People of many backgrounds shape cities, but there’s a unique type of resident who tends to be at the forefront of change and development.
They call them “boomerangs
.” They’re people who grew up in an area, moved away, and then moved back, and as northeast Indiana evolves, it’s becoming home to more and more of them.
So why do people leave cities, and what brings them back? Better yet, how have their experiences outside of Fort Wayne inspired them to reinvest here?
Input Fort Wayne surveyed a handful of boomerangs in northeast Indiana to give you a snapshot of their perspectives. Three respondents are featured below, and more will be featured in future installments of this study.
Throughout our research, local boomerangs expressed a common interest in helping the Fort Wayne area develop alternative modes of transportation, generate a greater spirit of inclusion, and invest in the unique identity that makes it special.
While these responses are based on personal experiences and don’t speak for everyone, they do offer a glimpse into the lives of our neighbors who have lived other places, and the ways they can help northeast Indiana move forward.
This is our second installment of boomerang responses. Read our first installment here.
Ricco Diamante Ricco Diamante
Where did you grow up? Raised in Defiance, OH. Moved to Fort Wayne, IN, at age 16. Graduated from Homestead High in ‘98 and started college at Bowling Green State University in Northwest OH. Returned to Fort Wayne in 2000 to attend University of Saint Francis and graduated with a B.A. in drawing, painting, and printmaking in 2003.
Where did you move to? In July of 2004, I moved to San Diego, CA.
What brought you back to northeast Indiana? My immediate family was the primary reason for my return. In 2008, General Motors was at risk for plant closure, and my father, who is employed by GM, asked me to help my parents prepare for a move if he had to transfer to another General Motors factory in the U.S. Fortunately, the Fort Wayne GM stayed open, and my parents did not have to move.
Where do you live now? I currently live in Leo, IN, because I married and started a family, but I still have my business in downtown Fort Wayne. Most of my residency in college and when I returned was always downtown Fort Wayne.
How long have you been back? I reluctantly returned to Fort Wayne in Dec. of 2008 just before President Obama made the announcement that Fort Wayne GM would continue producing trucks, and the Michigan truck plant we were in competition with had to close.
Before you left your hometown, what was your impression of the Fort Wayne area? As an early teenager, I was curious about Fort Wayne, but only visited Fort Wayne to shop at the skateboard store or at Glenbrook Mall. I was told by people in Defiance it was dangerous in downtown Fort Wayne and not to go there. By age 15, when my friends started getting drivers licenses, we would make day trips to downtown Fort Wayne on weekends to skateboard, and it did feel a little risky, but nothing bad ever happened. My friends and I also used to travel to Fort Wayne to hear punk and metal music in the Southside of town at Sunset music hall.
Since you moved back, what has been your impression of the Fort Wayne area? Steady, but slow progression. I remember how excited I was when the first Chipotle opened in Fort Wayne. The construction and expansion of the Grand Wayne Center also was a big deal because the first official Fort Wayne Tattoo Convention happened there in 2010.
With your experience of other cities in mind, what are three things that stand out to you as benefits of living here? It’s easy to network with others, for both personal or professional reasons. Fort Wayne people are generally pretty excited and willing to share info when they discover others who have the same interests or ambitions. There are some pretty great spaces here with lots of potential for living or businesses. I’ve been able to rent a unique space to live and work since 2000. Last, there’s lots of support for my art. Fort Wayne people love to see creativity. I’ve had plenty of opportunity to show and share my art.
What are three things you miss about other cities, or wish you could change here? First thing that comes to mind is the public transportation. In San Diego, I lived next to the Chargers Stadium, and I could walk out the back gate of my condo and get on the public railway, Trolley to go shopping, or to go downtown San Diego to eat or experience nightlife and then easily get back on the trolley or catch a cab home. Until Uber showed up in Fort Wayne it was very difficult to get a cab in this town.
I miss the recreational opportunities San Diego provided for hiking, rock wall climbing, areas to camp, and ride ATVs. Fort Wayne has greatly improved its bike trails and recently added bike lanes downtown, but in S.D., I could cruise my bicycle in many areas of town and have opportunities to eat, drink, shop, or just people watch. Most of our bike paths in the Fort are just through residential areas, and it’s very difficult to ride a bicycle during the summer festivals into downtown because of the pedestrian traffic.
