It’s a story Blake Benson hears quite often.
A family moves to Pittsburg for work. They also plan to leave in a few years. It’s nothing against Pittsburg. They just don’t plan on being here long.
It’s a story Blake knows all too well.
“Our plan was to stay in Pittsburg for three years,” he said.
That was 15 years ago.
“In the beginning, I think we both just wanted to gain experience in our respective careers and enjoy a family-friendly community,” Blake said. “What we hadn’t anticipated was that Pittsburg is a place that actively encourages newcomers to become involved in making the community a better place. When you see all of the work done by past volunteers and community leaders, it makes you want to do your part to make it even better for future generations. Our family loved the community, our neighborhood and all those that had shown us so much support since we moved here, so we decided to stay.”
“Our family loved the community, our neighborhood and all those that had shown us so much support since we moved here, so we decided to stay.”
Pittsburg has a way of doing that, especially these days. As the city adds cool restaurants, hip shops, and new housing, it’s also adding new residents. Hundreds of them. And few families have enjoyed that growth as much as the Bensons, who moved here in 2006 from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Blake, as president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and Christel Benson, as a Pitt State professor involved in several community groups, have helped lead others to believe in Pittsburg as much as they did when they first arrived.
“From our first visit,” Christel said, “it was clear that Pittsburg was a friendly, welcoming community that would be a good fit for our family.”
And once they unpacked their boxes at their new home, they dove head first into their new community.
When Blake and the Chamber launched the Paint the Town Red initiative, Christel helped create the promotional graphics through her work at PSU. They also collaborated on the Women of Distinction Calendar, which celebrates its 16th year in 2022. Christel had developed the calendar project for a non-profit in Fort Smith, and she shared the idea with Blake for a Chamber fundraiser.
“I even designed the first several calendars in exchange for turtle concretes from Freddy’s,” Christel said.
“Between activities at the YMCA, community leagues and private lessons, there’s no shortage of activities for youth in Pittsburg.”
Blake also worked with Pam Henderson to launch the Pittsburg Area Young Professionals organization. As a member of PAYP, Christel had an opportunity to develop a cohesive brand, website and t-shirt design for the organization.
Christel said she was pleasantly surprised by how quickly a newbie can make friends in Pittsburg – the types of friends that last a lifetime.
“I joined a book club of transplants, plus one local,” Christel said. “Even after a few moves, the book club is still active. There’s something for everyone in Pittsburg. You can definitely find your tribe and expand your friendships.”
Blake and Christel are parents to two sons, Braden and Mason. Mason, born in 2008, is the only native Kansan of the bunch. Christel said there are challenges to raising children away from extended family, but the Pittsburg community made them feel supported.
“As a family of four, without extended family nearby, you have to learn to juggle work, doctor appointments and extracurricular activities for the kids,” she said. “That is very easy to do in Pittsburg. Between activities at the YMCA, community leagues and private lessons, there’s no shortage of activities for youth in Pittsburg.”
And the support doesn’t stop there. Blake noted that the people of Pittsburg consistently show just how much they care for the city and each other.
“My favorite part about Pittsburg is the incredible amount of support this community shows for the Chamber, local businesses, PSU, city departments, schools, churches, etc.,” Blake said. “Efforts like Imagine Pittsburg, Paint the Town Red and the Pittsburg Strong campaign are great reminders of this community support and why this place is so special. We’ve lived in other communities that were not as supportive, so I think that makes us appreciate Pittsburg even more.”
It’s that caring nature, he said, that will help Pittsburg continue to grow and thrive.
“Pittsburg is a progressive, family-oriented community that will continue to see its growth continue and even accelerate into the future,” he said. “Our local economy is strong, and I think you’re about to see the city’s housing efforts contribute to a significant population increase, which will help our community fully leverage the growth that our business community has experienced.”
Even with the growth, the city’s charm and ease will continue to be a draw for people who want to enjoy a “small town” way of life.
“My favorite thing about Pittsburg,” Christel said, “is all of the things you can accomplish in a lunch hour. Sometimes it’s picking a kid up from school, hitting the orthodontist and taking them back. Other times it’s stopping by the grocery store, going home for lunch and maybe throwing in a stop at the post office.
“It sounds cliché to say,” she said, “but Pittsburg truly is the best of both worlds. It’s big enough to have great restaurants, retail, nightlife, cultural and athletic events, etc., but small enough that one group or person, whether they were born here or not, can make a big impact.”
And now, Blake said, Pittsburg isn’t shy about telling people how great life can be here.
“I think Pittsburg is more inclined to brag on itself than when we first arrived,” he said. “There has always been an incredible amount of pride in Pittsburg, but I think the community was hesitant to toot its own horn because that can sometimes run counter to the grit and humbleness that’s engrained in this area.
“In the absence of positive news, that vacuum would often be filled with negativity and a focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. While we still certainly have challenges, I’m glad our community feels more comfortable about sharing its successes.”