As Fort Wayne undergoes a renaissance in local pride and culture, regional planners are thinking about the future—not only for people here now, but also for the people who will move here.
So why do transplants choose Fort Wayne? Where are they coming from? And what would they like to see happen here?
Input Fort Wayne surveyed six transplants of various ages, backgrounds, and interests to give you a snapshot of their perspectives. While their answers are based on personal experiences and don’t speak for everyone, they do offer a glimpse into the lives of our neighbors from other places, and why they are choosing to call Fort Wayne home.
Derek Reeves, right, and his family.
Occupation: I am the Principal Violist for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.
How long have you lived in Fort Wayne? 15 years.
What part of the city do you live in? Foster Park Neighborhood, and I love it!
Where did you move from? Before living here, I was in Indianapolis, Indiana; Charleston, South Carolina; and Miami Beach, Florida. I moved for musical reasons.
What brought you to Fort Wayne? My job with the Philharmonic.
What did you know about Fort Wayne before you moved here? Basically, that it was between Indianapolis and Detroit.
What was your first impression of Fort Wayne? That it was not as bad as I had heard.
Size-wise, how does Fort Wayne compare to where you used to live? I love the size of Fort Wayne.
What is your favorite thing to do in the city? Biking on the greenway.
If you could change something about Fort Wayne, what would it be? Fewer one-way streets, a drugstore downtown, and an interstate that goes to downtown.
Have you gotten involved in Fort Wayne somehow since you moved here? If so, how? I volunteer at my son's school.
When you’re showing the city to friends and family, where do you take them? The Philharmonic, Sweetwater, and Headwaters Park.
Sharon Simmons, right, and her husband Mark.Age: 71
Occupation: I am a retired Administrator for a medical clinic. When I “retired” from my paying career, I helped found Francine’s Friends, a local not-for-profit. Until recently I served as the volunteer president of the group.
How long have you lived in Fort Wayne? We have been here since the fall of 1986—32 years. It is the longest I have lived anywhere in my life!
What part of Fort Wayne do you live in? We live in northwest Fort Wayne in a subdivision called North Pointe Woods. We love the convenience to shopping, medical facilities, and access to I-69. The subdivision is built on the site of the old Robison Park a turn-of-the-century amusement park. We love the history of its origin. Plus, we have so many beautiful trees and green spaces and lots of places to walk—to say nothing of our terrific neighbors.
Where did you move from? We moved here from Dayton, Ohio. I grew up in Denver, Colorado. I met Mark while we were both attending college. When Mark graduated from the Air Force Academy, we got married and our 20-year adventure began. We lived in many places in the U.S., and once overseas in Turkey. Dayton was the last stop for us in Mark’s Air Force career.
What brought you to Fort Wayne? When Mark retired, he took a position with what was then Magnavox, so we could be near his widowed mother who lived in Hillsdale County, Michigan.
What did you know about Fort Wayne before you moved here? Thirty years ago, there was no Google, so I didn’t know much about the city. Coming from Dayton, which is also built on the confluence of three rivers, I expected Fort Wayne to look and be similar to Dayton, only smaller. Other than the fact that Dayton has a large military presence with Wright-Patterson AFB, Fort Wayne and Dayton have a lot in common with their history of manufacturing and surrounding farm communities.
What was your first impression of Fort Wayne? Well, 30 years ago, Fort Wayne was a different city. There wasn’t anything going on downtown, and the city seemed “tired.” Fort Wayne was like other Midwestern cities that acted like their best days were behind them. The people were (and are) delightful and welcoming. It wasn’t long before we felt at home.
Size-wise, how does Fort Wayne compare to where you used to live? I love that traffic isn’t nearly as congested in Fort Wayne as many other places we have lived. I have enjoyed being able to find my place in Fort Wayne in a relatively short time thanks to the friendliness of the people and availability of so many opportunities to get involved. Speaking as a transplant, we have enjoyed putting our roots down in such a family friendly and welcoming city. Fort Wayne has become our hometown.
