When Dr. Christy Mesaros-Winckles and her husband, Andrew Winckles, a doctoral candidate, were looking for a home to buy, they knew just what they wanted…a sense of history and community.
Last summer, they found just what they were looking for in the historic Birmingham district in East Toledo.
Originally from Columbus, Mesaros-Winckles and her husband met while they were both students at Spring Arbor University, in Spring Arbor, Michigan.
“We wanted a place to settle down and a place where we could both commute to different universities,” she explained. “My husband was originally from this area so it made sense for us.”
The couple rented a home in Springfield Township for six years. Mesaros-Winckles completed her doctorate in Communication Studies at Bowling Green State University. She is currently an assistant professor of English and communications at Sienna Heights University, in Adrian.
Andrew completed his master’s degree in English at Eastern Michigan University and will complete his doctorate in English at Wayne State University in May.
Although living in the suburbs was nice, it was also quite expensive for a young couple trying to pay off student loans. Mesaros-Winckles said both she and her husband yearned to own a home of their own in an area rich in history.
“We told our realtor we wanted a home in either the Old West End or in Birmingham,” she said. “We both love history and we really wanted a sense of community. We had been going to the Birmingham Ethnic Festival for a few years and we always felt welcomed and at home in the area.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that both of them have Hungarian roots.
“My great grandparents came from Hungary to Pennsylvania in the 20’s,” Mesaros-Winckles said. “My husband was born here, but his parents are with the Free Methodist Church and have been in Budapest, Hungary, for 10 years. Andrew went to an English speaking high school there.”
Last fall, the couple closed on a home on Valentine Street. Demographically, the neighborhood is a healthy mix of both young and older people as well as blue collar and young professional workers. There are renters and proud home owners, which attracted them to the neighborhood.
‘There is a real sense of community here,” Mesaros-Winckles said. “When the weather is nice and if you sit on your porch everyone will come to talk to you. It was not that way in Springfield Township. Many people there were just very busy with their lives. Here, we have met so many nice people. I know most of my neighbors and many people who live on other streets around here. It is just a great place to live.”
Mesaros-Winckles acknowledged there are a few issues in Birmingham, but, for the most part, she feels safe.
“We have a security system, but you have to have that when you live in a city,” she said. “I feel safe in the neighborhood. There has been petty theft and some cars broken into, but everybody looks out for each other and we let people know what is going on. I am very impressed with the community organization and how people are trying to get the issues resolved.”
The couple has jumped right in to help their adopted neighborhood. Mesaros-Winckles has joined the Birmingham Development Corporation and is a member of both the safety and housing committees. She is also interested in becoming involved with the community garden.
“I feel a connection to Birmingham,” she said. “It is a nice community and it is a natural fit for us. It is not a wealthy area, but people do take care of their homes. When we were looking for homes on our street, we noticed every home that is occupied had flowers out. There is a lot of pride in the neighborhood and people try to make it look nice. “
Mesaros-Winckles is so in love with the neighborhood that she is advising young couples looking to buy a home to look at Birmingham and at Toledo, in general.
“The housing is really affordable and interest rates are low,” she said. “I encourage my friends to look in Toledo for homes. We wanted to be in the city and closer to the activities. Living here has allowed us to put money into other things like student loan debt. Look, you dream of owning a home and you can do it in a cost effective manner that allows you to not get into a hole you can’t dig out of.”
Mesaros-Winckles said she is also hoping the city will offer incentives to those who would like to live in Toledo.
“I would love to see the city have an incentive program for young professionals,” she said. “It would make a difference. There are cute homes in Toledo and there needs to be more awareness of it. The city spends a lot of time trying to get new business here, but you also need more people to move back in. Hopefully, word of mouth will get more people back into the city.”