A newcomer’s story

Published 9:09 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why Franklin?

Ask Steven Hager. He’ll be happy to tell you.

The lifelong Long Islander was on his way to Emporia from Newport News in the summer of 2007 when he left Route 58 bypass in search of some gasoline.

He found much more. He found his new hometown.

As a relative newcomer, I can appreciate Hager’s story. A year before Steven Hager’s introduction to Franklin, I stepped off an airplane at Franklin Municipal Airport, met the affable Jimmy Gray, lunched at Fred’s and took a self-guided, windshield tour of the city. Within two hours, I knew it would be my new home.

Fate and happenstance are more prominent in Hager’s story, but, like me, he was instantly smitten with Franklin.

“When he made that one trip, he was sold on Franklin,” says Steven’s wife, Anne, who was back home in New York but got photographic evidence of her husband’s discovery. “When he came home and showed me his pictures, I said, ‘That’s great. Let’s go.’”

Retired from a 45-year career in graphic arts, Steven was ready for a change of pace and scenery. A telecommuter at the time, Anne could live anywhere. They knew they wanted to be closer to their daughter, a sixth-grade schoolteacher in Newport News, and in a warmer climate. They had no desire to live in a big city.

The purpose of Steven’s trip south in the summer of 2007 was to help his daughter move into a new apartment. That task complete, he wanted to check out Emporia as a possible place to live. Fortuitously for Franklin, his gas tank ran low on the way.

He traveled the length of Armory Drive, drove through downtown and ended up at Holiday Food Store on Second Avenue. After pumping his gas, he took his daughter’s dog — a boxer mix named Hunter — for a short walk and snapped some photographs of a town that reminded him a lot of Greenlawn, N.Y., where he’d once lived.

First Avenue resident Michelle Seddon spotted the visitor and befriended him.

“She asked me why I was taking pictures of the town,” Hager recalls. “I told her, ‘It’s a neat little town, and I might want to move here.’ ”

Seddon, a proud Franklin resident, seized the moment.

“He said his wife was looking for small-town charm. I said, ‘Well this is the place to be,’ ” recalls Seddon, who’d forgotten the encounter until being reminded of it during a telephone interview Friday.

Seddon, whose husband, Scott, a Naval officer, was deployed at the time, took Hager to Fred’s, where he enjoyed a cold drink, a local history lesson from David Rabil and a heaping portion of Franklin hospitality.

It took the Hagers a year-and-a-half to sell their home on Long Island. They made several house-hunting trips to Franklin in the interim and finally made the move last October, settling in Hunterdale with Hunter, two other dogs and two cats.

“I spent all my life on Long Island, so this was a big change for us,” Anne says.

But any doubts about whether the move was the right one have been put to rest.

Why Franklin? Ask Anne Hager.

“The low cost of living here is just fantastic. Our house is bigger than what we had in New York. And I didn’t realize how great the weather was going to be.

“I just love being near the woods and the deer. We love it down here.”