It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
-- from the song, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”
For Mary Eisenhart, Lisa Warren and Nancy Armstrong Johnson, North 37th Street holds hundreds of childhood memories. Tree-lined with vintage street lamps, it is where they rode bicycles, headed off to elementary school, had their birthday parties and drove a car for the first time.
They were neighbors.
But like most young adults, after college they scattered, returning to their parents homes only for holidays and family milestones.
They didn't think of it as place where they would live as adults. New York City, Raleigh, N.C., Seattle and Kansas City, Mo., were some of the cities the women moved to, worked in and established their own traditions.
They made new neighbors.
All three had been gone from Lincoln for decades, when family circumstances brought them back -- temporarily they thought -- to the 68503 zip code.
Elderly relatives needed attention and so they returned to North 37th Street, one by one. And they discovered the neighborhood -- situated near the University of Nebraska’s East Campus and nicknamed “Professor’s Row” -- still had a lot of charm and offered the same comfortable feeling they remembered.
“I didn’t imagine I would feel this way,” said Armstrong Johnson. With her five children living from coast to coast and having spent 35 years in Kansas City, she had many options of where to live.
“I thought urban condo,” she said about how she envisioned her home at this point in her life.
An elderly uncle and mother brought Armstrong Johnson back to the family home built in 1922. She took over as caretaker and after their deaths, she decided to continue living there.
“It’s home,” she said.
Eisenhart had the same feeling. In 2009, when her father’s health issues brought her home. She bought her house, built in 1928, from the family trust and settled in, remodeling it after her father’s death.
Eisenhart realized with a computer, cell phone and being an hour from an airport, she could do her job just fine from Lincoln.
“I wanted to be here with family -- nieces and nephews,” she said.
Lisa Warren’s story is similar. Of her five siblings, she was the one who had enough flexibility to come from New York City, and care for her mother. After her mother’s death, she purchased the house, built in 1925, from her siblings.
Currently, she is wrapping up things in New York City and transitioning to Lincoln as her full-time residence.
“This is my last stop,” she said.
And now her sister, who lives in California, is also searching for a home in their childhood neighborhood.
In addition to being near family, the low cost of living in Lincoln was viewed as a big draw for all three women. And so was the city’s arts and humanities offerings, the close proximity of daily necessities and the ability to get from one place to the other in a quick and easy trip, they said.
Returning to their original neighborhood helped with re-entry into Lincoln life, the three women said. They became active in the neighborhood association, as well as groups they knew from the past. Their paths crossed and they realized -- although not childhood friends -- they had some things in common.
Family life cycle stages and economic considerations can be motivating factors when people return to their family homes, but each situation is different, said David Iaquinta, sociology professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Returning to care for the elderly establishes a link between generations and re-enforces familial ties, he said.
There is also the influence of cultural factors and preferences, Iaquinta said. He used the example of preferences in differences of neighborhoods -- “front porch culture as opposed to the barbeque and pool set.”
This neighborhood, which is filled with broad, welcoming front porches, is a “unique historical artifact,” in some ways, he said.
“It has retained its status,” Iaquinta said.
When Armstrong Johnson opens her windows in the morning, she drinks in the atmosphere, listening to the birds and looking at the landscaping.
“It’s like a resort,” she said.
It is a resort that has welcomed back three former occupants.
Today the three women share remodeling tips, swap vintage doors and light fixtures from their homes, bake casseroles for each other in times of need and plan Christmas parties for the block.
They are neighbors --- again.