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Natives who leave area return to Columbus


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Most of Columbus’ annual population gains are international imports.

Large companies, engine maker Cummins Inc. in particular, attract talent from around the world who move to Columbus, the Fortune 500 company’s global headquarters.

Domestically, Columbus loses a little more population than it gains each year, with natives to the south-central Indiana city leaving annually.

But some of them decide to return — for job opportunities, because of lasting community ties, stronger support groups or simply a longing for home.

In the vignettes that follow, you can read four such stories.

Hair today: TIM EMMERT

When Tim Emmert graduated from cosmetology school in Florida in the 1980s, he stoutly refused to move back up to Columbus.

“I never had any desire to live here,” he said. “It was nothing.”

Although he had always considered Columbus home, he made his career in hair in Florida and later Georgia, where his client roster has included R&B singer Usher, actress Kathy Bates and Spanx body shaping hosiery inventor Sara Blakely.

Six years ago, he bought a house in the White Oak Lake area on the west side of town. When his cousin Kerry Emmert-Stahl announced that she was moving to Columbus from Greenwood, the pair decided to open Studio Shag last fall at 3780 W. Jonathan Moore Pike.

Now Emmert splits his time between Columbus and Atlanta, spending 20 days of the month here and the remaining 10 at his Georgia salon in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Buckhead is home to about 200 salons, Emmert said. The opportunity to do something noticeable is greater here in Columbus.

Although he likes the swirl of activity in Atlanta, he admits that the constant traffic there makes his blood pressure rise.

“I’m just ready to slow down,” Emmert said. “It’s just nice being around family again.”

Support system:

THE McKINNEYs

When Stephanie McKinney was 25, she and her husband, Patrick McKinney, and their new baby, Olivia, moved to Rochester, New York.

Her husband, who was in construction management, was working on a $100 million hospital project in the city. Roughly every two years, the couple would move on to the next job.

Living in Rochester, McKinney would strap her tiny baby into the stroller and walk the streets of her suburb.

“I was hoping to God that somebody would come out because I would introduce myself,” she said. “Was it lonely? Yes.”

The young mother would drive white-knuckled along six-lane highways in New York, taking her daughter to two and three doctor’s appointments a day.

At 15 months old, Olivia’s teeth hadn’t come in, and she wasn’t walking or talking.

Finally, the diagnosis was handed down: Olivia had proximal 10-Q partial trisomy. Her 10th chromosome has an extra piece. At the time, Olivia was the only person in the United States with this condition.

The couple were told they might not have any more children.

Patrick’s job was stressful, and it was difficult to make friends, find a church and navigate a sea of pediatricians and care providers for their daughter.

But there were fun times, too. Visits to Niagara Falls and New York City and New York State snow pepper their memories. But when Dunlap & Co. called and offered Patrick a job based in Columbus exclusively, it was time to return home.

The family the McKinneys dreamed of having came true shortly after the couple returned to Columbus in 1996. Hannah was born in 1998, Sophia in 2001 and Ava in 2002.

All three girls were born in Columbus, with no serious health issues. Olivia, now 20, attends Columbus North High School as a special education student. Stephanie McKinney praises the public school system, as well as Olivia’s pediatricians and aides.

The mother of four brought back with her a sense that she could deal with anything and an appreciation for her church, St. Bartholomew, and for the small-town feel Columbus offers.

“I have a great support system,” she said. “This is a great place to live.”

Constructing a future: THE WETTSCHURACKS

Columbus was where Kevin Wettschurack would raise his family. He always knew that.

“My parents always had their own businesses. I always knew at one point I was going to work with the family,” he said. “I was going to leave, do my own thing, experience the world a little bit.”

And then come back to Columbus.

Wettschurack now works at his mother’s business, Kinney Paper & Chemical Co., 1340 12th St., where he serves as vice president.

After working in Cincinnati, he worked his way up to senior vice president of marketing at Tradesmen International Inc. in Macedonia, Ohio, and lived in Solon, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland.

“We found a great neighborhood. We found a great house, but I don’t think it held a candle to Columbus,” he said.

Another factor in the decision to move back home was his church.

A third-generation member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Wettschurack and his wife, Brooke, drove back to Columbus to have both of their daughters — Emma, now 11, and Ally, now 7 — baptized there.

After a conversation with his boss and friend, Wettschurack realized that the time had come to realize his dreams of helping to run the family business.

After 18 years away, he and his family moved back to Columbus in late 2009. Now he has a new appreciation for the architecture, the people and outdoor opportunities such as hunting that are available nearby.

“It just kind of reinforced how great Columbus is to me,” he said. “But I always knew that eventually, if I had a family, Columbus would be a great place to live.”

I scream, you scream: THE MAYERS

Ice cream was the tipping point for J.P. and Tessa Mayer’s return to Columbus.

More specifically, it was the availability of Blue Bell ice cream in Indiana grocers’ freezers that tipped the scales in favor of the couple making their move north.

Tessa Mayer, whose parents own Musillami’s Drive-In on State Road 11, set off for Houston after completing her bachelor’s degree at Indiana University in 1996.

“I was ready to see the world,” she said.

In Houston, she met fellow teacher and Texas native J.P. (James Paul) Mayer. Married at Faith Lutheran in Columbus, the couple had two children, Ruth Anne, 10, and Jackson, 7. They made their home in a busy Houston suburb. But there was a force pulling them north.

“I wanted my kids to see the seasons,” she said.

They both began looking for teaching jobs in the Columbus area.

Tessa was the first to land one, working as a special education teacher at Jennings County High School in North Vernon. Shortly after, J.P. Mayer found his job as a German teacher at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. They moved to Columbus last year.

At their home on Wood Lake on the west side of the city, there are reminders of their past and present. A concrete armadillo sits by the front door. Blue Bell ice cream is in the freezer. But school classes are dramatically smaller here, and they have more family time and a feeling of security.

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