Small city in Missouri is one family’s destination for starting a new life
SMITHVILLE, MO. Carol and Vaughn Gilson figured they had no other option than to move.
When Vaughn got notice of a transfer to the General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., he had to make a decision fast.
He went to his wife’s dog grooming business and asked Carol to sit down before he spilled the news.
“Her jaw dropped to the ground,” Vaughn recalled. “We kind of went numb. We did not know what to say or think.”
Vaughn, laid off from the Janesville GM plant, had two weeks to report to the new job. Some Janesville workers at the Kansas City plant have decided to commute, while their families remain in Rock County. Carol and Vaughn did not want to be separated during the week. They chose to tear up lifetime roots in Janesville and move together.
“I can’t picture my life any other way,” Carol said. “I can’t be separated from my husband. I guess it is a cliché, but I believe in standing by your man. We have been married 20 years, and I did not think tearing the family apart was an option.”
Vaughn, 46, started at the Fairfax plant in July. Today, the Gilsons rent a split-level duplex, decorated with a fresh Christmas tree, in the quiet community of Smithville, Mo. Located 12 miles north of Kansas City, Smithville has about 6,000 residents and is home to 7,200-acre Smithville Lake.
“We chose the town because it reminds us a lot of Milton,” Vaughn said. “It’s small and has a lake about half the size of Koshkonong.”
He enjoys seeing deer, wild turkeys and wild geese on the rolling terrain of western Missouri.
“I’m happy I did it,” Vaughn said of leaving Janesville, where he grew up, graduated from Craig High School in 1982 and still owns a home.
He can retire in six years, but he and Carol have no definite plans after that. They may move to the Rockies or stay put.
Moving with Carol and Vaughn were their 12-year-old and 20-year-old daughters and a grandson. Vaughn believes his daughters will eventually put down roots and come to view the area as home.
Still, the transition was hard.
Carol, 43, was born and raised in Janesville. She owned a dog-grooming business called Canine Creations and left behind almost 1,200 clients.
Vaughn also grew up in Janesville and worked at the GM plant for more than 23 years. At the Fairfax plant, he is employed with other transfers from around the country, including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas.
“They say to me: ‘You have an accent,’” Vaughn said. “I say: ‘No, I don’t. You have the accent.’”
Both Carol and Vaughn left behind family members, including a son and two grandchildren; their mothers; aunts and uncles; and sisters, nieces and nephews.
To ease the transition for their 12-year-old daughter, they relocated to an area where one of her classmates had moved.
“We were concerned about our daughter leaving all her friends,” Vaughn said. “We were concerned there might be problems, but she has adapted very well.”
The friendly people of western Missouri have impressed Carol and Vaughn.
“They make us feel so welcome,” Carol said. “They are happy to have us. As soon as they saw our U-Haul in the driveway, several neighbors came to help us unpack. They also have cookouts and told us to just come on by.”
On the flip side, Carol misses her family and friends in Janesville.
“It was not easy to leave,” she said. “But we are looking on this as an adventure, not so much as the end of something. We have to do what we have to do. We came home (to Janesville) for Thanksgiving. And we are coming back again for the holidays.”
Carol has found a job as a teacher’s aide at a Montessori school in Smithville.
“I love it,” she said. “I had a daycare center in my home for many years before the pet-grooming business. I always hoped I could work with kids again, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
She would be happy to see other Janesville residents move to the area.
“We’ve told people to come on down,” Carol said. “We have plenty of room for you.”
Vaughn is still confused about which place to call home, but he has adapted well.
“At first, we were going into uncharted waters,” he said. “We did not know what to expect. We did not know about the people or the housing. We came in blind. But we have found so many interesting things in Kansas City. It’s mind boggling. There are so many things to do.
“We miss Janesville, but we are both really happy to have jobs.”