The Greater Manhattan, Kansas, region draws people from all over the country and the world to live, study and work. Some residents assume their stay will be a short one, that greener pastures will beckon, that hometowns or new opportunities will lure them away from the Flint Hills of Kansas.
Perhaps surprisingly, once they’ve alighted in this beautiful pocket of the Midwest, many previous short-timers turn into vocal advocates for making Greater Manhattan their permanent home. Whether their reasons revolve around business, family or community culture, this area snags thousands who fall in love with its charms.
Read more below from folks who landed here as newcomers and stayed as fans.
BRENDA AND WARD MORGAN
Co-owners of CivicPlus, Phone Connection, ICON Investments, 324 Speakeasy, and Tallgrass Taphouse.
I was born and raised in Manhattan, and Ward originally moved to Manhattan to attend K-State (from western Kansas) but ended up staying here.
After we were married and Ward graduated, we moved to Salina, Kansas, to work but came back after 18 months to start a new business, Networks Plus, with a co-worker from Salina. We were surprised by how much we missed living here when we moved (not even that far away!) for that short period of time.
We thought Manhattan would be a good place to open a technology business because we could hire quality employees with K-State and Fort Riley nearby. With that good pool of potential employees, we thought we could do things a little better than others were doing.
We also envisioned a work, eat, live and play environment near our downtown business, which explains why we’ve branched out into investing in the local hospitality scene and why we’ve partnered with other local entrepreneurs.
We really like that it’s a friendly, small community. There are lots of amenities that you can get to really quickly that you can’t when you live or work in a big city. It’s a great place to raise a family, and both our kids are now K-State students.
We enjoy working with various organizations in town, which is very rewarding, and we always encourage others to do the same. We love going to the K-State games and attending performances at McCain Auditorium.
City Commissioner, City of Manhattan; Teacher, Manhattan-Ogden USD383 (leave of absence currently).
I moved to Manhattan in 1992. My ex-husband's job brought us to Manhattan. I didn't know much about it but visited here a couple of times before he accepted a faculty job at K-State. I was surprised by how friendly everyone was and the neighborhood was perfect to raise our children. There was a balance of university and community environment. Building relationships was easy with our neighbors.
I thought we would be living here only five years, but 28 years later, I’m still here! My children received a wonderful education in our schools and were able to participate in a variety of sports and other activities. They formed lifelong friendships. I found the love of my life in Manhattan and married for the second time. This is our home.
I became more active by joining Rotary and other organizations. The residents of Manhattan have elected me twice to serve as their city commissioner and to serve as mayor twice. This vote of confidence is something I don’t take for granted.
Ogden Elementary School gave me the opportunity to teach some of our most vulnerable children. I get to work with a group of compassionate and dedicated faculty and staff.
I think we have room for improvement. We need to work on becoming more inclusive and bring voices to the table that don't typically get invited or are overlooked. Kansas and specifically, Manhattan, is losing population. We need to figure out how to change that.
Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors for National Alliance on Mental Illness; President of Community Action Against Human Trafficking (CAAHT); Rotary Club; American Association for University Women Executive Committee; Riley County Mental Health Task Force; and Friends of McCain Board of Directors.
Artistic Director, The Columbian Theatre, Wamego, Kansas
I’m a native Kansan, originally from Fort Scott. I moved to Manhattan in 1999 as a freshman at Kansas State University. I graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s in musical theatre, then later I got a master’s in directing. I first became familiar with Manhattan because of my participation in the Summer Choral Institute, a KSU Music Department workshop for high school students.
I was surprised by the diversity here. A lot of this is due to K-State. We have Asian and African American communities, plus lots of international students to engage with. We also have an LGBTQ community that organizes a yearly PRIDE event as well as an artistic community that includes many local bands.
I’m often asked, with my career, why I stay in a smaller community. There are so many opportunities to enrich the arts and entertainment of this region by engaging youth and our many subcultures. The Columbian Theatre, where I work, was established as a beacon of cultural activity for Wamego and the surrounding communities. The Columbian sports artwork from the 1893 Worlds Fair collected by the original builder, J.C. Rogers.
The arts community always wants to see new faces! We have lots of opportunities to be a part of the Manhattan Arts Center, The Columbian, McCain Auditorium, youth theatre and be a theatre patron. I don't think we do enough in our region to engage minority groups and encourage involvement in the artistic community. Representation matters. It enriches the quality of the programming we produce for this community.
If you’re thinking about moving here, consider how close you want to be to K-State activities. How close you live to campus or the football stadium can influence the flow of your day.
JANET AND TONY NICHOLS
Janet Nichols, Military Community Liaison, Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Tony Nichols, Artist and Owner, Kickin’ Glass Kansas.
We moved to Manhattan in July 2007. At the time Tony was a major in the army, stationed at Fort Riley. A big surprise when we first moved to Kansas was that Manhattan and Kansas are not flat and brown. It’s lush and green in the springtime, and hilly.
Manhattan is about the people. Tony is from Georgia and I lived in Atlanta for six years, and the south has nothing on the hospitality of Kansans in general and Manhattanites in particular. No other town in our military career was so welcoming to us. We bought a house downtown and immediately felt a part of the community, especially with other families at our children’s elementary school.