I guess the third thing I think I miss is the variety of art galleries and boutiques featuring new art by local artists. We definitely have move boutiques opening around Fort Wayne, but it feels like it is all rustic furniture or women’s clothes. Fort Wayne still doesn’t have a lot of options for men to buy unique items for clothing or decoration.
Tell us about your involvement in the Fort Wayne area since you moved back. Are there ways that you’re investing your time and talents or getting involved here? I’ve mostly focused on building my reputation as a professional in tattooing and creating fine art. Tattooing has introduced me to thousands of people who want to see what I’m creating daily and posting on my social media. In the early 2000’s, I used to be involved in a volunteer group organized by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art that created successful events, such as Friday night socials at the Museum and the FWMA chalk walk. I was one of the featured artists to promote that event in its first three years. In 2001, I created a mobile mural painting and gave lectures at schools and corporate workspaces to discuss diversity. I’ve opened my studio space up to host multiple art shows to showcase both local and nationally known artists. In 2012, I created a painting to help promote the first Dia de los Muertos event at the FWMA. Mostly, I’ve just tried to create great tattoos and now people travel from all over the country to get tattoo art from me. So, while they are in town I try to take them to my favorite restaurants to eat.
Have you found it easy or difficult to get involved in the Fort Wayne community? Do you feel that boomerangs like yourself have a place here? I’ve found it easy to get involved here. There are many creative people aspiring to change Fort Wayne for the better. I was unaware of the “boomerang” term until now, but I feel like even though our city isn’t a place with obvious allure, like L.A, New York, or Miami, it makes sense to live here and be the best at whatever is important to you. It is now easier to feel connected to culture and positive Influencers in any industry through the parallel universe of the internet. So, to live here and make a living here is possible if you know how to get your voice heard or creatively seen with the help of media to stay connected.
If you could give city leaders one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be? I’m excited to see the riverfront project finished. I believe it could become an important cultural hub for downtown Fort Wayne. As for advice, possibly less concern about the type of business people want to create in downtown and more focus on making sure the building owners are improving and creating spaces for entrepreneurs to use. There have been far too many empty buildings with great potential over the last 10 years. I would also like to see more businesses that stay open in the evening hours, so more people are walking around downtown.
What would you tell someone else considering moving back to the Fort Wayne area? Live and work downtown if you are launching a new business to network and socialize with others that participate in Fort Wayne lifestyle. Continue to travel to stay fresh, and continue bringing back more ideas to improve Fort Wayne. Get involved in anything cultural or with youth to uplift and inspire individuals, so more positive events happen around Fort Wayne.
Olivia LehmanOlivia Lehman
Occupation: Associate Director of Development at Water for Good, Yoga Teacher at Pranayoga, Host of Creative Mornings (a new, free monthly breakfast event in Fort Wayne!)
Where did you grow up? Fort Wayne.
Where did you move to? Indianapolis.
What brought you back to northeast Indiana? It was actually love that brought me to Fort Wayne about one year ago. After moving here, I realized the city’s expertise in yoga, so I studied to become an instructor. I was fully focused on this, and my family relationships for about a year. In the end, my partner and I didn’t work out, but the drive for yoga and building a creative community did. An organization called Creative Mornings is allowing a team and I to start our own chapter here to cultivate community and problem-solving in the city.
Where do you live now? Lakeside Park area (the 05!).
How long have you been back? Almost a year and a half!
Before you left your hometown, what was your impression of the Fort Wayne area? Honestly, I thought it was boring, unattractive, and I didn’t think I could be motivated easily here. I was lucky to have parents who thought that it was important to go on trips and expose my sisters and me to different cities. I grew up being taken on road trips around the South and occasionally as far as California. As I grew up, I always felt this underlying dissatisfaction with life when I was in Fort Wayne.
Since you moved back, what has been your impression of the Fort Wayne area? Thankfully, Fort Wayne has evolved into a new and improved city—from its downtown improvements to the ongoing events around the city. I’m surprised how each neighborhood has taken on its own flair and built community around each other.
