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Expats to Repats: Kemps return from Minnesota to a city in a boom

For Ron and Ginny Kemp, the biggest challenge about returning to Western New York after 12 years in Minnesota has been trying to seed a new lawn.

“Try growing grass in the worst drought since 1943,” Ron lamented.

That was never a worry in Minnesota. Homes there have irrigation systems to combat summer’s heat. Not so for their new build in Wheatfield, where the couple moved last May.

“We worked hard watering all summer so the lawn doesn’t look too bad,” he said.

Ron, 67, grew up in Tonawanda and worked for Buffalo Forge and Howden Fan until 2004, when he accepted a job with Twin City Fan, relocating to Champlin, Minn.

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Ron Kemp celebrates leaving Minnesota.

“It was an extremely difficult decision,” he said. “This is home and our family was here, but ultimately, we elected to go. It was a good experience to see the way people live in other parts of the country. I might have been gone physically, but never left Buffalo mentally.”

Ginny, 59, had no trouble finding work as a physical therapist assistant. She is a Florida native, and several years ago, while in Minnesota, she insisted that their next move bring them somewhere close to salt water. Ron had harbored quiet ambitions about returning to Buffalo, so he was surprised when she suggested just that without any prodding from him.

“What I said,” Ginny clarified, “was that we move back to Buffalo and go away for the winter. He hasn’t caught on to the second part yet.”

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Names: Ron and Ginny Kemp
Towns lived in: Tonawanda, then Champlin, Minn., between 2004 and 2012
Current home: Wheatfield, where they moved to a newly constructed home in May
Miss about Minnesota: Connecting bike paths that wind through woods, overhead walkways that connect downtown Minneapolis buildings and vast expanse of land
How Buffalo has changed: Development and perception. People no longer see a dying city with bad weather.

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Ron’s two daughters and four grandchildren remain in Tonawanda. Amanda Scholz and her husband, Ken, purchased her childhood home. They have two daughters, Kaitlyn, 8, and Kara, 6.

Nearby are Christine and Marc Cappuzzo, and their kids, Dominic, 5, and Liana, 3.

“It’s hard to believe, but compared to Western New York, Minnesota has more extreme temperatures,” Ron said. “It’s hotter in summer and colder in winter. Taxes were lower there. It’s a very liberal state, but don’t try to take their guns away. People love hunting, so it’s very easy to get a pistol permit.”

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Ginny Kemp en route to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The draw to coming home was their family, but the Kemps are energized by changes that have occurred in Buffalo since they left.

“I was training a group of contractors here in Western New York, and we went to RiverWorks on a weeknight,” Ron said. “It was hard to believe the number of people there. Girls were on skates practicing for roller derby. Years ago, I got off at the Amtrak station downtown, and nobody was there. It wasn’t much of an introduction to the city. Now they’re making a walkway over the 190 near the Peace Bridge and cleaning up Niagara Street so it’s a gateway at the international border. I’m glad things are more visually appealing.”

Ginny appreciates the variety of food choices locally, something she didn’t find in Minnesota.

“I missed being able to go around the corner for a pizza,” she said. “We lived about 20 miles from Minneapolis, and there were days that I didn’t have it in me to drive that far and pay to park just to get a meal. It was about adjusting, not complaining. Restaurants are better here.”

“There were plenty of Ma and Pa Kettle places,” Ron agreed. “But Norwegian food just tastes bland.”

After long anticipation, their homecoming feels like a second act. Ron remains a proud Buffalo booster. Now he can do it from home base rather than halfway across the country.

“I travel a fair amount,” he said. “Twenty years ago, people thought this was a dying city with bad weather. I always defended Buffalo, but I don’t have to defend it anymore. With Canalside and the Medical Campus, there is a change in perception. I no longer get that negative vibe from people outside the area.”

If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email JeffSchober@hotmail.comJeff Schober is the author of "Bike Path Rapist," "Growing Up Gronk" and several works of crime fiction set in Buffalo in the 1980s. His newest book, "Faces and Fingertips," is available now. Visit his website at www.jeffschober.com.

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