Why did you move to Wabash? Transplants from bigger cities fill us in

About an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne, Wabash is home to a small rural community of about 10,000 residents with a growing downtown scene built on the arts. But you might be surprised to learn that some of this city’s newest residents are transplants from much bigger places.

From the East Coast to the Windy City, residents are relocating to Wabash for many reasons. So why do transplants choose Wabash? Where are they coming from? And what would they like to see happen in their new hometown?

Input Fort Wayne surveyed a handful of Wabash transplants to give you a snapshot of their perspectives. While their responses don’t speak for everyone, they do offer a glimpse into why some are choosing to call Wabash home.
 

Kristen Petruniw Kristen Petruniw grew up in Indianapolis before moving to Wabash 11 years ago and starting her family with her husband, Josh.

Age: 38
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom and Board of Directors member for the Wabash County Historical Museum and Wabash City Schools.
 
How long have you lived in Wabash? 
My husband Josh and I moved to Wabash almost eleven years ago.
 
What part of Wabash do you live in? 
We live on the Northwest side.
 
Where did you move from? Size-wise, how does Wabash compare to where you used to live? 
I grew up in Indianapolis, near Castleton. I lived in Bloomington during my undergrad, and after college, I lived in Fishers. So everywhere I lived before moving to Wabash was significantly larger than Wabash!
 
What brought you to Wabash? 
I accepted a job offer working as a school counselor in Marion in the summer of 2011. I had planned to commute from Fishers to Marion every day. My husband’s childhood friend had taken a position at a law firm previously known as Tiede, Metz, and Downs here in Wabash and had mentioned to my husband they needed another attorney. My husband decided to take the position at what is now known as Downs, Tandy and Petruniw.
 
What did you know about Wabash before you moved here? 
I knew nothing about Wabash when we moved here. We had two friends who lived here at the time, and we visited with them once or twice before deciding to move. My husband was worried such a small town would be a shock to my system! When we decided to move, I just knew that it would be a good decision. It has proven to be one of the best decisions we have made.
 
What was your first impression of Wabash when you arrived, and how have your feelings about the community evolved since then? 
When we first moved to Wabash, it felt very small. It also felt very “up and coming.” There were a lot of stores and restaurants that had just opened or were opening. There were community members investing in our community and refurbishing older buildings in town. Since we have moved here, not only are businesses and restaurants growing, they are thriving! More and more buildings are being renovated back to their gorgeous state. I have been beyond impressed by the love and dedication the people of Wabash have for our town!
 
What is your favorite thing to do in the Wabash community? 
My favorite thing about Wabash is the people I have met here. My husband and I don’t have family here, but our friends have become our family. Living in Wabash, we are all close by to each other. Our families can spend time with one another during the week and on short notice. My favorite thing to do here is spend that quality time with the friends we have made. 
 
If you could change something about Wabash, what would it be? 
Something great about the location of Wabash, is you are really close to some larger cities. It is a short drive to Warsaw, Kokomo, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis. There can be times when you want an additional restaurant or shop option. Knowing that these cities are just a short drive away makes up for that!
 
Have you gotten involved in Wabash’s community somehow since you moved here? If so, tell us how. 
Since moving to Wabash, I have joined the Wabash County Museum Board of Directors and have been there for a little over four years. I am so proud of where our museum has come since I first started. Our museum not only showcases our amazing history, but it also has an incredible children’s play space. I have spoken with families who have come from all over Northeast Indiana to see our museum. Our exhibits and programming are engaging for all ages. 
 
I have also recently joined the Wabash City Schools School Board. Wabash City Schools has many opportunities that you don’t see in many of the other school corporations in the state. Wabash City Schools has 100 percent of their high school graduates take the SAT for free during the school day. We offer a Dual Immersion Program that starts students in Pre-K learning Spanish 50 percent of their day. This currently continues all the way through 4th grade, and we are looking into it continuing through 8th. We also have approximately 83 percent of our students in extracurricular activities. These are just a few amazing things Wabash City Schools has to offer. I am proud that my kids will be Wabash Apaches!
 
When you’re showing your community to friends and family from out of town, where do you like to take them? 
When friends and family come to town, there are so many options of places to go! Wabash City Park, Friendship Hill Playground, Babe of Wabash County, the YMCA, and Wabash County Museum all have great places for our children to play! Market Street Grill, Harry’s Old Kettle Pub and Grill, Twenty at Charley Creek Inn, and soon-to-be Moon Dog Bar and Restaurant are all amazing places to pop in for a bite to eat. Then head to the Honeywell Center or Eagles Theatre for a live show or movie!
 

Isais Tactuk Isais Tactuk, right, moved to Wabash from Butler, New Jersey, to be closer to his fiancé Tiffany Stith, right.

Age: 35
Occupation: General Manager at Market Street Grill
 
How long have you lived in Wabash? 
I have been living in Wabash since July 6, 2021.
 
What part of Wabash do you live in? 
We live in a new development called South Point.
 