With your experience of other cities in mind, what are three things that stand out to you as benefits of living here? 1) The close proximity of downtown and good neighborhoods. 2) The excitement around growth and social entrepreneurship. 3) The ability to make changes in the city while it’s still young and shaping it into its own unique town.
What are three things you miss about other cities, or wish you could change here? 1) I miss the art community in Indy coming together, like the group, Creative Mornings. Therefore, I decided to start my own Creative Mornings. (Stay tuned for the first event, in January 2019!) 2) I miss easy and accessible public transportation. 3) I miss Trader Joe’s! I have a feeling it’ll come… someday.
Tell us about your involvement in the Fort Wayne area since you moved back. Are there ways that you’re investing your time and talents or getting involved here? Yes, once I moved here, I immediately got involved in the yoga community, and have been teaching at Pranayoga Studio since August this past year. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve also decided to start a Creative Mornings chapter here for the creative community. It’s basically a monthly breakfast club with Tedtalks by those who call themselves creative—ehmm, that’s anyone!
Have you found it easy or difficult to get involved in the Fort Wayne community? Do you feel that boomerangs like yourself have a place here? I think I had a harder time finding community since I moved here with a remote position. That calls for some isolation no matter where you live, so I constantly put myself out there by working from coffee shops and meeting strangers. I think boomerangs like myself have a place here, but I think it’s harder for people like us to find our platform to meet. I think it’s important to keep supporting and attending small pop-up groups and events that happen around the city to continue to cultivate those younger communities.
Personally, I think that I would’ve benefited from having more patience; we live in such a fast-paced world with short attention spans, and we expect instant gratification, especially when it comes to success or progress. Whatever project or work you've got going, I think it’s important to nurture it, no matter where or how long it takes for it to be fully realized.
If you could give city leaders one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be? Continue giving space for the abnormal, young ideas.
What would you tell someone else considering moving back to the Fort Wayne area? You’ll find your place here! Come inspire us with what you had going in your other city. We could use it, and the community here is to support you and continue your career aspirations. Keep showing up every day and put yourself out there, over and over and over again, and eventually, you get through to the people you’ll call community.
Jordan H. Lepper Jordan H. Lepper
Where did you grow up? I was born at Lutheran Hospital on Fairfield—RIP—and spent my childhood in the ’07, back before I knew anyone called it that. I’m a Fort Wayne, ’07, South Side alum.
Where did you move to? I longed to leave the state, and even the country, since my early teens. So right after high school I joined the Navy. After a short time, I went to Purdue University instead and got a degree. Then I moved to Indianapolis, into an old tin-stamping factory that was converted into a winery that was converted into lofts, six blocks south of the circle.
There, I finally understood what I’d longed for back home: a thriving, bustling downtown. I walked everywhere, and everywhere I walked was a crowd of beautiful, interesting, working people around my age. No matter when or where I was, there were always five open restaurants within a half mile of each other, a Lyft only two minutes away, and countless Tinder matches… like, at least four Tinder matches. There were multiple art museums, history museums, theaters, inspired art installations, neighborhoods with different vibes and architecture, each of them welcoming, each with their own bars, venues, and shops, each bursting with character.
There were two full-service climbing gyms to choose from, a respectable skyline from my bedroom window, and an inspiring monument-slash-water-feature at the center of it all. I’d be understating my emotional response to this change in scenery by saying I was enamored.
What brought you back to northeast Indiana? While back in Fort Wayne visiting, I went on a date downtown. We ate, drank, and walked around, and I realized we weren’t the only people. Walking. Downtown. On a Friday night. It felt so much less like a ghost town than I had remembered. The ballpark, the bars, and restaurants connected to it… these were befitting a real city. A few months later, I met someone else and went on a few dates with them. As we spent more time together, the group of people I knew and cared about in Fort Wayne grew, and I began to see myself living here again. I saw meaningful development downtown, and I started to warm up to the idea of living back amongst old friends and family. Within the fiscal quarter, I was back in the Fort. And not as mad about it as I’d always imagined I’d be.
Where do you live now? The ’05. Just off North Anthony; a 10-minute walk from the Health Food Shoppe and Lakeside Park.