What is your favorite thing to do in the city? Oh, wow! We have many things we enjoy doing: Attending events at the Embassy, the Civic, and Phil; enjoying new restaurants (and old favorites); attending Tin Caps games with friends and family. Although we don’t use them as often as we should, the trails always are great for walking.
If you could change something about Fort Wayne, what would it be? I would change the weather, for sure, and maybe exchange at least one of the lakes for a beach and ocean. Ok, seriously, I like the direction we are currently moving. I’d like to see more companies relocating here more frequently. It would be nice to encourage more participation in civic affairs in everyday happenings. Everyone can get jazzed up over something that is exciting or upsetting, but we leave the daily goings on pretty much alone. Along with participation, I’d also like to see more transparency between city officials and groups and the population.
Have you gotten involved in Fort Wayne somehow since you moved here? If so, how? I have been a life-long volunteer. I began in the kid’s schools and at our duty stations when Mark was in the Air Force. The Air Force community is a community within a community with many opportunities to aid young airmen and their families. Since coming to Fort Wayne, I continue to serve on local not-for-profit boards, doing committee work, and until recently I served as the de facto Executive Director of Francine’s Friends on a volunteer basis.
When you’re showing the city to friends and family, where do you take them? It depends on who is visiting, but families with children we take to the Children’s Zoo or the Botanical Gardens, if they have something special going on. We also like to take visitors to a TinCaps game. Adults only, we like to catch something at the Embassy or Foellinger Theatre if possible, go to dinner at one of the truly marvelous restaurants—the Oyster Bar and Tolon being two favorites. We have even taken friends to Coney Island. The many festivals during the summer are also on our list.
Jose BerriosAge: I am 44 years old.
Occupation: I am an electrical engineer.
How long have you lived in Fort Wayne? I have been in Fort Wayne about 5 months.
What part of Fort Wayne do you live in? I live in the Steeplechase community in Fort Wayne. I like it because of the location, amenities, beauty, and it is a good community, in general.
Where did you move from? I moved from Florida. I grew up in Puerto Rico, USA.
What brought you to Fort Wayne? I ended up here in Fort Wayne for a job opportunity in the engineering field.
What did you know about Fort Wayne before you moved here? I had no knowledge at all about Fort Wayne. Nothing.
What was your first impression of Fort Wayne? A quiet and simple town with complicated road distribution. All roads in Fort Wayne were built in a big round or circular shape, and it is difficult to familiarize with the area. Especially during winter time.
Size-wise, how does Fort Wayne compare to where you used to live? It's smaller, but I prefer small cities than large because of the heavy traffic that can happen.
What is your favorite thing to do in the city? So far, my favorite activity is working out and running in the gym at the YMCA Jackson Family (on St. Joe’s road).
If you could change something about Fort Wayne, what would it be? More outdoors events and straight-line roads to access new and future communities.
Have you gotten involved in Fort Wayne somehow since you moved here? If so, how? I am still in the process of knowing people. But I am considering volunteering in the future.
When you’re showing the city to friends and family, where do you take them? I will visit the public parks, the zoo, and restaurants.
Occupation: Marketing Specialist
How long have you lived in Fort Wayne? One year and 2 months. I’m a new homeowner!
What part of Fort Wayne do you live in? Northwest
Where did you move from? I grew up in Kokomo, IN. I went to school at Manchester University, and my parents lived in Anderson, IN, area at the time of my enrollment.
What brought you to Fort Wayne? Work and opportunities. I was already invested in the community.
What did you know about Fort Wayne before you moved here? My school was 40 minutes away from the city, and I had won some awards from the Fort Wayne area.
What was your first impression of Fort Wayne after you got here? I thought it was just another Indiana town. You don’t really know what is here unless you immerse yourself in the Three Rivers culture. It’s more than that to me now, and it is truly growing on me more and more each day. It’s home.
Size-wise, how does Fort Wayne compare to where you used to live? It is larger, but that is what I wanted. I didn’t want to be lost in the crowd either.
