It’s a small-town phenomenon: Parents raising kids on the same block where they grew up, with grandma, aunts, siblings and cousins all right around the corner. And it has been that way in small towns just about as long as anyone can recall.
But it’s also common here, with some families three or four generations deep, making our neighborhood feel more like a village and less like a big city.
Here’s a look at what’s bringing neighbors back home generation after generation, and a candid discussion about what it’s like having your in-laws living across the street.
What do you do when you’re Wendy Lucas, and you’ve suddenly run out of ketchup when you have friends over eating hot dogs? Run across the alley and borrow it from your parents, of course.
“We call it the Wheeler five and dime,” Wendy laughs, referring to the house her parents, Craig and Kay Wheeler, live in one block over.
Except for the few years she spent at A&M, Wendy has lived her entire life in Lake Highlands, and her parents have been in the area since 1974. Wendy and her husband, Carl, lived in the L Streets before relocating to a larger home two years ago to accommodate the birth of their third child.
Wendy says it wasn’t a conscious decision to live so close to her parents, but they knew they weren’t leaving Lake Highlands. Her parents saw a house a block over at an estate sale and told Wendy and Carl to take a look.
“We looked at it, and it was the right fit for us, and it was a bonus that we were that close to Mami and Poppy,” Wendy says.
What’s another perk of living so close to one another? Running into each other unexpectedly at the grocery store or the cleaners and passing one another on the street.
“On a weekly basis, we’ll be going different directions and see each other and honk,” Craig says.
Plus it’s easy to set up a spur of the moment mother/daughter shopping trip.
“We shop, a lot,” Kay chuckles, looking at Wendy, who nods in agreement.
Craig says he and Kay love having their daughter’s family over.
“It’s fun,” he says. “We feel like we’ve been incredibly blessed by having them this close.”
One of Craig’s favorite memories is the time he and Wendy spent running together early in the morning, training for the Lake Highlands 5K, something that was possible because they live so close together.
“We’d get up at 6 a.m., and I’d pick her up at the house and we’d go run,” he says.
Carl and Wendy’s children say they love living close to their grandparents, too. One day, they told their middle son he would have to stay at his grandparents’ house instead of going with the family to see the Texas Rangers play if his attitude didn’t improve. He lit up, asking, “Could I? Could I just stay with Mami and Poppy?”
“They see them all the time,” Wendy says, laughing, “but it never gets old.”
It’s the Lake Highlands community spirit, good schools, authentic people and great location that kept them in the area, Wendy says, adding that she loves being around friends she has known her whole life.
“Really it’s just like the good old days, you know?” she says, “And letting your kids relive it.”
Kent and Ruth Adams have lived in Lake Highlands for so long that Ruth still remembers telling their daughter, Kari Urban, not to feed the horses on Church Street.
Now Kari is all grown up with a husband and three children of her own, living just five blocks from her parents and her childhood home.
Although Kari left Lake Highlands to attend Baylor University and moved a few times after graduation, she came back to the area 18 years ago after marrying her husband, Bryan Urban.
She says she wanted to move back to Lake Highlands for various reasons, the main one being what she called the great “community feel” Lake Highlands has while still having the advantage of being in a big city. She says she loves seeing people she knows while out running errands or attending events.
“It seemed like a very comfortable feeling of coming home,” Kari says.
Having her parents in the area didn’t hurt either, and her family members say they enjoy living so close to one another.
“I think it’s great for us to just be able to spend time together and for the kids to really know their grandparents and get to spend time with them,” Kari says.
Kent has a more practical reason for why he likes living near his daughter and her family.
“It’s close to borrow things. Bryan’s got all the tools you’d ever want,” he says as his family laughs.
It’s not just Kari who lives near her parents. Kent’s 93-year-old mother lives at White Rock Court retirement community just a few blocks away from the rest of the family.
“We really have four generations within a mile,” Ruth says.
Kent and Ruth’s son, Lance Adams, didn’t move too far away, either: He and his family live in nearby Highland Park.
Sunday lunches out have become a regular date for the Adams/Urban family, though they laugh when asked about family traditions.
“I don’t think I would consider any traditions,” Ruth says. “It’s just all the time.”
They have a similar reaction when the subject of boundaries comes up.
“Yeah, there’s no boundaries,” Bryan says jokingly.
Both families have keys to each other’s houses and have no qualms about walking in and making themselves comfortable.
Ruth says the best thing about living so close to her daughter’s family is what she calls accountability for her grandchildren.
“As they grow older, they know that not only are their parents caring about everything they do, but their grandparents are, and their great grandmother is,” she says.
They all agree the multi-generational trend in Lake Highlands is a good one.
“I think it sustains the community feel,” Bryan says.
If you’re looking for the largest family living in Lake Highlands, it’s probably a good idea to start with Jimmy and Mary Jane Strawn’s family.
With two daughters and their husbands, six grandchildren, Mary Jane’s mother and sister, as well as various in-laws in the neighborhood, their Lake Highlands roots are strong.
The Strawns and their four children — Lynn, Amy, Laura and Ryan — moved to Lake Highlands from the Lakewood area in 1977 and were followed a couple of months later by Mary Jane’s mom, Doris Anschuetz, who previously lived in Oak Cliff.
Lynn and Amy both left Dallas for college, lived in the M Streets after graduation and bought homes in Lake Highlands right after they were married.
