After our family made our move in June of 2011 to Rolla, many friends from St. Louis, or “the Lou” as it is sometimes affectionately called, asked us, “How do you like Rolla?” That became the million dollar question! If any of our kids were asked, they would probably have groaned and began their list of complaints: there’s no mall, no Fritz’s, the zoo is far away, the Muny is far away, Busch Stadium is far away, there’s no Target, no Michael’s, no Penn Station…
To be fair to our kids, being born near a large city, growing up in the suburbs of a large city, there are a lot of amenities in that kind of area and that is all they knew. It is nice to be able to hop in the car, or take a trip on Metrolink, and go to a baseball game, hockey game, or see a show coming in from Broadway at the Fabulous Fox Theatre downtown. I ,too, missed some of the shopping venues the greater St. Louis area offered and have learned to research online where the closest Target or Toys R Us store is, and then have had that internal, and sometimes external, debate:”Is it really worth the gas to make that 2 hour drive just to shop at such and such store? Do I really need that item? Is there a similar item at a local store? Can I order it online?” That is probably the biggest thing I have had to get used to. I am very glad Rolla did get a Kohl’s store and has a very nice JC Penney’s in town. Now if a Target could be brought in and a Michael’s store and a Penn Station…hint, hint, City Council members and Mayor!!
The question resonated a bit differently for my husband and I, comparing life in a big city area to life in a town of 19,559. My husband saw the immediate value of lower property taxes, less traffic snarls, but would probably admit that the slower pace of life in Rolla did take a bit to get used to. I would agree with his assessments, and also note that the land is different. It is hillier here, with curvy roads especially on rural drives, stonier soils, lots of clear water running in creeks and springs, occasional black bear sightings. As we are at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains here, and Arkansas is only a 3 to 3 and a half hour drive away, there is a distinctive twang, a bit of a Southern drawl-like sound to my Northwest Ohio born and raised ears that I catch when some Rolla area folks are talking. I have also noticed that there is a more of a conservative view on life here when compared to St. Louis and it’s surrounding environs. North St. Louis County, where we moved from, almost all political offices were and are still held by Democrats, and unions have a heavy influence there. I would say it’s the exact opposite in Phelps County and Rolla. If the election for the President had been decided in this town, Mr. Romney would be sitting in the Oval Office, and not President Obama.
St. Louis has many colleges and universities in its midst, all vying for students. In Rolla, one dominates all of the rest, and is a major employer of the town: Missouri University of Science and Technology, or MS&T. In 1870 the school was begun, under the title of the University of Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy. As the school grew in size, expanded it’s degrees, added research and more buildings, it had another name change in 1964 to University of Missouri-Rolla, or UMR. In January of 2008, the university once again changed it’s name to MS&T, much to the ire of alumni. My husband works with several alumni and they still refer to their college alma mater as UMR! Irregardless of the name, it provides an interesting contrast to the rural aspects of Rolla. Many students are here from other countries and it is fascinating to me when I observe a group of foreign students at a local grocery store or the ubiquitous Wal-Mart, shopping and chatting away in their native tongue. I wish I could understand their languages when that happens. What do they think of life in America so far? The university has a nice theatre, Leach Theatre, and they do a pretty decent job at bringing in outside entertainment groups for not only the students but for the entire community. Leach also shows free movies and documentaries during the main two semesters on Tuesday evenings, which as a fan of classic movies, that is a nice plus!
Probably the only thing our family does agree on is the library. Rolla’s library tries very hard to serve the public, but when one compares it to the St. Louis County Library system, it pales in the comparison. If I could have a magic wand, I would wave more monies to Rolla’s Library so they could be come a mini-STL County branch library! That would be wonderful to behold! To be fair, the librarians and employees at Rolla’s library work hard and are very helpful, always ready to answer a question, so in that respect, they aren’t as grumpy as some of the STL’s County branch librarians and employees were who we encountered off and on for 20 years. MS&T has a library open to the public, but I haven’t explored it yet. I have visions of it only being full of books on engineering, physics, chemistry, quantum physics, nuclear power, mining, calculus, etc.
Other than finding a house to live in, our family’s other priority was to find a church to worship at and to grow our faith in. We had been very active members at First Christian Church in Florissant for 20 years, and saying goodbye to that church and all of our friends there was and has been the hardest part of leaving the St. Louis area behind. Providentially, a very good friend in Florissant happened to be good friends with the Youth Minister at a church in Rolla, Greentree Christian Church. Another Florissant friend was also friends with the Children’s Minister at Greentree. Through those two new to us ministers, they helped tremendously in aiding our teens and our elementary-aged son become acclimated to the church, and in helping them to make some connections with teens and kids at the church. This connection, we believe, was God-directed and it has been a blessing to us in making the transition from a larger community to a smaller one.
To sum up, life in St. Louis has the plus of lots to do for entertainment, shopping, eating out, all close at hand. It also has the downsides of traffic(but honestly, have you ever driven in Chicago? Chicago traffic makes St. Louis’s look like child’s play!), higher taxes, and higher crime rates. Life in Rolla is definitely at a slower pace, lower taxes, less traffic, and an interesting mix of people: people from this area of South-Central Missouri, people from other countries and from other parts of the state attending the University, farmers, Amish(there is a growing Amish community); folks working hard to make a living, to do right for their families, raising their children, worshiping God, proud to be from this area of the United States. And, I add, whatever you do, don’t pronounce the town’s name “Roll-uh”. It’s Rall-uh, sort of like Raleigh, but with a Missouri twist.