What is your favorite thing to do in the city? EAT! I love all the food options here. Plus, I can work it off by riding the trails. There is the Pufferbelly Trail entrance near my home. I love biking around the Fort.
If you could change something about Fort Wayne, what would it be? That’s a hard one. I think if I had to choose, it would be the connectivity. I would love for there to be more events in different parts of town that draw the city in. I’d love a reason to explore new neighborhoods.
Have you gotten involved in Fort Wayne somehow since you moved here? If so, how? Yes. I am involved in YLNI, Living Fort Wayne, and the Emerging Leaders Alliance. I also volunteer in my community when I can.
When you’re showing the city to friends and family, where do you like to take them? Depends on who it is, but I like to take them downtown and explore the shops, museums, the wall murals, and then grab a bite to eat. There are endless things to do to keep my friends and family busy. The best part is that you can make it into any experience that will make your guest love the Fort as much as you do. This can be taking the young kids to the zoo and splash around in the park or college friends to festivals and a cool bar in an adjacent neighborhood.
Occupation: Audio Engineer at Sweetwater Studios
How long have you lived in Fort Wayne? 5 Years
What part of Fort Wayne do you live in? Just west of the University of Saint Francis
Where did you move from? I'm originally from outside of Boston, but I moved here from Columbus, OH, where I went to college.
What brought you to Fort Wayne? Work. I was working for a vocational high school before joining the Sweetwater team.
What did you know about Fort Wayne before you moved here? Not much except for Sweetwater and that the downtown area was pretty lackluster. In the 5 years I’ve been here, that has changed, and downtown now seems more vibrant than ever.
What was your first impression of Fort Wayne after you got here? Coming from larger cities made Fort Wayne very un-intimidating, not in a bad way, though. Compared to a place like Boston, Fort Wayne seemed “slow,” but I quickly learned that it’s not. The people are just more relaxed and friendly. It’s a total breath of fresh air compared to the way people constantly try to present themselves as “hard” or “tough” in the northeast. I’ve noticed it has had an effect on my own personality where it’s made me more friendly and outgoing. Here you can be waiting at a crosswalk and strike up a short conversation with another person waiting with you? Back in Boston, you’d be getting some weird looks if you tried that.
Size-wise, how does Fort Wayne compare to where you used to live? It’s smaller, but not too small. I haven't dealt with real traffic (besides trains) in 5 years, and it's amazing. The idea that I can drive across the entire city in under an hour was mind-blowing at first, but the amount of things packed in this city is awesome. It’s also a short drive from so many larger cities like Chicago, Indy, and Columbus, so if you are craving some big city life without the expense of living there, it’s easy to make a weekend in one of the cities within a 3-4 hour drive.
What is your favorite thing to do in the city? I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends, both who are from the Fort and people who have moved here. The brewery scene has exploded, and I love it, so we tend to hit places like Summit City and Trubble to hang out. Some of the downtown events are cool, too. I’m super excited for the Mac & Cheese Festival coming up in October, and Germanfest is also quite fun. With the Clyde Theater opening and Piere's reopening, there have been a ton of concerts that I’ve been attending. It seems like more bands are making Fort Wayne a stop on tours. The local music scene is killer, as well. Sweetwater has so many musicians that the caliber of local music is insane. Like where else can you go to a small local show and see musicians who've played alongside the biggest names in the world?
If you could change something about Fort Wayne, what would it be? I feel we’re lacking a very vibrant, consolidated nightlife area. There are a ton of cool places to hang out, whether you want something like a club, a quiet pub, or some great food. But they all seem a little scattered from each other. The riverfront and GE may help solve this, but only time will tell with that. Also, public transport seems a little lacking. A trolly or tram system would be incredible, especially with the new downtown projects. Easily getting from GE to the riverfront would be a great addition to the projects.
