One of the most common questions I’ve heard in the course of my first year at Kenyon is: “What is it like to live in Cromwell?” Or, its familiar variation: “Is it strange to live in the middle of campus?”
More than a year after my official arrival at Kenyon, Cromwell Cottage does indeed feel like home — even more so since my family fully moved into the house this summer. In many ways, living in Cromwell is similar to living in any 100-plus-year-old home in a rural setting. The house has its quirks. A hundred years of settling means that there are door frames, window frames and floors that slope in interesting ways. And we have occasional wildlife visitors. Ladybugs run wild in the early spring; bats make an occasional appearance; and I am hoping that one day the village’s feral cat population will cross the street and take on the gigantic field mouse colony we have going south of Wiggin Street. But, the touches that one finds in old homes — exquisite woodwork, artisanal flourishes — make it a pretty special place to live.
The unique aspects of life in a campus house sometimes amuse our guests (you must dial nine to get an outside line on the phone). And, when the front door is unlocked, unexpected house guests occasionally appear, sometimes looking for a classroom in Lentz House. We’ve had folks make it all the way back to the kitchen to ask, “Where is room 102?”
But, in general, we manage a fairly ordinary life. Our two dogs rule the house, barking whenever a squirrel or cat approaches the porch or as students walk to classes in Lentz or Sunset Cottage. Strangely enough, they are quiet when strangers just walk right in. The north end of the house (expanded by Phil and Sheila Jordan to include a wonderful family room) is the place where we spend the most time as a family, while the living room and formal dining room are used mainly for public events. Our son, Owen, and his friends often retreat to the third floor to play indoor soccer or video games. During the busiest time of the year, we see a fairly steady stream of catering, events, and maintenance staff in the house, setting things up or taking things down. This all works incredibly smoothly, and in many ways these folks feel like family. My mother, who stays with us in Cromwell on occasion, has been known to strike up long conversations with College staff in the house.
Yet none of these things really addresses how (and why) it is a real privilege for me to live in Cromwell. My commute is a short walk across Middle Path to Ransom Hall. I can see the house from my office window. To some, this may seem like a challenge, an environment where one would never have a chance to be “away” from work. I see this as an amazing opportunity. I can achieve an integration and balance of family and work life that’s just a dream for others. My job requires regular weekend and evening responsibilities, but it is possible for me to still have dinner with my family, check in on Owen doing homework, and attend both a homecoming event and a U-13 travel soccer game on the same day. And there are opportunities for me to share my work experience with those close in my life, whether it’s bringing Owen along to an athletic contest or making a Friday evening music performance a family event.
At a point in my life when I am attempting to balance a demanding career with commitments to my mother (who, in her mid-eighties, deserves and sometimes needs my attention and support); my wife and partner, Renee; our children; and our extended family and friends, anything that helps make this more manageable — including living right on campus — is both welcome assistance and a privilege.
Much has been written over the course of the past few decades on the loss of quality family time, the loss of leisure time, and the strains on the modern family. Family relationships, in any and all ways that we can define these for ourselves, sustain us individually and as a society. My personal satisfaction is greater, and my career more satisfying, because of the presence and support of my family, and my experience living in Cromwell has made it clear to me that there is a lot we can do in our culture (and, closer to home, at Kenyon) to allow all of us to find the right balance.
By President Sean Decatur