Figuring out where to put down roots – particularly when you have a family – can be a stressful, fraught decision, to say the least, so Metromode recently checked in with some local residents to hear their respective answers to the question, “Why Farmington?”
Some came from another place entirely. Some (nicknamed “boomerangs”) lived in this area as kids, then found themselves drawn back to Farmington. Here we chat with five of them to find out what brought them to (or back to) Farmington.
Meet Jeff Truant
Jeff Truant and his wife, Antionette, both grew up in Windsor. They got married and lived in Chicago for a time before Truant’s work brought him to Michigan. The couple aimed to find a place close to Truant’s workplace in Livonia and within easy range of both their parents, still in Windsor and the amenities that a city has to offer.
“We knew we wanted a place with a good-sized yard, enough space, and bedrooms to accommodate a couple of kids (we didn’t think we’d end up with four), and very close to schools,” says Truant, who works as a VP for Comerica. “The fact that our place is a 10-15 minutes walk from downtown Farmington was a huge bonus, particularly when we found out about the parades, Founders Fest, etc.”
According to Truant, the local school system’s reputation added to Farmington’s appeal, as did its mix of residents. “The visible diversity was something we considered a good thing, although coming from Chicago, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary,” says Truant, who also noted that he and his wife feel they “lucked out” when they stumbled upon Farmington. “ … We loved how quiet things were/are, and we’ve found ninety percent of the people to be exceedingly friendly and welcoming. The downtown social scene is great. We love that our kids can play outside without us monitoring them every second.”
Meet Jennifer Tomlinson
Perhaps no one was more surprised to find herself in back in Farmington than Jennifer Tomlinson, Farmington’s Deputy Clerk (and mom of three). Tomlinson had been 15 when she first moved with her mom to Farmington from Dearborn Heights, and she wasn’t a fan.
“Farmington was different back in the mid-90s than it is today,” says Tomlinson. “ … It felt like old people central. … I worked at Daman Hardware (where Fresh Thyme is now located) – I’d walk to work – and I didn’t have many friends. It was social suicide to move in high school, so I just wore all black and sat in the back of the class and didn’t talk to anyone. … I thought it was a dull, lame place to live, and I hated every second of it.”
Jennifer Tomlinson. Photo by David Lewinski.
She left town to attend Western Michigan University – “I hardly ever came home, because I felt like I didn’t connect with people here,” says Tomlinson – and then lived for a time in Florida and California before returning to Michigan. Even then, though, Tomlinson lived in Lake Orion, Waterford, and Macomb before the housing market collapsed.
“Our nice, family-oriented neighborhood (in Macomb) became awful,” says Tomlinson. “My mom told me about this house across the street from her that had been foreclosed and was sitting empty. She says, ‘It’d be a great place for you to live,’ and I say, ‘Are you kidding me? I don’t want to live in Farmington.’ … I was really skeptical. My experience was that it was a really boring place to live. But then we moved here, and I started getting involved with my kids’ school and everything, and things had changed downtown. When the brewery was coming in, and Los Tres (Amigos) opened – It started feeling like a place where I wanted to hang out.”
Plus, being in a town where so much was in walking distance helped Tomlinson lose the fifty-plus pounds she’d put on while having three kids in three years. “Even if I’m not going to an event, I walk all the time,” she says. “I’ll go for a walk and watch the kids dance (at Swing Farmington at Riley Park), or I’ll watch people ice skate and stop and get a coffee at Starbucks. … I love being able to walk around and know people and say ‘hi.’”
Meet Marylou Stropoli
Others who’ve returned to Farmington had more positive memories, even though it had a different look and feel when they were kids.
The family of MaryLou Stropoli – who works in the children’s department of the Farmington Hills library, and can often be spotted at the Farmington Farmers’ Market selling That Art Girl NicheBoards (small wooden blocks with printed images for coloring with colored pencil or paint) and/or her family’s delicious Mother Mary’s Toffee – moved here in 1972.
Mary Lou Stropoli. Photo by David Lewinski.
“The town was pretty quiet back then,” says Stropoli. “There were dirt roads that are now paved. … I thought it was a great place to grow up. We used to ride our bikes (sans parents) up to Drake and Grand River, when there were lots of stores to visit, and then to downtown Farmington when we felt more brave.”