Have you gotten involved in Fort Wayne somehow since you moved here? If so, how? When I first moved here, I didn’t get involved really at all. I only knew a couple of people and was mostly a homebody. Over time though, I’ve begun to try to buy more locally from smaller shops at the Barr Street Market and other locally owned places. Working for Sweetwater has certainly helped me get involved more mostly just by working alongside so many people that are heavily invested in the city. I did help with a FWCS Repair2 campaign (to help raise repair dollars for local schools) by creating video advertisements to push the referendum.
When you’re showing the city to friends and family, where do you like to take them? Before friends and family even come to the Fort, I mention the cost of living. They’re always floored at home and rent prices. When they do visit, I usually show them two things: the food and drink scene, as well as the music scene. I as mentioned above, I believe Sweetwater contributes to an incredible music scene, not only because of the employees, but the events that are sponsored by the company that add to the experience, too. The food options in Fort Wayne are great, as well: JK O'Donnell's, Acme, and one of the Halls locations are common stops when people are in town. The variety of local drinks is incredible. When my mom comes in, we usually go to Two-EEs since she likes wine. A couple weeks ago, a friend visited with a gluten allergy, so we did Three Rivers Distillery and Kekionga Cider Company, which have lots of gluten-free options. The final stop with friends is always dessert at either Yummi Bunni or DeBrands then straight on to the treadmill after they leave, haha!
Occupation: Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the City of Fort Wayne
How long have you lived in Fort Wayne? Almost 5 years.
What part of Fort Wayne do you live in? I live Southwest. Because of my job, I wanted to live as close to Indy as possible. I like it because there is very little traffic, and it is convenient to many amenities, including grocery stores, restaurants, and trails.
Where did you move from? I moved to Fort Wayne from Washington, D.C., but am originally from Monroeville, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Pittsburgh). After I graduated from law school, I worked for a law firm in Indianapolis, so I could be closer to my mom's side of the family (she's from Decatur). I found Indiana to be a great place to raise a family, but not the best place to be single if you aren't from here. An opportunity arose to move to D.C., which was a great place to be single, and I met my now husband only a few months after moving there.
What brought you to Fort Wayne? When my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family, I looked for a job in the Midwest and applied with Fort Wayne because it's close to my grandmother.
What did you know about Fort Wayne before you moved here? I knew it had an amazing children's zoo that I loved to visit when I was younger; I felt like I was really on a safari in those Jeeps. Also, I thought the medical community was top-notch as my grandfather was one of the first heart transplant recipients at the old Lutheran Hospital.
What was your first impression of Fort Wayne? Returning as an adult, I was impressed by how much potential is here. When I came for my interview, I could see the city was starting to experience a revitalization, and I wanted to be part of that.
Size-wise, how does Fort Wayne compare to where you used to live? At almost every stage of my life, I've lived in suburbia near an urban core, so I could enjoy the best of both worlds. Fort Wayne is big enough to draw national entertainment acts, yet small enough so we aren't overwhelmed by traffic. I miss using public transit and walking for my commute to downtown D.C., but I don't miss it taking 1 1/2 hours.
What is your favorite thing to do in the city? Foellinger Theatre concerts.
If you could change something about Fort Wayne, what would it be? First, I would make us the most family-friendly city in America, with policies that support working families like paid family leave and additional resources for caregivers, daycare workers, and teachers. Fort Wayne is known as an affordable place to raise a family, but I would do all I could to strengthen our village. About 40 percent of families in Allen County are considered Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) or at poverty level, so there is clearly a need to make this place better for more families. Second, I would encourage people to take as much pride in being a part of the city of Fort Wayne as we do in our individual neighborhoods or quadrants. We live in a 15-20 minute city, so there's no reason to be sequestered to our individual sections, and there is so much to experience in each part. Third, I would make our summers longer because we have lots of outdoor places to enjoy.
Have you gotten involved in Fort Wayne somehow since you moved here? If so, how? I just participated in my first Women's Build with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fort Wayne. Right now, I give more of my talent and treasure than my time, which is often spent chasing two toddlers when I'm not working.
When you’re showing the city to friends and family, where do you take them? Coney Island, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, and one of the city's parks. (Taylor's Dream Playground at Kreager Park is one of our favorites.