First Impressions

If you had to describe Columbia in just one word, which would you choose? Lively? Diversified? Eclectic? Midwestern?

These are the adjectives some Columbia newcomers choose when describing their first impressions of the area. Each became better acquainted with the area by contacting Stacey Thompson, owner of Columbia Welcome, which schedules a one-time meeting with new residents and gives them a basket full of samples, gift certificates to Columbia businesses and other goodies.

After receiving their baskets and exploring Columbia a bit, the Pithuas, the Michas, the Mayfields and the Barkers were all kind enough to share their first impressions of our fair city.


Maranda and Patrick Pithua

The Pithuas moved to Columbia from St. Paul, Minn., a couple of months ago. Maranda says she was excited before she even moved into the city; she found Columbia to be beautiful upon her first visit here. After their move, Patrick began teaching at the University of Missouri, while Maranda, a stay-at-home mother, looks after their two young sons, 6 months and 2 years old.

Relocating from a big city to a smaller town can be a refreshing experience and, at the same time, a new challenge for a family. Maranda recalls her biggest grievance when she first arrived in Columbia – the confusing street signs.

“It was really challenging to find our way,” she says with a bit of frustration. “It makes it difficult to get around when street signs, especially on major streets, are put on the curb where they’re less visible. It’s even more confusing when you start on a street that has one name, and you go down a few blocks and, all of a sudden, it’s a different name even though you didn’t make any turns. It just doesn’t quite make sense.” But Maranda soon overcame this difficulty as she became more and more familiar with the town. These days, “it’s not as big of an issue,” she says.

Although Maranda can now find her way about the city, she’d have to travel outside of Columbia for one particularly yearned-for convenience. “I miss it, I miss, miss, miss, miss it!” Maranda says of her yearning for SuperTarget. “There are a lot of Walmarts here, but I love SuperTarget,” she says. “They are so new and huge and you can get all the groceries, plus lots more.” Maranda soon found that the Target in Columbia Mall, while a good supplement, does not have the same selection available in bigger cities.

Now the Pithuas are thinking about their sons’ enrollment in school. On one hand, they are impressed by the choices and quality of schools in Columbia; on the other hand, Maranda worries that their sons will not be exposed to as many opportunities as they were in their former hometown.

“My son was learning about trains and airplanes due to the vast amounts of railways and air traffic from the international airport,” she says. “We miss the opportunity for him to learn from his environment.”

As the Pithuas adjust to culture shock, they are enjoying everything this “lively” city has to offer.


Mariah and Paul Michas

Paul and Mariah Michas’ move to Missouri from Wisconsin has gone more or less as they expected. As Paul works on his Ph.D. in accountancy at the University of Missouri, he and his wife are settling into their new home in Columbia, eight hours away from their old residence. Although their move is physically complete, they say that Columbia is “a little bit smaller” than what they are used to, so they are “still trying to adjust a little bit.”

“Summer was way too hot for me,” Mariah grumbles. Her biggest challenge when she arrived here in June was avoiding the heat without feeling too cooped up. As the weather cools, she’s taking advantage of the opportunity to do a bit more exploring and community service around the area. Paul is also looking forward to cooler weather, adding that he will “definitely like the winter; it’s a lot nicer” than the harsher winters of Wisconsin.

Paul also praises Columbia as an ideal place to raise a family, lauding its “combination of smaller community, nice people and relatively” low cost of living. “You still get a lot [of activity] with the university; you do get restaurants and some cultural stuff,” he says. “It’s pretty safe.”

Though Columbia does seem just as “Midwestern” as the couple anticipated, there were still a few surprises for them to discover. “I was really surprised by how many wineries are around here,” Paul says. “I did not expect that at all. You don’t get that in a lot of places.”

Mariah finds the Mizzou pride and the community feel most unique and unexpected. “You find that in a lot of places, but not like it is here,” she says.

The atmosphere of a Tiger basketball game she attended sums it all up: “The energy was incredible!”

Cori and Tony Mayfield

Before Cori Mayfield, her husband Tony, and their 5- and 9-year-old daughters moved to Columbia from Kansas City this summer, the Mayfields made a decision: while Tony began working as the new community bank president at UMB Bank, Cori would stay at home for at least a year, getting her family settled in their new surroundings. This was to be her full-time job, and to Cori’s surprise, “It turns out that it is one!”

But in her spare moments between unpacking boxes and pondering which school would be the best fit for her daughters, Cori found time to reflect on her experiences as a newcomer to the area – or rather, as a returner. Though the Mayfields resided in Kansas City for nine years, they lived in Columbia while attending graduate school here, before either of their daughters was even born.

The couple noticed changes when they returned to Columbia. They were particularly struck by the city’s population surge and its increased development.

“Columbia has grown, and I think that’s probably what surprised both of us,” Cori says. “You know, you move away, and in your mind a place stays the same. When we were here in our grad school years, it still hadn’t taken off yet, and it seems like there’s been this burst of growth.”

But the city isn’t the only thing that has changed. Now that Cori and Tony are parents, they view the area from a different perspective than before, focusing on the benefits and downsides of raising their children here. Cori is impressed by the Columbia Public Schools’ good reputation, but worries that the district is still experiencing difficulties that need to be “ironed out.” She appreciates that Columbia does not have the feel of “urban sprawl,” but expresses concern about the crime rate.

Overall, though, the couple feels that Columbia’s fusion of metropolitan and rural influences makes it a great place for their children to grow up. In a word, Cori says, it’s “eclectic.”

“And I do mean it in a positive sense,” she says.

Sandy and Ron Barker

Sandy and Ron Barker created many sweet memories in their Bloomfield, Iowa, home, which Ron built himself before the couple married more than 30 years ago. Nevertheless, when asked if she feels as though she is missing out on anything due to their April move to Columbia, Sandy only considers for a moment before replying with a firm, “No.”

The couple had known for some time that Ron, a manager of contractor sales at Menards, might be transferred to another area. Faced with this possibility, the good-natured couple hit upon an agreement: “We wouldn’t move any further north than our backyard!” Sandy laughs. After turning down an offer in Wisconsin, the Barkers were delighted to accept one in Columbia, the location they had been hoping for.

“We’d done weekends here for several years, so we got to see the weekender side,” Sandy says, “but the day-to-day side was very new.”

After moving from a town with a population of about 2,500, Ron and Sandy found their new surroundings rather expansive. Sandy recalls her first impressions of Columbia: “Am I ever gonna find my house?!” she says with a chuckle. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen more than corn and beans, corn and beans, beans and corn [in Iowa].”

The couple soon came to appreciate Columbia’s convenience, both within the city and around it. Sandy says she loves being able to run errands, shop and attend events nearby, and she is grateful for Columbia’s proximity to interesting historic villages such as Hermann. She also likes that “you can go down to the District, and you can experience all the … diversity and uniqueness of that community, and then, in just a few short minutes, you can feel like you’re in a totally different community because you’re surrounded by trees and backyards.”

Trying to describe the city in one word, Sandy settles on “diversified.”

But the best part for the Barkers has been watching their two grown daughters’ reaction to the city. One daughter, who lives out of town, has likened her frequent Columbia visits to “mini-vacations.” Their other daughter has enjoyed increased independence since moving to the area.

“We both decided we would never move back,” Sandy says.