By Jan Mathew
As a young mother, Laura Harrison remembers moving to Decatur “kicking and screaming” when her husband was transferred here from the Chicago suburb of Barrington.
Twenty-two years later, when Harrison’s husband, Michael, a senior vice president of new product development for Tate & Lyle, was transferred back to the Chicago area, she had the same reaction — in reverse.
“I left Decatur kicking and screaming!” Harrison laughs.
Perhaps an unexpected reaction from someone given the chance to trade soybean fields and a small town feel for skyscrapers and big city life. But Harrison, whose husband was among 80 Tate & Lyle employees transferred to the company’s Hoffman Estates headquarters in October 2010, is not alone in discovering that Decatur gets into your heart — and tugs at it long after you leave.
“I don’t think I’ll ever cultivate the friendships here that I had in Decatur,” says Harrison of her neighborhood in Lake In The Hills, a suburb about one hour from Chicago. “Decatur was a great place to raise our kids, and we made a lot of friends through their schools.” She also misses familiar faces at some of her favorite local spots: Lock, Stock & Barrel; Del’s; Robbie’s; Bizou; The Winery; and South Side Country Club.
A North Carolina native who attended college in Massachusetts, Penny Bankston was hired right out of graduate school as a research chemist for Tate & Lyle (then Staley Manufacturing). “I had never been off the east coast, or seen a cornfield before,” says Bankston, who admits to looking up Decatur on a map. Once here, though, it didn’t take her long to get a sense of her new home.
“I was standing in the check-out line at the grocery store, and the lady in front started chatting to me,” Bankston recalls. “I was stunned — that never would have happened in Massachusetts.”
Bankston and her husband, a building engineer for Tate & Lyle’s Hoffman Estates Innovation Center, lived in Decatur for 26 years before their transfer and move to West Dundee two years ago. Time hasn’t changed the things they still miss about Decatur.
“The suburbs are full of chain stores, and I really miss all the independent businesses in Decatur, and the personalized customer service that came with them,” says Bankston of retailers like Spin City Cycle, Flora Gems, Haines & Essick, and Giggles. “I also miss Robbie’s, where I could always walk in and feel like an old friend.
“Decatur has a real community feel, and (we) made a lot of good friends there,” she adds. “It was big enough that I could find everything I needed, but still small enough that I knew people wherever I went.”
Bankston also connected with friends through the Decatur Running Club and area bike rides. And although she and her husband still enjoy their favorite activities, access in West Dundee differs from Decatur. “We lived off Lost Bridge Road in Clesson Woods, so it was easy to hop on our bikes and ride out in the country,” she says. “Now, we bike on paths and dodge strollers and dog walkers.”
The commute from West Dundee to Hoffman Estates isn’t as bad as she feared; about 20 minutes versus five minutes in Decatur. And with families on the East Coast, Bankston says proximity to O’Hare and Midway airports is a bonus.
Former Decatur resident Debbie Olsen is also a fan of airports; specifically, the Decatur Airport and Air Choice One. As vice president of government affairs for Tate & Lyle, Olsen’s husband, Chris, travels extensively. She racks up her own frequent flyer miles with trips from the couple’s Palatine condominium to Decatur to visit her extended family.
“You’re practically on the runway longer than you’re in the air, and flying Air Choice One is actually cheaper than driving and parking in downtown Chicago,” says Olsen, who typically visits here a couple times a month through the summer.
Although she enjoys the stores and restaurants that are part of big city life, Olsen is still adjusting to the constant crowds and traffic. “If I wanted to, I could go to a different restaurant every night of the week here — kind of like being on vacation,” she says. “But places are usually packed, and they aren’t very accommodating.
“I always knew someone when I walked into places like Robbie’s or Bizou,” she adds. “Servers knew that I drank water with lemon, or what type of wine I liked. It was such a comfortable feeling.”
A member of CrossFit Enhance, the YMCA, and Decatur Athletic Club when she lived here, Olsen has yet to find a fitness connection in Palatine. “People don’t realize how affordable Decatur’s facilities are,” she says. “There’s nothing at my fingertips here, and memberships are very expensive.”
Like her Tate & Lyle counterparts, Olsen found the toughest part about moving was saying goodbye to friends. “When I worked as a physician recruiter for Decatur Memorial Hospital, I always said it’s the people that make the place,” she says. “I’m seeing how true that is. I haven’t established the same friendships here, and I don’t expect to.”
“Overall, it’s fine,” says Bankston of her West Dundee home, “but we won’t retire in this community. If we had stayed in Decatur, though, I think we would have retired there.”
Contributing Editor Jan Mathew moved to Decatur “kicking and screaming” in summer 2000. She now knows she’d leave the same way.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2014 issue of Decatur Magazine.
It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
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