A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

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Chances are you live in one of the 72 neighborhood associations recognized by the city of Columbia. Even if you don’t, you likely have neighbors — a sixth-grader who waters your plants while you’re on vacation, a teenager who’s available to babysit on Saturday nights, a runner who’s always up for a few miles around town, a grandmother with kind words and freshly baked cookies.

When such people come together, they make Columbia’s communities vibrant, happy places to live. Here’s a look at just a few of the city’s active areas.

Benton-Stephens

Windsor Street is within walking distance of downtown, but on the first Saturday of every month, Kip Kendrick and Sarah Wolken forgo The District’s cafés in favor of a more local option — their own coffee shop. The couple began opening their home to their east-central Columbia neighbors nearly three years ago, and the monthly get-together has become a staple of Benton-Stephens life. Neighbors bring food, smiles and suggestions for the community.

“Neighborhood association meetings are great, but often it’s a controlled agenda,” says Kendrick, president of the Benton-Stephens Community Association. “A coffee shop is more open and allows anyone to talk about their ideas.” The relaxed environment also facilitates social connections.

“It’s an eclectic group of people, and everyone has a story,” says Kendrick, noting that neighborhood residents include a semipro soccer player and a two-time Emmy Award winner. “The more you get to know people, the more you get to know their stories.”

In addition to casual socializing, the monthly kaffeeklatsch provides a forum for serious discussions as well, such as Harvest of the Month, a Sierra Club grant-funded project that brings local farmers to Benton Elementary School to educate children about agriculture and local foods. The local and organic food movement also gets a boost through the community garden on Windsor Street that is home to an assortment of flowers, eggplants, green beans, onions, squash, tomatoes and zucchini.

The vibrant colors of the garden will be seen on the streets — literally — this fall; two murals will be painted on the pavement at the intersections of Melbourne and Windsor streets, and Ash and St. Joseph streets, as part of GetAbout Columbia’s Bicycle Boulevard. Six artists submitted ideas for the street mural project; an online poll chose the two winning designs, both by Sandra Eccles of Canton. Eccles will start painting this fall, which will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation at the next coffee shop.

Deer Ridge

Garage sales are frequent during Columbia summers, but Deer Ridge residents anticipate their own more than all others. Dana Harris and Barri Bumgarner started the rummage sale 14 years ago for the Garden City subdivision. Gradually more streets in northeast Columbia became involved — Thornwood, the “St. Louis streets” and Deer Ridge.

“We decided to include everyone,” says Bumgarner, who lives on Arrowwood Drive. “We didn’t want to leave out the newer homes because the more homes that participate, the more people come.” The sale now involves 40 to 60 houses, and multiple families often use one home to sell their combined items.

Bumgarner and Harris have perfected their advertising routine over the years: “Dana and I will put together two ads that will run the week before and the week of the sale,” Bumgarner explains. “We will then collect $2 from every household to pay for the ads, flyers, maps and handouts we have made.” The event is also posted on CraigsList, and signs are displayed at major intersections prior to the big day. Residents are responsible for hanging signs or balloons in the neighborhood to direct buyers to specific houses.

“It’s a really big annual event,” says resident Cherie Rutter who participated in this year’s sale on Aug. 21. Items are generally priced to sell, which attracts hordes of eager bargain hunters. “Our street is usually packed bumper to bumper with shoppers,” Rutter says.

Getting rid of unwanted objects and making some money is always nice, but Bumgarner says the best thing about the sale is catching up with his neighbors.

“In this busy time of life, many of us don’t stop to really talk with our neighbors,” he says. “This gives us a chance to do that. It feels like one big block party.”

Dubradis

Dubradis is a combination of streets — Dublin Avenue, Bray Court and Sardis Court — tucked between Fairview Road and Scott Boulevard on the city’s west side. A few other streets are also in the neighborhood mix, such as Watts Court and Canton Drive. The Dubradis neighborhood association has not been active for several years, but Dublin Avenue resident Christy Kremer is doing her best to get things back on track. Kremer, who moved into the neighborhood in 2007, has hosted a garage sale every year.

“I find that each year, I have met a new neighbor who stops by,” she says. “It has been at my garage sales that neighbors have invited me on bike rides and to other events or even invited me into their homes for dinner.”

As the new neighborhood association contact, she hopes to organize an “old-fashioned get-together” that allows residents to meet and mingle.

