself. I know I am incapable of looking at this city  the place I've lived for all of my 53 years  with anything resembling objectivity.

It's one reason why, when friends have suggested I run for school board or city government, I have declined. I would be incapable of addressing the problems our community and our schools face simply because I often refuse to admit there are any problems.

Well, there's that and the fact I really don't want to get 10:30pm phone calls from residents complaining their trash hasn't been picked up or the guy next door is playing his Metallica records too loud.

It should be noted that while I've lived in just three houses my entire life (each within two miles or so of the others), I am not sheltered or insulated. I have traveled somewhat extensively, both within the U.S. and internationally, for business and pleasure.

I've visited many places. I've met many people. I've experienced dozens of cultures.

And yet my wife and I are Wickliffe lifers. More importantly, we're intentional lifers. We are blessed to be in a financial position that allows us to live in a wide range of places. We have options.

What we have chosen, however, is to remain in the 44092.

Why? Why stay in a city that has lost 40% of its people since 1970? Why remain in a town that has seen so many of its anchor businesses pack up and leave, has no grocery store, and according to some, is slipping into the abyss in a hundred other ways?

Those are legitimate questions, not all of which I can answer convincingly. But I'll give you five reasons why we've stayed, and why we're likely to be here at least a while longer, if not forever. Take these for what they're worth.

#1: I believe in the current administration
Mayor Joe Sakacs, who took office 15 months ago, is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. He has grabbed the easy wins while still taking on the bigger economic development challenges that have stymied past city leaders. He communicates well, seems to work closely with his council and staff, and has a vision for what the city can be. Never underestimate the power of a well-crafted vision.

#2: I believe that what once was can be again
One of the criticisms leveled at this community (and rightfully so) is that the city and the schools are bound by tradition. We stick to ways of doing things because that's the way we've always done them. I'm always one to seek new and better approaches, but understand this: Much of what is labeled "tradition" is simply a recognition that, in many respects, we were a better Wickliffe at some point in the not-too-distant past. We were closer to our neighbors. We were optimistic. We had a solid tax base and a school system that produced alumni who went on to do great things. We still have elements of that, but at some point we drifted into mediocrity. It doesn't have to be that way.

#3: I believe in my neighbors
People from surrounding communities will often comment on the closeness of Wickliffe-ites. "You all know each other," they say, or "You all talk the same." In some cases, we have been – nicely, I think  labeled "a cult." However you characterize it, there is a bond from having grown up and/or lived here. As my football coach always said, "Wickliffe kids are never the biggest, and maybe they're not the fastest, but they always turn out to be the toughest." Calling it a "can-do" attitude is probably cliché, but people in this city band together and get stuff done.

#4 I believe in the power of a good school system
In a few months, the schools I attended will all be gone. My elementary school was demolished years ago, but now the middle and high schools will be razed as our students move into a beautiful new K-12 campus. In terms of how the state measures school performance  standardized testing, graduation rates, etc.  Wickliffe schools have never really been "bad," but they have been the very definition of "so so" for many years. The rapid advance of technology is changing the way we need to educate our children in the 21st century, and my hope is that the new building will facilitate this change. If we play our cards right, this can be a "destination district" where families want their kids to attend school. I believe that can happen, and that it will have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the community in the next decade and beyond.

#5 - I believe in the value of identity
I had the wholly undeserved honor of being inducted into the Wickliffe Schools Alumni Association Athletic Achievement Hall of Fame last September. In my acceptance speech I said this: "Each of us identifies ourselves in a variety of ways. We are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. We define ourselves by the jobs we work, by the hobbies we pursue, by the sports teams for which we root, and by the political views we hold. I'm certainly no different. First and foremost, I am husband and father. But not far behind on my personal list has always been 'Wickliffe Blue Devil.'" People who know me know I'm a "Wickliffe guy." And in that, I believe, is power. Positive change often comes about simply because a group of people with a shared identity and shared goals make it so. I think that can and will happen.

And so we stay. So far, it feels like the right choice.


  1. As always entertaining and thought provoking. Thank you.

  2. A great place to have grown up!

  3. Nice article Scott!