Laura and Ryan stayed close as well and live in homes down the street from one another in Uptown. In fact, Laura, her husband, Mark Whitfield, and their 1-year-old son are house hunting in our neighborhood.
Each family member has a different reason why they enjoy living near each other, but clearly it comes down to the fact that they enjoy each other’s company.
“We really get along,” Mary Jane says. “It’s just support.”
Among birthday celebrations, football games, holidays, the kids sporting events, and everything else, the family says they see each other at least once or twice a week. You would think after all that togetherness they might be glad go out of town and get away from one another, but that’s not the case.
“We even go on vacation together,” Mary Jane says, laughing. “It’s really kind of sick.”
Despite their closeness, the family still has boundaries that keep anyone from overstepping.
“We don’t just walk into each other’s houses,” Lynn says.
Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working. Amy’s husband, Brandon, says he’s so happy with their setup that he’s trying to recruit his mother to move here, too.
One unfortunate day, Kelley Huebner found herself locked out of her house looking through the window at her 2-year-old daughter, Lilli, who was sitting inside eating cereal.
Fortunately, her in-laws live right up the street, and her father-in-law was at her door in a matter of minutes with a spare key.
That was a few years ago, but Kelley and her husband, Jeff, still consider themselves fortunate to be living just a five-minute walk away from Jeff’s parents, Ray and Glee Huebner. His parents feel the same way.
“We love having them this close,” Glee says.
In 1982, when Jeff was in ninth grade, Ray retired from the Marines and began working in the electronics industry, which brought them to the Dallas area. Glee said it was a combination of the location, RISD schools and the “comfortable” feel of the neighborhood that convinced them to buy in Lake Highlands.
After Jeff graduated from high school and left for A&M, Ray and Glee rented out their house in Lake Highlands and followed Ray’s job to Saudi Arabia, Germany and Saudi Arabia for nine years.
“Not only did we have an empty nest, but we packed up the nest and took it away,” Glee jokes.
In 1995, the couple returned to the home in Lake Highlands where they’ve lived ever since.
Glee says they returned to the states because their daughter, Kris, was having twins, and they wanted to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives. Because the family moved around a lot, Kris and Jeff were never able to be as close to their grandparents as they would’ve liked.
“We were determined that we were not going to have to suffer that same thing,” Glee says.
Although Kris, her husband and her three children now live a little farther away in Decatur, Ray and Glee are still close to all their grandchildren, particularly Lilli, who is lucky enough to be right down the street in a house that Glee found for Jeff and Kelley right after they were married.
“You can say that my mother has worked at keeping us close to her,” Jeff laughs.
As evidenced by their unabashed tendencies to finish each other’s sentences and jump in on one another’s stories, the family is close in every sense of the word — close enough for weekly meals together and for Lilli to enjoy frequent outings with Ray, but not so close that they get on each other’s nerves.
“It’s not like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’,” Jeff laughs.
“We are far enough away that we don’t interfere with each other’s lives,” Glee agrees.
It’s Friday night, and Freddie Halstead just asked his wife, Amy Caron-Halstead, if she wants to go out.
“Are we going out with our best friends?” she asks.
No, she’s not referring to old college friends or the couple next door; she’s talking about Freddie’s parents, Fred and Donna Halstead, who live just a few minutes away.
That’s just one more piece of evidence that the Halstead clan is about as close-knit as a family can be.
Fred and Donna have lived in Lake Highlands since 1975, and both of their children, Freddie Halstead and Julie Peek, have lived in the area most of their lives.
After college, Freddie thought his career might take him to another city, but when that didn’t happen, he says there was no doubt in his mind he would live in Lake Highlands.
Similarly, Julie says she always hoped to move back to Lake Highlands when she was ready to settle down.
“I really love being close to family. It’s really special,” she says.
For some families (Amy says hers is a good example), living so close together may not be a great idea.
“The dynamics in my family are a lot different than the dynamics in this family,” Amy says. “There’s no way my family would live that close together.”
The Halstead family is a different breed, and they all have nothing but great things to say about what it’s like to live so close together.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Oooh, how does that work out living so close to your parents?’” Julie says.
“I can honestly say there has never been an issue.”
Amy agrees, saying she loves living so close to all of her in-laws.
“I feel like one of their own,” she says, choking on her emotions a bit. “Their homes feel like my homes. And what’s so great about it is that you can be together anytime you want to be together.”
And together they are. They gather at each other’s houses for family dinners, and it’s not uncommon for them to drop in on one another at home, though Donna says she and Fred always call ahead to make sure they’re not invading their children’s privacy.
Admittedly, Julie and Freddie are more lax about calling ahead when dropping by their parent’s house.
“Sometimes the advance is they’ve walked in the door, and they’re calling out in case someone’s unclothed or something,” Fred says, laughing about his children’s unexpected visits.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of walking in the back door and ‘hey!’” Freddie says.
Living close to one another includes guaranteed help on all their household projects, free meals every once in a while, and free babysitting and quality time with their grandparents for Ellie and Ashley, daughters of Julie and her husband, Scott Peek.
“Just being close is great for our kids,” Scott says. “It’s something we probably take for granted and will appreciate more as we get older and reflect back.”
As someone who grew up in a big family with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins running around, Donna says she loves knowing everyone in her family is only a stone’s throw away.
“I never in my life would’ve dreamed that God would give us such an incredible gift, as to have our children close enough that we can have adult relationships with them and really have the kind of close-knit family that rarely exists these days,” Donna says.