“I would like a neighborhood where people greet each other and their pets by first names, where favorite recipes are shared and when someone is sick or is in need, we help each other,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s organizing volunteers to help plan events and hopes to have the police department talk to residents about ways to keep the neighborhood safe. Kremer stresses that being happy, comfortable and safe are all things that are important to her. “My goal would be for living on Dublin Avenue to be much like living in Mayberry!”

East Campus

When the University of Missouri College of Engineering auctioned off a student-made suspension bridge six years ago, Robin Remington jumped at the chance to purchase the sturdy wooden contraption for her backyard. The original materials had cost $1,600, but Remington’s bid of $475 was high enough to relocate the bridge to her home on Taylor Street, where it lay in pieces for nearly five years. Finally, in the summer of 2009, Remington and her husband, Paul Wallace, enlisted their handyman, Mike Gerard, to reassemble the bridge over the creek in their backyard. In August the construction was complete; the couple invited the entire East Campus neighborhood over to celebrate. Everyone walked across the bridge with a glass of champagne.

The bridge party (which Remington and Wallace hope will become an annual event) wasn’t the first time East Campus residents had gathered in the backyard of 503 Taylor. The property is also home to one of Columbia’s four Peace Poles, created nearly a decade ago when members of the community came together to paint the word “peace” in 40 languages along the white surface of the wooden post. Wallace and Remington chose to write in Sanskrit: Shanti.

The Peace Pole is an appropriate accoutrement at the couple’s home, which is also the headquarters for Peace Haven International. The organization brings people together from various countries to talk — although lately the house has seen its share of neighborhood meetings as well.

The East Campus Neighborhood Association is working to purchase 1.26 heavily wooded acres at the end of Taylor Street that adjoin Clyde Wilson Memorial Park (formerly Rockhill Park). Residents have voiced concerns that if the current property owner sells the parcel to a developer, the lot will be subdivided, the road will be extended and the quiet, natural area will be ruined. According to the July 6 minutes of the ECNA, “this park in the middle of the city is a pendant in the necklace of parks around the city … It is critical that this piece of land continue to be green space and that no encroaching development decrease its natural beauty.”

The ECNA formed an executive committee to pursue the purchase of the property, which was appraised at more than $100,000. Group members say that preserving the land is an attainable goal, especially if options include city funding and the current owner selling at a lower price to take a tax break. Of course, the neighborhood must raise money as well. ECNA plans to collect from donors and organize fundraisers, such as Pennies for the Park in conjunction with Lee Elementary School, a project where schoolchildren can produce art and become invested in the future of the park.

“They’re empowered to think about issues of the environment,” Remington says.

The ECNA, which is one of the oldest neighborhood associations in Columbia, also hopes to work with its residents and MU’s Greek houses to preserve the land.

“We’re an icon,” Wallace says of the East Campus area. “We’re very proud of that, but we have to live up to that.”

Maple Bluff Estates

When Paul and Kim Ratcliffe moved from Marshall to Columbia in 1993, they missed participating in Apple Butter Day, an informal gathering at a former neighbor’s house that centered around a bubbling cauldron of delicious, stewing apples. So when the couple came across an ancient copper kettle in an antique store in Arrow Rock, they decided to reinvent the tradition in Columbia. In October 1995, they invited friends and neighbors to partake in the festivities for the first time. Apple Butter Day has been a fall ritual on Maple Bluff Drive ever since.

The day begins at 7 a.m. when people deliver apples to the kettle. “The idea is that anyone can put apples in to get apple butter out,” Paul Ratcliffe explains. “There’s always new folks who put apples in the kettle and old folks who look forward to it.”

The kettle, which is more than 100 years old, sits on a three-legged stand above an open fire. The copper container measures about 3 feet across, with a large black iron handle that folds over one side. The kettle holds 8 bushels of apples, a gallon of water, cinnamon, sugar and 12 silver dollars. The coins are part of an old apple-butter-making tradition: As the wooden paddle scrapes the bottom of the kettle, the walnut blade continually moves the silver dollars across the bottom, thus preventing the apple butter from sticking to the pot.

“If I don’t find 12 when we’re done, then I’ll have to track down who got a prize in their jar of apple butter,” Ratcliffe jokes, adding he’s never lost a coin yet.

Around noon, lunch is served — a combination of neighbors’ covered dishes and hot dogs and brats cooked over the open fire washed down with apple cider straight from a cider press that Ratcliffe purchased in Kansas. “I drove out there and bought one and had to assemble it and varnish it and put it all together,” he says.

