Mike McMullen’s father questioned his son’s sanity when McMullen moved to back in 2002.
“He said, ‘You’re crazy for moving way out there away from everything,’” McMullen said.
He moved to Missouri from Arizona after his minor leage baseball career ended to be closer to his dad, who lived in Chesterfield, and liked what he saw in O’Fallon.
“I don’t need to cross the bridge for anything,” said McMullen, now an insurance agent at Country Insurance in O’Fallon and varsity pitching coach for.
Three years later after McMullen moved to town, his dad moved to O'Fallon. They now live less than five miles apart.
There seem to be as many reasons for O’Fallon’s influx of residents as there are moving trucks in the newer neighborhoods.
O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy grew up in O’Fallon, lived in Lake Saint Louis and St. Charles for eight years, and moved back to the area in 1982 a few years after he was married. He can reel off the benefits of living in his hometown: the low crime rate; good public and private schools; and affordable, available housing.
Still the mayor said, the biggest attraction for newcomers may be that -- despite its growth -- O’Fallon retains a small-town atmosphere.
“It’s hard to explain. But everybody says 'hi' to everybody, everybody holds the door open for you,” Hennessy said. “It’s just a friendly town.”
Offer you can’t refuse
For Matt and Beth Kraner, O’Fallon made an offer they couldn’t refuse: more house for their money.
O’Fallon was closer to Matt’s dental practice in Wentzville, but the couple also found a good deal on a foreclosed home in 2008. For about $40,000 more than their Manchester home, they gained 1,200 more square feet, a fenced yard, a community pool, and neighbors their age, Kraner said.
According to the Census, the median value on owner-occupied homes is $201,800 in O'Fallon.
McMullen also like what he saw on the real estate scene in O'Fallon. He said a friend of his living in California has a home nearly identical to his, with the same square footage and number of bedrooms.
“His house cost $750,000; my house costs half that,” McMullen said. “Even in Chesterfield, when you compare apples to apples on houses, it might not be double, but it’s almost double the cost. The closer you get to downtown, the more the prices go up.”
McMullen said he believes his children are safer being further away from the city, and that’s a priority for him.
When the Kraners first moved back to the St. Louis area from Kansas City, they looked at housing in St. Charles County, but moved into the Manchester area.
“I did not want to move across the bridge (into St. Charles County)," said Beth Kraner. “I grew up in University City and I remembered the stigma about it: ‘There’s no character in the houses; it’s so far out there.’”
She said part of the the stigma about moving “across the bridge” into St. Charles County was everything St. Louis offers families was too far away – from the St. Louis Zoo and Grant’s Farm to the Magic House in Kirkwood. There was a die-hard opinion that St. Charles County didn’t have much to offer besides inexpensive housing.
But Kraner said that she still takes her kids to the zoo, the Magic House and other city attractions. It just takes 20 to 30 minutes more to get there. And the distance and drive time are not as bad as people think, she said.
“When friends would come to visit us (from St. Louis County) they’d always get here 15 to 20 minutes early,” Kraner said. “It was like they thought they’d need to bring snacks or stop for a restroom break on the way out here.”
She said most things her family wants are available in O’Fallon – from chain restaurants and stores to a gymnastics class and T-ball programs for her 4-year-old daughter, Kendal, and 2-year-old son, Justin.
“Yesterday, Kendal was outside playing with tons of kids in the neighborhood,” Kraner said.
“We met more neighbors in two months here than we did in three years at our old house,” she added. “We have a real sense of community here.”
McMullen’s son, Kaden, is 8 and his daughter Kallie is 5. As a father, he loves the abundance of young families and that so many other kids live nearby.
“Right when he gets home – maybe 15 minutes after he gets off the bus, he has friends coming over, and it’s ‘Let’s go play.’”
His son’s elementary school is close to their home in Patriots Landing. Kaden plays football and baseball in leagues in O’Fallon – and his daughter was in a gymnastics class.
“Everything I need is in a small area,” he said.
McMullen works out at across Highway K from his office at .
“ makes a killing off me. Walmart and make a killing off my girlfriend,” he said. "We changed to have our lawn service done by because I’d rather give my business to somebody local if I can."
On the infrequent occasions McMullen does cross the bridge – say to pay a visit to Busch Stadium or meet with friends in St. Louis – the drive isn’t bad, he said.
Next in the Patch Census Stories Series: Florissant. Look for the article on Florissant Patch on Friday, March 18.