Where did you move from? Size-wise, how does Wabash compare to where you used to live? 
We moved from Butler, New Jersey, which is the North side of the state, about 30 minutes from NYC. Size-wise, Wabash is much smaller. I think Indiana, as a whole, is more spread out; whereas towns neighbor each other in New Jersey for most of the state.  
 
What brought you to Wabash? 
My fiancé Tiffany Stith actually grew up here. We met in New Jersey during a new store opening and hit it off. She had suggested moving closer to her family in Wabash when the opportunity in Market Street Grill came up. After viewing the pros and cons, we decided to make the move.
 
What did you know about Wabash before you moved here? 
I knew it had a small-town feel, that the people are kind, and that there is a lot of potential for the town’s growth.
 
What was your first impression of Wabash when you arrived, and how have your feelings about the community evolved since then? 
Honestly, my first impression was that everyone was so nice. I still feel that, I think more so, as I get to know more and more people. I can feel their sincerity.
 
What is your favorite thing to do in the Wabash community? 
I love the basketball leagues at the YMCA. I like the long country roads to take a drive. I love being able to walk around downtown on my days off and enjoy the rustic feel of the town.
 
If you could change something about Wabash, what would it be? 
I would want the town to continue to push the development side of things. I think it has more potential than they think. Reach for the stars, and then land on the moon.
 
Have you gotten involved in Wabash’s community somehow since you moved here? If so, tell us how.
My focus has been the restaurant, and we’ve done some things as a business for the community, like sponsoring the Chili Cook-Off, offering services to the town’s first Friday events, etc. My fiancé actually coached the 6th-grade basketball team at Sharp Creek, so that was nice to see, as well. She really focused on their development in the sport.
 
When you’re showing your community to friends and family from out of town, where do you like to take them?
I always say go through downtown, visit Market Street Grill (as it has the best food in town). The downtown area has some great local shops, coffee, retail, etc. Then I’d take them to the area around the dam, which is a great drive and view of the natural side of the area.
 
 

John & Melissa Conner John and Melissa Conner moved to Wabash from Fort Wayne and Chicago, respectively.

Ages: 39 and 35
Occupations: Dentist and stay-at-home mom
 
How long have you lived in Wabash? 
John moved to Wabash in 2011 (11 years ago), and Melissa moved here after we were married in 2017 (5 years ago).
 
What part of Wabash do you live in? 
We live five miles West of town on some acreage around Rich Valley. It’s a small railway community.
 
Where did you move from? Size-wise, how does Wabash compare to where you used to live? 
John lived in Fort Wayne after a residency in Fresno, CA. Melissa was a Chicago native, teaching middle school in the city before she relocated to Wabash. Fort Wayne population is about 270-350K, and Chicago is about 9 million compared to Wabash of about 10K people.
 
What did you know about Wabash before you moved here? 
John moved here in 2011 after taking over a dental practice which is now Conner
Dentistry. He didn’t know much other than it was a small town trying to improve and attract new young people. They had just built a state-of-the-art YMCA and had a very close-knit community seeming to be a mostly factory and farming community. Melissa knew John had made some great friends and built up a growing dental practice in Wabash by the time they got married.
 
What was your first impression of Wabash when you arrived, and how have your feelings about the community evolved since then? 
John’s first impression was that Wabash was a place ripe for making an impact and getting involved right away. People really want to be connected socially and to support each other here. They offer an open invite to staying connected and building friendships. The community continues to need new people and businesses to move here for it to grow and prosper. Friendships here are some of the deepest we have ever had, and we get to connect with people so often because we are in such close proximity to each other, and we are always looking for ways to get together.
 
What is your favorite thing to do in the Wabash community? 
The YMCA and Honeywell Center are real gifts to the community for staying connected and finding entertainment. We love going to local pubs, eating brunch at Twenty, and visiting friends at their houses. The new bike path along the river is a great place to ride or take a run with our three-year-old twin boys. We also love the new all-inclusive park for kids. Taking kids to Kelly’s Ice Cream shop is also a treat.
 
If you could change something about Wabash, what would it be? 
The housing market is severely lacking options, and some fresh new places to eat
would be nice. We would love for the schools to consolidate to bring greater resources of education in for our children in the future.
 
Have you gotten involved in Wabash’s community somehow since you moved here? If so, tell us how.
John served on the YMCA board for three years with his best friend, Clint, who was the YMCA CEO at the time. John was also part of a cycling group for years that helped launch the annual Dam-2-Dam 100 mile bike ride which has become one of the largest rides in Indiana. He continues to build and invest in his dental practice, Conner Dentistry, to continually improve the quality of dental care in Wabash. 
 
Melissa likes to stay involved and bring her twin boys, Jude and Levi, to the BABE of Wabash County organization, which helps new moms get a great start. She also enjoys taking her boys to the new Montessori school at Wabash Presbyterian Church.
 
When you’re showing your community to friends and family from out of town, where do you like to take them?
We’d take friends and family to the Honeywell Center for a show and the 950 Speakeasy Bistro in Lagro for a meal and a drink. We also like the YMCA to work out or take a swim with the kids.
 
Eagles Theatre for a movie or show, too.

Wabash is the focus of a new Partner City series in Input Fort Wayne underwritten by Visit Wabash County and Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.