People socialize in lawn chairs and beneath tailgate tents; children enjoy hayrides on a neighbor’s tractor. But everyone pauses around 3 p.m. when the apple butter is almost done. “We have an old short story — somebody’s recollection of what apple butter making was in the 1800s,” Ratcliffe says. “We always read that story.”

After the reading, it’s time for ice cream topped with the warm apple butter. “It tastes like apple pie,” Ratcliffe says. “It’s just wonderful.”

As if homemade apple butter isn’t wholesome enough, the neighborhood also gets together for a Christmas brunch, a summer picnic and other special occasions such as births and anniversaries. “You can do that because you just have 13 families,” Ratcliffe says of the small neighborhood. “Ours is a manageable size; you know everyone.”

North Central Columbia

“Better to be a first-rate version of yourself than a second-rate version of someone else.”

Judy Garland’s quote is printed carefully in bright orange letters. They cover just a small portion of the picnic table that Zach Rubin crafted from salvaged 2-by-4s.

In July, Rubin and his partner, Shea Boresi, waterproofed the table and placed it near the grapevines at the alley entrance of the Circus-Lyon garden, where the couple grows cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Boresi immediately recognized the white surface as a canvas for creativity. She sent an e-mail to neighbors and asked them to help paint the table one Sunday evening. “I hope you all can come at this time and put your own mark on this new garden fixture!” she wrote.

The message prompted a wave of neighborhood activity in the block just south of Jefferson Junior High School: dedicated gardeners volunteered to whack weeds and spread wood chips in preparation for the art extravaganza. Boresi provided paint and lemonade, which was accompanied by drinks and desserts from about 15 other neighbors.

“We have a great group of gardeners, including some notably creative people,” she says. “There’s a lot of casual socializing, but until the table there was no place to rest or to linger for a conversation. Now we can just hang out in the garden.”

West Ash

Last summer, residents in the West Ash area opened their mailboxes to find flyers advertising a neighborhood block party. Although the concept was a new one for the neighborhood, more than 200 people showed up with food and drink, excited to mingle with neighbors for the first time.

“We had people in their 70s carrying deviled eggs in those carriers from the 1940s,” recalls Julia Ames, a real estate agent who has nothing but good things to say about her community. “In my opinion, it’s one of the best neighborhoods in town.”

Ames, Adam Dushoff and Vanessa Welbern were the masterminds behind the neighborhood get-together. The trio was eating dinner together one evening when the idea hit them. They’d been chatting about how much they enjoyed the neighborhood, except that they often saw neighbors around town and didn’t know their names. A party seemed the best way to solve that problem. They made flyers, rented portable toilets, bought beverages and scrubbed down the grill in preparation for the event.

After the party, other residents began organizing events. The vacant, grassy lot on the corner of Anderson Avenue and Hope Place became the headquarters for “Andersonville,” where movies such as “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Princess Bride” showed on a big screen throughout the summer while neighbors relaxed on blankets and lawn chairs.

This spring, the official West Ash Neighborhood Association was created; nearly 50 people attended the first meeting in Again Street Park, and longtime resident Carol Rogers was elected president. Ames is the group’s vice president, and a number of others fill various positions and subcommittees. Although WANA enjoys promoting social events, the group is pursing serious issues as well. Some concerns, such as traffic calming and mosquito treatments, are listed on the association’s Facebook page.

Vanderveen Crossing

No chickens. Despite its animal-friendly street names — Mamba, Snow Leopard, Jackal, Koala and Zebra, to name a few — the Vanderveen Crossing Homeowners Association has passed an ordinance banning any domestic fowl from residents’ yards. The neighborhood covenant “strictly prohibits chickens from being raised, bred or kept on property in our subdivision.”

There might not be chickens, but there are eggs. The neighborhood hosts an annual Easter egg hunt every spring at the playground. The hunt is one of many annual events that take place in this neighborhood in north Columbia. The Vanderveen Crossing pool opens on Memorial Day, which, of course, is occasion for a swimming party. The pool is open all summer and closes in early September.

Before and after pool season, the neighborhood hosts garage sales on the first Saturdays of May and October. The neighborhood association runs ads in the paper to promote the events.

Like many neighborhoods, Vanderveen participated in National Night Out on Aug. 3. Neighbors socialized while supporting crime prevention and public safety. The neighborhood also organized a safety workshop at Grace Bible Church in May. The second annual event included presentations by the police and fire departments, the office of neighborhood services and the Columbia housing authority.

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