Harrisonburg's Grandparent Influx

Aug 15, 2018

Bruce Stambaugh (right) and his wife, Neva, moved to Harrisonburg in 2017 from Ohio to be closer to their grandchildren Maren (center), Davis (left) and Evan (not pictured).
Credit Andrew Jenner

It’s the time of year when college students come flooding back into Harrisonburg. But that’s not the only age group flocking in.  WMRA’s Andrew Jenner reports.

[Fade in Bruce Stambaugh interacting with his grandkids]

Eight-year-old Maren Bert whiles away a bright, hot afternoon launching paper airplanes off the back deck. That’s her Papi in the background. Her Nana’s nearby, too, and Maren’s been seeing a lot of them this summer. Here’s her very favorite thing to do with her grandparents:

MAREN BERT: Probably play dominoes at their house. I’m really happy that they moved here.

“Here” is Harrisonburg, home to Papi and Nana – known to the rest of us as Bruce and Neva Stambaugh – since May, 2016.

BRUCE STAMBAUGH: We moved here from Millersburg, Ohio, right in the middle of Amish country. We lived there all of our adult lives.

So, why the change?

STAMBAUGH: Well, a lot of people asked us that question, and the answer is simply, our grandkids.

The Stambaughs have three grandchildren – Maren and her two brothers. Even though they often made the six-hour drive from Ohio, now they can play much more regular roles in the kids’ lives.

STAMBAUGH: We like the spontaneous things too, of “Can you pick up Evan from baseball practice, or take one of them to the dentist?” It seems incidental, but those things are really important because at this point in our lives, that really becomes our mission.

We usually think of Harrisonburg as a college town. But its incoming grandparent class is pretty big, too.

SHARON SHOWALTER: I’m Sharon Showalter, and I moved to Harrisonburg when we retired, mostly because our children and grandchildren are here.

DENNIS SHOWALTER: There are at least four families on our street that have moved back to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

That’s her husband Dennis, across the kitchen table. The Showalters went to college here, then moved away for 40 years before family pulled them back as well.

SHARON SHOWALTER: We wanted to be a support to our kids. So spur of the moment babysitting, if a child is sick and they can’t go to school or daycare, we can be there, so there was a lot of intentional purpose in coming back to help support the kids during this stage in their life.

The Census Bureau estimates that about 700 people 55 and older moved to Harrisonburg between 2012 and 2016. That’s approaching 10 percent of its total 55-and-over population – on the high end for cities in the region.

JAYNE SCHLABACH: I would say in the course of a year, I probably talk to a half a dozen folks that are coming here specifically in retirement to be close to their children and grandchildren.

Jayne Schlabach, a realtor with the Funkhouser Real Estate Group, has been selling homes here for more than 30 years. Last year, about a fifth of her buyers fit this moving grandparent mold, attracted both by family and the area’s other perks.

SCHLABACH: It’s always eye-opening when I have somebody in my car and they’re oohing and aahing at the scenery across the Valley and over to the mountains, and I have to sort of pause and go, ‘Oh yeah, I live with this every day!’

SHARON SHOWALTER: Harrisonburg has the feel of a small town but the benefits of a larger city with all the things you can take part in…

DENNIS SHOWALTER: …the mountains here we really enjoy…

STAMBAUGH: ...I enjoy birding, photography, I can do all of those here…

SHARON SHOWALTER: …the mixing of generations…

STAMBAUGH: …the people are very friendly, the culture is incredible, there’s lots of history…

DENNIS SHOWALTER: …We do have a lot more diversity here. It’s fun being part of the different cultures here…

SHARON SHOWALTER: …and it’s just a beautiful area.

Add a few grandkids to the mix, and it’s hard to stay away.

STAMBAUGH: Even though we had to kind of sever some regular contacts with people that we know and love, it really feels good at this point in your life to kind of start over and refocus. And once you get out of those previous routines, you discover that there is a lot of life left to explore, and it’s really fun to do that with your grandkids.