We still live here, even after Tony retired from the Army, because of the people. In January 2010, while Tony was deployed to Afghanistan, we had a fire and half our house burned down. We had to vacate for two months, the girls lost their Christmas gifts and it was a difficult time. But for months after the fire, new and gently loved toys were left, most often anonymously, on our front porch.
At the time, there was no extended-stay hotel for us to live at. A friend’s mother, who was the barest of acquaintances, welcomed our family into their home for two months while the construction was completed. I could make a list as long as my arm of the kindnesses bestowed upon our family by Manhattan during this time. The sense of community here is the strongest we’ve seen anywhere. Period.
I love that I can go “all the way across town” in 10 minutes. I love that our community answers the call for those in need, both on a personal level, or on a larger scale with homegrown efforts like Shepherd’s Crossing, MHK Soup Kitchen, and Be Able. The Manhattan community cares, and it shows.
Curator of Education, Flint Hills Discovery Center
I moved here in fall 2014 to start my position at the Discovery Center. It was a bit of a shock moving here from South Florida but, having grown up in the Midwest, it was also very familiar. All I really knew about Manhattan was what I learned online. I went through the entire hiring process without ever setting foot here.
Manhattan is a community that turns itself over every two to four years. Between our active-duty military and our Kansas State University students, many people come to live in this area only to depart soon after. This also means the core group of Manhattan residents is much smaller than you would expect, creating a much more tight-knit local community.
In addition, I had never lived near a large military installation, so I was surprised just how well integrated Fort Riley is in this community. I see soldiers and their families every day. It really does bring a young vibe to the community but also can be challenging with the large amount of turnover and rowdy single soldiers.
I’m still here because I work with some amazing coworkers at an amazing job that brings a lot of joy to this community. It speaks volumes that this community committed itself to a huge urban renewal project that has revitalized the downtown with shops, dining and a Discovery Center!
I also took advantage of a tuition assistance program through my employer and am completing my master’s of public administration degree at K-State. Having a major research university in town is key.
Manhattan has the feel of a small town, which is both good and bad. As a newcomer who didn’t know anyone, it did take quite a while to find my place. Everyone here seems to have their own social bubble that revolves around work, school or church. Only through persistence and “putting myself out there” did I eventually make a great group of friends.
Director of Training and Development, Kansas Farm Bureau
I grew up on a farm about two hours west of Manhattan. As a child, I spent a lot of weekends in Manhattan since my family had season tickets for K-State football. I left Kansas to attend college on the East Coast, then worked for eight years in the Washington, D.C., metro area. When I was ready to make a job change six years ago, I kept my eye out for jobs in Kansas that would bring me closer to my family. I was familiar with Kansas Farm Bureau because of my family’s involvement in the organization and so I applied for a role with the Young Farmers & Ranchers program. I quickly found myself planning a move west, buying a house and reorienting myself to my agriculture roots.
Manhattan today isn’t the same city I grew up visiting. There’s a lot more than the stadium, mall and plethora of fast food burgers I remember from the Saturdays of my youth. Of course, there are a lot of traditions and old favorites still around, but the community embraces opportunities to grow. Moving to Manhattan also means moving to a region, not just one community. There are lots of little towns to explore in the area, each with their own history, traditions and charm.
This community is full of some of the most intelligent and hardworking people I know. It isn’t just the leaders. It’s people doing their everyday jobs. Many of the things I experience in Manhattan aren’t just really good “for the Midwest” or “for a city this size,” they are some of the best experiences I’ve ever had, period. There are some shortfalls. However, that also means there’s room for you to put your stamp on this community. Maybe the next favorite shop, venue, restaurant or idea is the one you’ll bring to Manhattan. And there’s a whole village ready to welcome and support new ventures and businesses in this community.
Kansans will complain about real estate prices in Manhattan, but if you’re moving here from somewhere else, you’ll likely be impressed with the affordability and options of the housing market. It made buying an easy choice. And if you’re a sports fan, Kansas State has one of the best fan experiences in the country. And, in the last five years it hasn’t been hard to be a fan of the Chiefs, Royals or Sporting KC.
But, ultimately, my experience has taught me that the most important thing about a place is the people, and Manhattan has some of the best.
Agent, American Family Insurance
I’m self employed as an insurance agent. I started my agency from scratch in 1989 and have worked steadily at it for 32 years. I’ve been voted the number-one insurance agent in Manhattan four of the last five years.
I moved to Manhattan in 1982. It was my first and only assignment in the U.S. Army, at Fort Riley. I knew absolutely nothing about Fort Riley or this city. My first surprise was how cold it was in Kansas, arriving here in the middle of winter from Mississippi.
We still live here because this place just grows on you. People are nice, friendly and embracing. The community is the perfect size. It has most of your everyday conveniences along with a variety of entertainment, recreation and nice restaurants to choose from. I also like the variety of seasons that we have.
I’ve enjoyed volunteering in the community with a number of organizations and activities. I think this is what I like most about Manhattan and what makes it special — the community has an atmosphere of volunteerism and philanthropy that is prevailing. You see it everywhere and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of, and you need to experience it for yourself. There’s so much to like about Manhattan, and you just discover more and more to like as you live here.