When Stropoli fell in love with and married a man from New Jersey, she moved to the Garden State, became an art teacher, and started a family.
“I loved living in New Jersey – until we had kids,” says Stropoli. “The minute we did, I tried to convince my husband into coming back. He wanted nothing to do with it, and it took 8 years to talk him into it. … He wanted nothing to do with the cold, not to mention an ocean-less existence. And I hated the idea of leaving our beach resort town, but I got the feeling that life was moving too fast there. I wanted my kids to have the same kind of upbringing that I did, so we came back here, literally to my childhood backyard.”
Even so, much had changed in Stropoli’s absence. But sometimes, change can be good.
“(Farmington) was not a multicultural town while I was growing up, and upon my return, I wasn’t interested in raising my kids in a homogenized setting,” says Stropoli. “I was glad to see that Farmington now has a rich mixture of cultures, much like the area we’d just left. In addition, I took note of the longevity of its residents. It seems like people stay here for the long haul.”
And many of the things Stropoli had missed – the libraries, the parades, the quaint downtown – were still here, fully intact. “Many years have passed, but so much of it is still comfortably familiar.”
Meet Don Milewski
“My brother and I loved (Farmington),” says Don Milewski, a shipping and receiving manager who grew up, from the age of 9, across the street from FHS. “Shiawassee Park was nearby, and we met good kids that became friends. Farmington was really good for us growing up, as it was in the middle of everything we did.”
After graduating, Milewski moved to Redford, then traveled around the country as a salesman before returning to Michigan (Commerce Township, specifically). When he and his wife started looking for a home, Farmington had appeal largely because of its proximity to their workplaces.
“I also had remembered that it was a great school system, and had good neighborhoods,” says Milewski. “ … When a house became available on a street that my brother lived on, we decided that it must be fate.”
Milewski and his wife are now raising two young daughters here. “I love that I can take the girls downtown for the parade, run into some of my old high school friends and their families, and sit with them for the duration,” says Milewski. “Or I casually run into my old musical director coming out of the bakery, and she remembers my first audition. Or seeing some new friends at the farmers’ market and chatting for a minute. It’s not a small town, but it has a lot of those sentiments for me.”
And perhaps more than anything, Milewski is glad to see his kids thriving in Farmington. “I know one of the keys for that is to surround yourself with good, kind, and loving people, and Farmington has mostly always provided that for me, so I can only hope they have the same chances, if not more.
Meet Ericka Neal
Ericka Neal, meanwhile, grew up in the Boston area and spent a few years living in Washington, D.C. as an adult. She’d always staunchly considered herself a “city girl” before moving to Farmington.
“I’d get on a train – that was my form of commuting,” says Neal. “Or I rode my bike to work in D.C. I was always in a city. And then we moved to Virginia, and it was the complete opposite of that. I had a breakdown. I said, ‘I can’t do it. I cannot live here.’ It just never felt like home to me.”
Neal’s husband Michael then got the opportunity to purchase a Novi-based disability management company.
“This was supposed to be a five-year deal,” says Neal of her family’s move to Michigan. “He would build up this (disability management company he’d purchased), and then I had my heart set on moving back to Massachusetts. But once Iris (their eldest child) started school, we kind of began to change our thoughts on that. We really liked the community around us, and the friends we’d made.”
Ericka Neal. Photo by David Lewinski.
Coming from out of state, with young kids and no familial safety net, had been hard initially, but upon entering the school system and getting more integrated, “I started thinking, ‘This is it,’” says Neal. “I became totally set on living here. … I know I can rely on other parents to help me out in a jam and vice versa.”
Neal appreciated that Farmington’s close proximity to Detroit and Ann Arbor made lots of things easily accessible, but she also liked that the town had its own things to offer. “Prior to moving here, we looked at Plymouth and Northville, but they just weren’t our speed,” says Neal. “We looked at Livonia, but it didn’t have a downtown, so there wasn’t much appeal for me there. … We spent four or five days looking for a place to live, then I went back to Virginia while Michael was commuting back and forth. He took time after he got off work to go around to different cities and towns, and when he found Farmington, he texted me and says, ‘I found it. I found the perfect town.’”