How long have you been back? Just under three years.
Before you left your hometown, what was your impression of the Fort Wayne area? I constantly felt like my options were limited. The university I attended here offered little in my fields of interest. The employment opportunities I was aware of were menial or manual in nature. I was well past 21 before I left, but there were few bars where I could mingle with diverse, thoughtful people my own age. Any place that seemed worth visiting was obscenely far from my home, and taxis were embarrassingly unreliable.
Since you moved back, what has been your impression of the Fort Wayne area? It seems developers and entrepreneurs in the area have taken cues from our brothers and sisters in developed cities across the country. Bars and restaurants are adopting modern aesthetics, curating menus around sustainable, local fare and novel craft cocktails. Boutiques are popping up everywhere, many offering hand-crafted and other non-mass-produced goods to people like me who care to combat corporatocracy through mindful consumption. I see more and more young people working to make a positive impact on this place, instead of simply leaving. People working as teachers, for NGOs, or building their own businesses.
I can get a Lyft most of the time. I regularly see people I haven’t seen before. And, best of all, there are at least three bars where I can drink a locally brewed beer, while listening to fellow millennials wax philosophical on the correlation between the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, AND be in a room where at least 25 percent of the walls are some combination of reclaimed wood and exposed brick.
With your experience of other cities in mind, what are three things that stand out to you as benefits of living here? There are green spaces everywhere. I have three parks within walking distance from my house. We have so many talented artists, musicians, visionaries, and entrepreneurs… with so many gaps yet to be filled. Housing really is still relatively cheap. Gentrification is happening, but there’s plenty out there for people making around $30,000 per year who are willing to live below their means (remember before credit cards when people used to do that? Because I don’t.)
What are three things you miss about other cities, or wish you could change here? 1) I miss the canal. I am so excited for river development, specifically mud-free walks on the waterfront. 2) Restaurants with ample outdoor seating, complete with plants, fire pits, and tasteful music. 3) An arts district where creatives can live, create, thrive, and share their work with the rest of the city. Fort Wayne has an insane number of artists, with all-too little unification, from what I can see.
Tell us about your involvement in the Fort Wayne area since you moved back. Are there ways that you’re investing your time and talents or getting involved here? After moving back, I immediately volunteered to be on the board for My City Summit. I wanted to make an impact on the diversity and inclusion front. During my initial job search, I encountered photo-after-photo of board-after-committee-after-team of white-man-after-white-man-after- white-man-after maybe one token white woman. It all seemed less than representative of our city than what my experiences in Fort Wayne showed me. I grew up between Broadway and Nutman, and attended South Side High School. I wanted people to see their biases, and step outside their bubbles. I try every day to gently challenge someone’s biases. (Many times it’s my own biases and ignorance I’m challenging.)
Now I’m a special education teacher on the South Side. I build up my students. I show them unconditional love and support, regardless of their background, behavior, language, disposition, or religion. I try to show them that the world isn’t always cruel. And that their voices are heard.
I also try to support the businesses, events, and people who are making this city better. I go to Middle Waves (music festival), even though I wish there were hundreds more people there. I shop at Creative Women of the World, and countless other local shops. I work to connect people with resources, services, and others that will enrich their lives.
Have you found it easy or difficult to get involved in the Fort Wayne community? Do you feel that boomerangs like yourself have a place here? Like anything, if you want to be involved, you have to put in the effort. I sought out opportunities to get involved and came across Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana (YLNI). I moved back because I saw opportunity in our city. There’s still a long way to go, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.
If you could give city leaders one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be? Develop all parts of this city. There is an important difference between incentivizing economic development and selling your soul to the highest bidder. I’m no civil engineer or zoning coordinator or legislator, but intuition and conscience tell me that the South Side of town needs more than a Menard’s and a Wal-Mart. Let’s divert some funding to community development in underprivileged areas. Let’s use our boards and committees to make life better for people. If you’re already doing that, keep going.
What would you tell someone else considering moving back to the Fort Wayne area? I’d tell them they’d better roll up their sleeves (figuratively of course; it’s very cold) because there’s plenty of work to be done.
Know a boomerang who needs to take our survey? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.